A RANKING Democrat in the foreign affairs committee of the United States House of Representatives wants US President Donald Trump to rescind his invitation to President Rodrigo Duterte, in light of the Philippine leader’s “flagrant disregard for human life and due process.”
Rep. Eliot Engel of New York said he was unconvinced the Philippines role in the North Korea standoff was such that a blind eye could be turned “when thousands of Filipinos are being slaughtered in the streets at President Duterte’s direction.”
“President Trump’s invitation to President Duterte is unnecessary for addressing the challenge of North Korea — the most pressing crisis in the Asia Pacific — and provides unjustifiable validation of Duterte’s brutal anti-drug campaign,” he said in a statement.
A US Senate counterpart, Christopher Murphy, said on Twitter: “We are watching in real time as the American human rights bully pulpit disintegrates into ash.”
Trump last week invited Duterte to the White House, despite his unabashed support for an alleged police and vigilante campaign of mass murder against drugs suspects.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus on Sunday defended Trump’s invitation to Duterte, pointing to the need to rally Asian allies over North Korea.
After Duterte, Trump also invited Thailand junta chief Prayut Chan-o-Cha to visit, effectively ending US efforts to maintain a discreet public distance from the autocratic regime.
The New York Times on April 30 reported that the invitation to Duterte apparently did not have the clearance of the US State Department. It said “senior officials” expected the State Department and the National Security Council “to raise objections internally.”
The results of Duterte’s drug war were detailed in the annual human rights report released by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in March.
“Since July, police and unknown vigilantes have killed more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users as the government pursued a policy aimed at eliminating illegal drug activity,” the report said.
“Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and they increased sharply over the past year.”
Rights groups have also reported thousands of deaths in an allegedly orchestrated campaign – and Duterte himself has made no effort to disguise his support for the killings.
Nevertheless, Trump spoke with Duterte on Saturday and, in the words of the White House, “greatly enjoyed” a chat with a leader moving ties in a “positive direction.”
Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, complained that Trump had given Duterte “an unconditional bear hug.”
“It’s a message that the US no longer cares about human rights,” he told AFP.
“Although regrettably the United States has not always walked the walk, supporting human rights at home and abroad, it has always robustly talked the talk on this.”
Malacañang on Tuesday dismissed criticisms of the White House invite.
In a news conference, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said that judging from the discussion of the two leaders, Trump did not associate Duterte with human rights violations.
“According to the conversation, the President of the United States has already acknowledged the fact that the President is doing a great job considering the weight and the enormity of the conditions in the Philippines,” Abella told reporters.
While Trump and Duterte have warm ties, Abella stressed that Duterte had yet to accept the invitation.
He stressed that Trump’s invitation for Duterte to visit the White House was a sign of “openness and understanding” between them.”
On Tuesday, Duterte said he could not give “definite promise” to Trump, citing his hectic schedule.
Duterte earlier called on the US and North Korea to “show restraint” given the consequences of a nuclear war on Southeast Asia, which is within range of North Korea’s missiles.
Trump and Duterte are expected to meet each other during the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and Related Meetings in the Philippines in November.