Trump lauds ‘great relationship’ with Duterte in Manila

The New York Times reports: President Trump said on Monday that he had a “great relationship” with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, making little mention of human rights at his first face-to-face meeting with an authoritarian leader accused of carrying out a campaign of extrajudicial killings in his nation’s war on drugs.

In a stark break from past practice by American presidents, who have pressed foreign leaders publicly and privately about allegations of human rights abuses, Mr. Trump instead pursued his own transactional style of diplomacy, dwelling mostly on areas of common ground during his meeting with Mr. Duterte. On the sideline of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit meeting, Mr. Trump focused on combating the Islamic State and illegal drugs as well as on trade issues, the White House said.

“Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

But Mr. Duterte’s spokesman denied that the subject of rights was ever broached, even as the Philippine president spoke about the “drug menace” in his country.

Mr. Trump “appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter and was merely nodding his head, indicating that he understood the domestic problem that we faced on drugs,” said Harry Roque, Mr. Duterte’s spokesman. “The issue of human rights did not arise; it was not brought up.” [Continue reading…]

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‘They kill defenceless people’: thousands flee Philippine city of Marawi

The Guardian reports: The CCTV monitor was showing a live feed of gunmen in the hospital lobby. From the safety of another floor, Jan Yamit, a 23-year-old health worker, watched in horror as the militants shot a police officer and then a security guard before storming into the building.

“I can’t explain what I was feeling. I was nervous. I am pissed by those kinds of people. They kill defenceless people,” he said of the attack in Marawi, a city on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

He and his brother, who worked as a lift operator in the building, sneaked from one room to another. Eventually, they found a wooden plank and made a bridge from the third floor to a neighbouring building.

“Those who were killed were Christians,” he said.

The attack on Marawi, a mainly Muslim city of 200,000 people, by the Islamic State-linked Maute group this week has led to a fierce three-day battle, with the army deploying attack helicopters and special forces.

At least 46 people – 15 members of the security forces and 31 militants – have been killed. On Friday, the Maute held its positions on bridges and remained hidden in buildings, despite heavy overnight artillery and airstrikes.

The Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, who cut short a foreign visit to Russia, has imposed martial law in Mindanao and promised bloodshed. “If there’s an open defiance, you will die,” he said on Wednesday. “And if it means many people dying, so be it.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump praised Philippine president’s campaign of extrajudicial killings against drug suspects

The New York Times reports: President Trump praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines in a phone call last month for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem” in the island nation where the government has sanctioned gunning down suspects in the streets. Mr. Trump also boasted that the United States has “two nuclear submarines” off the coast of North Korea but said he does not want to use them.

The comments were part of a Philippine transcript of the April 29 call that was circulated on Tuesday, under a “confidential” cover sheet, by the Americas division of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs. In Washington, a senior administration official confirmed that the transcript was an accurate representation of the call between the two iconoclastic leaders. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the call and confirmed it on the condition of anonymity.

The White House also keeps transcripts of such calls, but they are routinely kept secret. The Philippine rendering of the call offers a rare insight into how Mr. Trump talks to fellow leaders: He sounds much the way he sounds in public, casing issues in largely black-and-white terms, often praising authoritarian leaders, largely unconcerned about human rights violations and genuinely uncertain about the nature of his adversary in North Korea.

Mr. Trump placed the call and began it by congratulating Mr. Duterte for the government-sanctioned attacks on drug suspects. The program has been widely condemned by human rights groups around the world because extrajudicial killings have taken thousands of lives without arrest or trial. In March, the program was criticized in the State Department’s annual human rights report, which referred to “apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process.”

Mr. Trump had no such reservations. “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” he said. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump invites confirmed killer, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House

The New York Times reports: When President Trump called President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Saturday, the American leader’s national security aides saw it as part of a routine diplomatic outreach to Southeast Asian leaders. Mr. Trump, characteristically, had his own ideas.

During their “very friendly conversation,” the administration said in a late-night statement, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Duterte, an authoritarian leader accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines, to visit him at the White House.

Now, administration officials are bracing for an avalanche of criticism from human rights groups. Two officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were caught off guard by the invitation, to raise objections internally.

The White House disclosed the news on a day when Mr. Trump whipped up ardent backers at a campaign-style rally in Harrisburg, Pa. The timing of the announcement — after a speech that was an angry, grievance-filled jeremiad — encapsulated this president after 100 days in office: still ready to say and do things that leave people, even on his staff, slack-jawed.

