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Rody, Trump hit it off

CONFLICTING STATEMENTS ISSUED ON HR IN TALKS

All doubts about the rapport between controversial leaders US President Donald Trump and President Duterte were dispelled yesterday as the leaders joked with each other and appeared to enjoy each others’ company during a series of encounters on Sunday night and yesterday morning, leading to warm praise from the US president during official talks at lunchtime.

There were, however, conflicting statements from both sides if the highly anticipated dialog touched on human rights which several groups and American legislators prodded Trump to bring up with Mr. Duterte.
The White House said that the issue of human rights was briefly discussed in the dialog.
“The conversation focused on ISIS (Islamic State), illegal drugs, and trade,” said White House spokesman Sarah Sanders. “Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs,” she added.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, however, told reporters that Mr. Duterte had explained his anti-drugs policy at length to Trump, who “seemed to be appreciative of his efforts” but “there was no mention of human rights, no mention of extra-legal killings.”
Mr. Duterte, during a joint briefing with Trump, dismissed journalists’ query regarding human rights. “We are not answering anything (about human rights),” he said.
“We would be talking on matters that are of interest of both the Philippines and the United States,” Mr. Duterte added.
Trump, for his part, was all praises for his host saying that he has enjoyed Mr. Duterte’s company and as well as the Philippines’ hosting of the annual regional leaders’ meeting.
“We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful. We have many meetings today with many other leaders,” Trump said, calling his Philippine counterpart by his first name “Rodrigo.”
“The Asean conference has been handled beautifully by the President and the Philippines and your representatives,” he added.
“I really enjoyed being here. The weather is always good. Today it’s pretty good. But one thing about the Philippines eventually it gets good no matter what,” he added.
Trump also expressed his delight over Sunday night’s gala dinner which showcased performances from Filipino celebrities.
“We very much appreciate the great treatment you have given us. I thought last night’s event was fantastic, tremendous talent. Most of them I guess from the Philippines. But tremendous talent,” Trump said.
“Musical talent, dance talent and we really had a tremendous time, all of the leaders,” he added.
Roque said it was Mr. Duterte who brought up the country’s narcotics problem with Trump.
Roque said Trump appears to understand Mr. Duterte’s determined campaign against drug trafficking.
“It was President Duterte who discussed with US President Trump the drug menace in the Philippines,” Roque said.
Trump sympathetic
“The US President appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter but was merely nodding his head indicating that he understood the domestic problem that we face on drugs,” he added.
Roque also said that Trump assured Mr. Duterte that his administration is a “friend” contrary to previous American administrations, particularly that of former US President Barack Obama.
“US President Trump specifically said that he has always been a friend of the Duterte administration, and that like previous administrations of the United States, he stressed that he can be counted upon as a friend of the Duterte administration,” Mr. Duterte’s spokesman said.
Because of Obama’s slight jabs at Mr. Duterte’s drug war last year, the Philippine President unleashed tirades against the United States, even digging the former colonizer’s notoriety during its rule.
Apart from being at the receiving end of Mr. Duterte’s expletives, Obama faced the Philippine leaders’ threat to review US-RP military ties.
At one point, Mr. Duterte mulled to cut its military and political ties with the US and thus shifting alliances with America’s long time political and economic rivals Russia and China.
Moreover, Mr. Duterte manifested the Philippines’ appreciation of “the general system of preference and suggested that a free trade agreement also be concluded between the US and the Philippines.”
Roque said Trump responded to it saying that he will “study the matter.”
“President Trump said that it was observed that the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry has become very important in the Philippines, and they will probably think of a way to reduce the trade surplus between the Philippines and the United States,” he added.
“President Trump singled out the issue on tariffs being imposed on US automobiles while these tariffs are not being imposed on Japanese cars,” he said.
All praises for Rody
Trump praised Duterte, chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this year, for his organization of the summits, saying he handled them “beautifully.”
“I’ve really enjoyed being here,” he said.
As the reporters were being escorted out of the room, one asked if Trump would raise the issue of human rights, to which Duterte jokingly called the media “spies.” Both laughed but neither answered.
