It’s fair to say that Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte is a tad touchy about his human rights record. If any reminders were needed, he provided plenty in the days before Donald Trump made his way to Southeast Asia, where the two leaders met for the first time over the weekend at the APEC summit in Vietnam and are holding talks today in Manila. Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign has killed thousands of suspected drug users and sellers. Critics say that executions are taking place with no accountability, with the government sanctioning the extrajudicial killing of suspects.
Last week during a media interview in Vietnam, Duterte recalled that US lawmakers critical of his human rights record had in July pounced on Trump for inviting the Philippine leader to the White House. Other lawmakers have urged Trump to bring up the issue with Duterte in person. Duterte told the journalists gathered it was presumptuous to assume he even wanted to go to the US, and said he’d like to bar any US lawmakers critical of his human rights record from entry into the Philippines.“You want to ask a question, I’ll give you an answer. Lay off.”
As for Trump himself, Duterte made it clear the American president best steer clear of the topic, saying on Nov. 8 how he’d respond if Trump brought it up: “You want to ask a question, I’ll give you an answer. Lay off. That is not your business. That is my business. I take care of my country and I will nurture my country to health.”
On Nov. 9, Duterte, speaking to overseas Filipino workers in Vietnam, reiterated a warning that he’ll slap UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard if she investigates him for the extrajudicial killings being linked to his war on drugs. The UN has urged the Duterte administration to stop extrajudicial killings in the country, and warned that declarations by top officials could “legitimize” violence against drug users.
Duterte also last week offered to host a world summit on human rights, though it wasn’t clear he was being serious. He lamented being singled out, as he saw it, for rights violations, saying other countries have their issues as well. “What makes the death of people in the Philippines more important than the rest of the children in the world that were massacred and killed?” he said.
On Nov. 9, Duterte also recalled killing somebody for the first time. “At the age of 16, I already killed someone. A real person, a rumble, a stabbing. I was just 16 years old. It was just over a look. How much more now that I am president?”
Duterte has been under fire since last year over human-rights issues with his war on drugs, with criticism coming from the UN, the EU, Barack Obama, the Pope, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, all of whom he insulted (often with profanities) and complained about. In an October 2016 interview with Al Jazeera he said he “doesn’t give a shit” about human rights while dismissing the deaths of innocent people in his war on drugs.
Close observers believe Trump is unlikely to criticize (paywall) his counterpart over human rights during their face-to-face talks. Indeed the two leaders seemed chummy last night (Nov. 12) sitting next to each other at a gala dinner for the 31st ASEAN Summit, when Duterte sang a song on stage, saying jokingly he was doing so “upon the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States.”
In May, Trump praised Duterte over the phone for “an unbelievable job on the drug problem” in the Philippines.