“By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” said John Sifton, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself.” [Continue reading…]

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Inside President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal antidrug campaign in the Philippines

Daniel Berehulak writes: I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone, a place gripped by fear and death. What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness: police officers’ summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to “slaughter them all.”

He said in October, “You can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more.”

On Saturday, Mr. Duterte said that, in a telephone call the day before, President-elect Donald J. Trump had endorsed the brutal antidrug campaign and invited him to visit New York and Washington. “He said that, well, we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Mr. Duterte said in a summary of the call released by his office.

Beyond those killed in official drug operations, the Philippine National Police have counted more than 3,500 unsolved homicides since July 1, turning much of the country into a macabre house of mourning. [Continue reading…]

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Philippine proponent of vigilante justice says he has ‘good rapport’ with Trump who supports his war on drugs

The Washington Post reports: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to “kill all” the country’s suspected drug users and dealers has many foreign critics, including the United States, the European Parliament and the International Criminal Court. It now has at least one high-profile supporter: President-elect Donald Trump, at least according to Duterte.

In a statement Saturday, Duterte shared details of a seven-minute conversation that took place Friday. He said that during the call, Trump endorsed his campaign against drug users and dealers — a campaign that has left at least 4,500 Filipinos dead in about five months. Trump told Duterte that he was doing it the “right way,” according to Duterte’s account.

“I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump,” he added. “And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.” [Continue reading…]

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How U.S. money is backing the Philippines’ bloody war on drugs

BuzzFeed reports: [President Rodrigo] Duterte is perhaps the most brutal leader to sweep to power in this year’s global populist wave, and his bloody campaign against drug users and dealers remains overwhelmingly popular in his country, even as the US and other Western governments have criticized its violence. He won election in a landslide earlier this year after vowing to kill 100,000 criminals and feed their bodies to fish in Manila Bay.

On the surface, the relationship between Duterte and the Obama administration has been strained, though the Philippines remains one of the largest recipients of US aid, including for its much criticized police force. The US president scrapped a meeting with Duterte this fall after Duterte called him a “son of a whore,” and the State Department has expressed worry about reports of extrajudicial killings.

“We’re very concerned — deeply concerned, I would say — about reports of extrajudicial killings of individuals suspected to have been involved in drug activity in the Philippines,” a US State Department spokesman said in August.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation has found that despite those statements of concern, the US continued to train and provide equipment to police units on the front lines of the anti-drug campaign. The State Department sent millions of dollars in aid to programs for police departments across the country even as the death toll from the drug campaign climbed by hundreds each month, according to government documents as well as current and former US and Philippine officials. Critics say this raises questions as to whether the State Department violated a US law that forbids aid dollars from benefiting police units engaged in gross human rights violations like extrajudicial killings. [Continue reading…]

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Duterte’s split with the U.S.? Not so fast, say Philippines officials

CNN reports: Philippines officials have gone into damage control mode after controversial President Rodrigo Duterte said the country’s long-term alliance with the United States was over.

Philippines Trade Minister Ramon Lopez told CNN the country “would not stop trade and investment with the US.”

“(Duterte) has decided to strengthen further and rekindle the ties with China and the ASEAN region,” Lopez said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

There was widespread shock after Duterte announced his “separation” from the US, suggesting he would cut both economic and military ties, in favor of moving closer to Beijing.

“America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” President Duterte told business leaders in Beijing on Thursday.

“And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

In a statement Friday, Duterte’s office said the Philippines had no intention to renege on treaties or agreements with established allies.

The President’s comments were “an assertion that we are an independent and sovereign nation, now finding common ground with friendly neighbors with shared aspirations in the spirit of mutual respect, support and cooperation,” the statement said. [Continue reading…]

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Philippine president regrets calling Obama a ‘son of a bitch’

The Associated Press reported: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned President Barack Obama on Monday not to question him about extrajudicial killings, or “son of a bitch I will swear at you” when they meet in Laos during a regional summit.

Duterte said before flying to Laos that he is a leader of a sovereign country and is answerable only to the Filipino people. He was answering a reporter’s question about how he intends to explain the extrajudicial killings to Obama. More than 2,000 suspected drug pushers and users have been killed since Duterte launched a war on drugs after taking office on June 30.

In his typical foul-mouthed style, Duterte responded: “I am a president of a sovereign state and we have long ceased to be a colony. I do not have any master except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions. Putang ina I will swear at you in that forum,” he said, using the Tagalog phrase for son of a bitch. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press now reports: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed regret Tuesday over his “son of a bitch” remark while referring to President Barack Obama, in a rare display of contrition by a politician whose wide arc of profanities has unabashedly targeted world figures including the pope and the U.N. chief.