Duterte and Trump sat next to each other at a pre-summit banquet on Sunday, during which they smiled, chatted and clinked champagne glasses.
Duterte, 72, also sang a Filipino love song, saying light-heartedly that he did so “on the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States.”
Duterte is hosting the world leaders because the Philippines holds the rotating chair of the 10-nation Asean bloc.
The events on Monday and Tuesday in Manila are two separate Asean-hosted summits, which also include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The rising threat of the Islamic State group across Southeast Asia, and further efforts to pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to abandon his nuclear ambitions, were top agenda items in Manila.
“Terrorism and violent extremism endanger the peace, stability and security of our region because these threats know no boundaries,” Duterte said in an opening ceremony speech on Monday.
Trump has vowed to advance peace and promote security in the Southeast Asian region as the Asean marks 40 years of cooperation with the US.
Trump told Duterte that the US will work with Asean “to achieve a truly free and open Indo-Pacific where we are proud, and we have sovereign nations and we thrive and everybody wants to prosper.”
“The United States remains committed to Asean central role as a regional forum for total cooperation,” said Trump during the Asean-US dialogue in the 31st Asean Summit.
“We want our partners in the region to be strong, independent and prosperous. In control of their own destinies and satellites to no one. These are the principles behind our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Trump said.
Trump lauded the Asean for pushing countries to reach a consensus on pressing issues facing the region and the world for the past five decades.
Asean member states have long worked to build “strong societies, robust economies and vibrant communities and citizens really proud,” Trump said.
“Today, we celebrate your incredible success and we also seek economic partnerships on the basis of fairness and reciprocity,” the firebrand American leader said.
The diplomatic partnership between Asean and the US “advances the security and prosperity of the American people and the people of all Indo-Pacific nations,” according to Trump, who was known to be a political outsider during his presidential campaign.
“You have created a forum for all nations with a stake in the Indo-Pacific, to listen, learn and develop solutions to common challenges through strategic dialogue,” Trump said.
“As the world knows, the United States since our election on November 8, has been moving ahead really brilliantly on an economic basis,” he said.
Trump boasted the record highs hit by American stock markets and the US’ “lowest unemployment in 17 years.”
“The have value of stocks has risen, 5.5 trillion dollars and companies are moving into the United States. A lot of companies are moving. They’re moving back. They want to be there. The enthusiasm levels are the highest ever recorded on the charts,” Trump said.
“We’re very happy about that and we think that bodes very well for your region because of the relationship that we have,” he said.
Appearing to be sympathetic of Duterte’s leadership, Trump has declared that since his election in office, he has always been an ally of the Philippine President.
Tension eased
Whatever tension in the country’s diplomatic relations with the United States in the recent months, brought about by tirades made by Mr. Duterte, is a thing of the past, given the outcome of his bilateral meeting with Trump where the latter reaffirmed support to the Philippines.
This was the impression given to Sen. Win Gatchalian who noted the friendly tone of the bilateral meeting of the two leaders in the sidelines of the ongoing Asean summit hosted by the government.
“I hope the budding friendship between our presidents will help us turn a new page in our diplomatic relationship and spur renewed cooperation between the Philippines and the United States in key policy areas,” he said in a text message to reporters.
The chair of the Senate committees on economic affairs and energy said it cannot be denied that the US government remains to be one of the country’s most important partners in trade, defense and security.
Following the assumption into office of Duterte, the administration has been leaning toward China and Russia, seeking alliances with these two countries to cushion the possible withdrawal of the US from the Philippines.
The Chief Executive in various speeches last year, has repeatedly vented his running feud with the US due to what he perceived as undue interference on the manner he’s addressing illegal drugs and crime in the country.
This was during the incumbency of former President Obama who urged him to carry out his war on drugs “the right way.”
The friendly tone of the bilateral meeting between Duterte and Trump is a promising first step towards revitalizing the country’s longstanding ties with the American allies, Gatchalian said. Julius N. Leonen, Angie M. Rosales, AFP

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