UNITED States President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, refused to condemn President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal crackdown on illegal drugs in a confirmation hearing at the US Senate on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
“America and the people of the Philippines have a longstanding friendship. I think it’s important that we keep that in perspective in engaging with the government of the Philippines,” he said in Washington. “They have been an ally, we have to ensure that they stay an ally.”
Tillerson was responding to Sen. Marco Rubio’s question on whether the spate of supposed extrajudicial killings in the Philippines were the “appropriate way to conduct that [anti-illegal drug] operation.”
Citing a report by Los Angeles Times, Rubio noted that about 6,200 drug suspects have been killed by police and vigilantes, and asked the former ExxonMobil executive: “Do you believe that it is something that’s conducive to human rights violations that we should be concerned about and condemning?”
Tillerson said he needed more “facts from the ground” before commenting.
“I’m not going to rely solely on what I read in the newspapers. I will go with the facts on the ground. I’m sure there’s good and credible information available through our various government agencies,” he said.
Last month, Rubio and two other US senators asked the US State Department to review a $32-million assistance package for training and law enforcement in the Philippines, decrying Duterte’s “ongoing deadly campaign of mass atrocities.”
Human rights groups on Thursday questioned Tillerson’s commitment to human rights in the US and abroad for refusing to acknowledge abuses in the Philippines, as well as in Russia, Syria and Saudi Arabia.