In a statement read out by his spokesman, Duterte said that while his “strong comments” in response to certain questions by a reporter “elicited concern and distress, we also regret it came across as a personal attack on the U.S. president.”

Duterte had made the intemperate remarks Monday before flying to Laos, where he is attending a regional summit. He had been scheduled to meet Obama separately, but Obama indicated he had second thoughts.

On Tuesday, Duterte said both sides mutually agreed to postpone the meeting.

Even though Duterte’s latest comment does not amount to an apology, the expression of regret is unusual for the tough-talking former mayor, who is unapologetic about his manner of speech and liberally peppers his casual statements with profanities such as “son of a bitch” and “son of a whore.”

But perhaps Duterte’s aides realized it would be unwise to take on the most powerful official in the world, and there would be a price to pay for insulting the president of the United States. [Continue reading…]

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The new president of the Philippines says many slain journalists deserved it

The Washington Post reports: Many slain journalists in the Philippines had been corrupt and had “done something” to warrant being killed, the country’s president-elect said.

“Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch,” Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

The brash, tough-talking former mayor, who will be sworn in as president on June 30, was responding to a question about how he would handle the killing of journalists.

He has previously attracted international outrage for his comments, including remarks about the rape and killing of an Australian missionary in 1989. Human Rights Watch has deemed him the “Death Squad Mayor.”

The Philippines ranks as the second-deadliest country for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 75 journalists there have been killed since 1992. [Continue reading…]

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The fight against climate injustice

The New York Times reports: Following a devastating typhoon that killed thousands in the Philippines, a routine international climate change conference here turned into an emotional forum, with developing countries demanding compensation from the worst polluting countries for damage they say they are already suffering.

Calling the climate crisis “madness,” the Philippines representative vowed to fast for the duration of the talks. Malia Talakai, a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, a group that includes her tiny South Pacific homeland, Nauru, said that without urgent action to stem rising sea levels, “some of our members won’t be around.”

From the time a scientific consensus emerged that human activity was changing the climate, it has been understood that the nations that contributed least to the problem would be hurt the most. Now, even as the possible consequences of climate change have surged — from the typhoons that have raked the Philippines and India this year to the droughts in Africa, to rising sea levels that threaten to submerge entire island nations — no consensus has emerged over how to rectify what many call “climate injustice.”

Growing demands to address the issue have become an emotionally charged flash point at negotiations here at the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which continues this week.

“We are in a piece of land which is smaller than Denmark, with a population of 160 million, trying to cope with this extreme weather, trying to cope with the effect of emissions for which we are not responsible,” Farah Kabir, the director in Bangladesh for the anti-poverty organization ActionAid International, said at a news briefing here. [Continue reading…]

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Tacloban mayor advises residents to flee

The New York Times reports: Typhoon relief gridlock threatened to paralyze rescue operations in the most devastated part of the Philippines on Wednesday, with aid piling up but few ways to distribute it, plentiful gasoline but no merchants willing to sell it, and an influx of emergency volunteers with no places to house them.

The intensifying frustrations of delivering aid five days after Typhoon Haiyan struck elicited a plea from the top United Nations relief official to the mayor of Tacloban, imploring him to help find a solution to persuade gasoline station owners to open so relief convoys could begin a large-scale expansion into the razed port city of 220,000 and the interior regions. The gasoline stations have fuel in their tanks but the owners fear robberies and violence if they reopen.

“We have to have fuel, so we have to have some kind of refueling center,” the relief official, Valerie Amos, told the mayor, Alfred S. Romualdez, after she flew here for an assessment in which she promised a vast relief effort. Mr. Romualdez told her that the city could not easily cope with the influx of aid workers, as practically no vehicles are available to bring them in from the airport, while food and drinking water are running out. “I’m asking those who come here, ‘Please be self-sufficient, because there’s nothing,’ ” he said.

The mayor’s best advice to residents was to flee to other cities and find shelter with relatives if they could, saying that the local authorities were struggling to provide enough food and water and faced difficulties in maintaining law and order.

The paralysis was epitomized by the first attempt in Tacloban to conduct a mass burial of Haiyan victims whose corpses had spent days putrefying on streets and under piles of debris. The attempt ended in failure as trucks carrying more than 200 corpses were forced to turn back as gunfire greeted them on the city limits. The identities of the shooters were not clear. [Continue reading…]

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