THE Philippines’ relations with its longtime ally, the United States, have been moving forward under the administration of US President Donald Trump, President Rodrigo Duterte said.
In a news conference at the end of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Manila on Tuesday evening, Duterte clarified that his quarrel with the US involved only those officials who criticized his drug war.
“It has been a forward movement. My quarrel with the US is not with the government and the people. That would be idiotic,” the President said.
Last year, the Filipino leader repeatedly threw expletives at the US in his spontaneous speeches, in response to criticisms by former US president Barack Obama on the brutal war on illegal drugs.
Obama, in September last year, advised Duterte to wage the war on the narcotics trade “the right way.”
Duterte declared an independent foreign policy and said he would reject any meddling by foreign governments.
Duterte has since been courting two US rivals – China and Russia – countries which, he said, do not meddle with the country’s internal affairs.
The tough-talking Duterte has also threatened to end joint military exercises with the US. He also vowed he would never travel to America “in this lifetime.”
Duterte, however, has been friendly with Trump.
During their bilateral meeting Monday, Trump reaffirmed US bilateral relations with the Philippines, citing a “great” alliance with Duterte.
There was no mention of human rights or of the alleged extrajudicial killings associated with Duterte’s war on drugs.
Speaking to reporters as he flew over the Pacific Ocean, Trump praised the “important military location” of the country and said ties, which soured when Obama spoke out against Duterte’s campaign, were back on track.
“Now we have a very good relationship there. We’re back with the Philippines,” Trump said.
In his speech before the East Asia Summit in Manila, Trump said the relationship with the Philippines was “less over trade in this case than for military purposes.”
“And if you look at it, it’s called the most prime piece of real estate from the military standpoint,” he added.
Opposition lawmakers on Wednesday criticized the lack of discussion on human rights issues during the Asean summit in Manila.
“Despite the shrinking democratic space with the assaults against the opposition, specter of martial law and the threats against human rights champions in Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines – Asean chose to ignore its sociopolitical mandates of promoting human rights,” Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat said in a statement.
Baguilat said civil society organizations and human rights advocates were “extremely disappointed” that members of the Asean did not even issue a statement even amid concern over alleged genocide in Myanmar against the Rohingya.
“[The Asean summit] is content on being a rich kid’s fraternity that believes in the motto see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” Baguilat added.
Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano added that while the Asean summit went smoothly as scheduled, save for the encounters between police force and rallyists, two important issues were hardly taken up – the concern over human rights violations under the country’s war on drugs and peace and stability in South China Sea (SCS).
“The Asean as a bloc has long been expected to confront the SCS squarely and come up with a binding code of conduct (COC) among the claimant states particularly China. But as have been in the past, the Asean voice was muted especially when the Asean Chair Rodrigo Duterte said that the issue was better left untouched,” Alejano said.
“The country is the latest addition to China’s purse which further weakens the unity of Asean as a block to tackle regional issues affecting China’s interests,” Alejano added.
Alejano said that it was frustrating for other state leaders, except for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and American President Donald Trump, to confront the issue of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuse under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
“State leaders have adopted a sort of diplomatic silence on the human rights abuse and EJKs (extrajudicial killings) under Duterte’s war on drugs considering that Duterte becomes sensitive when that issue is brought up. It’s frustrating that they opted for silence than confront the issue,” Alejano said.
Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tom Villarin said the Asean summit was a failed PR stint out to project Duterte as a leader of an important and fast-growing regional bloc.
Villarin said the country spent P15 billion to “look stupid parading the ‘emperor’s new clothes, which was a mere hallucination of grandeur.”
“While it dazzled in panoramic glitz hosting world leaders, what was starkly left out was the region’s poverty, environmental crisis, border conflicts and human trafficking, human rights abuses including a genocide being committed in Rohingya and mass murder in a war against illegal drugs in Manila, the host capital,” he said.
with RALPH EDWIN U. VILLANUEVA