‘I’m Your Humble Friend’, Philippines’ Anti-U.S. Leader Tells Tillerson

MANILA — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called himself a “humble friend” of the United States on Monday, taking a break from his notorious hostility towards Washington to grant a warm reception to visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Duterte’s often profanity-laden tirades against the United States has become his trademark during his year-old presidency, but he appeared happy to meet Tillerson, who was in Manila to attend a regional security meeting dominated by North Korea’s missile tests, and maritime squabbles.

“I am happy to see you … and you have come at a time when the world is not so good, especially in the Korean peninsula, and of course, the ever nagging problem of South China Sea,” Duterte told Tillerson at the presidential palace.

“I know you’re worried there, because you also have domestic problems … We are friends. We are allies,” said Duterte.

“I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” he said.

President Duterte greets US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prior to their meeting at Malacañang yesterday on the sidelines of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional security forum. KRIZJOHN ROSALES

The maverick leader makes no attempt to hide his grudge against the United States, which he has repeatedly chided for what he says is a history of hypocritical foreign policy, and for treating the Philippines like a dog.

He last year announced to China his “separation” from Washington, has complained about being given “hand-me-down” U.S. military hardware, and once invited American investors jittery about his remarks to pack their bags and leave.

But Duterte’s biggest anger was directed at former President Barack Obama, whose administration spoke out against his signature war on drugs, a fierce crackdown that has killed thousands of Filipinos.

Duterte’s warm words for Tillerson indicates Philippines-U.S. ties under U.S. President Donald Trump may be in better shape.

Though Duterte still vents about Washington, he has spoken positively about Trump, who praised him for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem”.

Trump in an April phone call told Duterte he would invite him to the White House.

But when a U.S. lawmaker recently said he would try to block that, Duterte said he would never go to the United States because “I’ve seen America and it’s lousy”.

Duterte said he and Tillerson discussed “many things” on Monday, but he did not give details.

The defense treaty alliance between the two countries remains strong and U.S. forces have been providing the Philippines with technical assistance to fight militants allied with Islamic State. He last year repeatedly threatened to eject U.S. military trainers and advisers.

Asked prior to his meeting if helping the Philippine military meant the United States was endorsing the government’s bloody anti-drugs campaign, Tillerson said the two were unrelated.

“I see no conflict, no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of other human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counternarcotics activities,” he said.

(Editing by Martin Petty and Richard Balmforth)

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DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The visiting US official did not raise human rights issues while President Duterte called himself a “humble friend” of Washington.

Counterterrorism, not civil liberties, was on the agenda as President Duterte met yesterday with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Malacañang.

This was contrary to earlier reports that Tillerson would raise human rights concerns in his talks with Duterte.

And despite his previous tirades against the US, the President called himself a “humble friend” of Washington during his meeting with Tillerson.

Tillerson, in the country for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, paid a courtesy call on Duterte at 5:20 p.m. Their meeting lasted for about an hour.

“I’m your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” Duterte told Tillerson at the start of their meeting at the Malacañang anteroom.

While the Philippines and the US have had an uneasy relationship since he assumed office last year, Duterte said the two countries are “friends and allies.”

Sources said the President initially did not want to meet with Tillerson and it was only on Sunday evening that he agreed to an audience with the US official.

The President refused to divulge the details of his discussion with Tillerson, except that part of the conversation was on terrorism.

“No, no. There were no talks on human rights concerns,” the President said in a press briefing after the meeting with Tillerson.

Tillerson arrived in Manila for the biggest security meeting in Asia and met with Duterte on the sidelines of his engagements while in the country.

Sources said Duterte and Tillerson discussed matters such as the siege by Islamic State group-linked Maute militants in Marawi City, the growing threat of international terrorism and the tension in the Korean Peninsula.

Duterte and Tillerson reportedly also talked about governance and about how to increase America’s economic and other kinds of people-to-people engagement with the Philippines.

“I am happy to see you again and you have come at a time when the world is not so good, especially in the Korean Peninsula, and of course, the ever nagging problem of South China Sea,” Duterte told Tillerson.

“I know you’re worried there because you also have domestic problems,” he added.

The US under former president Barack Obama had criticized Duterte’s war on illegal drugs and has urged the Philippine leader to uphold human rights in all law enforcement efforts.

Duterte lashed back by saying that the US has no moral ascendancy to lecture on human rights because of its alleged atrocities during the wars in Iraq, the Vietnam War and the Philippine-American War.

When Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential race, Duterte expressed optimism that he would be able to get along well with the incoming American leader because of their similarities.

Cayetano thanks Tillerson

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano thanked Tillerson for his participation in the meetings in Manila.

Tillerson underscored US commitment to the relationship with ASEAN, including people-to-people and educational programs.

He held a trilateral meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. – With Alexis Romero, Pia Lee-Brago

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