WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama on Tuesday congratulated Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte on his landslide victory at the polls, hailing the country’s “vibrant democracy” and emphasizing the importance of protecting human rights.
In the call with Duterte, Obama “highlighted the enduring values that underpin our thriving alliance with the Philippines… including our shared commitments to democracy, human rights, rule of law and inclusive economic growth,” the White House said.
“The two leaders affirmed their interest in seeing the relationship continue to grow on the basis of these shared principles,” the statement said.
The tough-talking 71-year-old Duterte, who was elected on May 9 on a populist platform, has been accused by rights groups of running vigilante death squads in his home city of Davao, which he has ruled for most of the past two decades.
He has also pledged a ruthless law-and-order crackdown that would feature the restoration of the death penalty in the largely Roman Catholic country, and ordering military snipers to kill suspected criminals.
The Philippines is one of Washington’s closest allies in Southeast Asia but Duterte has indicated he may change tack.
He has said it is up to American officials to fix relations with him, after the US ambassador to Manila criticized his joke that he would have wanted to rape an Australian missionary who was killed in a 1989 Philippine prison riot.
Duterte has also indicated that he was prepared to hold direct talks with Beijing over a sensitive territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), ignoring US support for Manila on the issue thus far.
Duterte takes over as President on June 30, succeeding Benigno Aquino 3rd.