Trump hasn't meddled in human rights issues and I can be a friend to anybody: Philippines President Duterte

Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines President, speaks during the Philippine Economic Forum hosted by the Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2016.
Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines President, speaks during the Philippine Economic Forum hosted by the Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

MANILA (REUTERS) - Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte thinks he will get along with Mr Donald Trump as the US president-elect "has not meddled in human rights" issues, and he trusted Mr Trump's judgment to deal fairly with the undocumented workers he plans to kick out.

Mr Duterte's hostility towards traditional ally the United States has defined his presidency so far, but he has changed his tune since Mr Trump's surprise election win last week.

"It was a well-deserved victory. You (Mr Trump) are the chosen leader of the most powerful country," Mr Duterte told reporters at a function at the presidential palace late on Tuesday (Nov 15). 

He acknowledged Mr Trump's intent to crackdown on illegal migrants. Large numbers of Filipinos are believed to be working illegally in the United States and remittances from all US-based Filipinos is equivalent to 3 per cent of the country's GDP.

"I trust in his judgment that he would be fair in the matter of the treatment of illegal immigrants. I cannot talk for the illegals because, whether President Trump or anybody else for that matter, an illegal is always an illegal," he said.

Mr Duterte's volatility and willingness to castigate anyone he disagrees with earned him the nickname "Trump of the East" when he was campaigning as the alternative candidate in a presidential election he won in May by a big margin.

His warm words for Mr Trump contrast starkly with the abuse he poured on incumbent President Barack Obama, who he told repeatedly to "go to hell" and called a "son of a whore" for daring to voice concern about the death toll in Mr Duterte's drugs war.

When asked if he thought he would get along with Mr Trump, he said he could be friends with anyone and noted the incoming president had not said anything about human rights - a no-go topic for Mr Duterte and a trigger for his rage.

"We don't have any quarrels. I can always be a friend to anybody, especially to a president, a chief executive of another country," he said. "He has not meddled in the human rights."

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella on Wednesday said Mr Trump's migration policy would have little impact on the Philippines.

He declined during a regular briefing to give an estimate of the number of Filipinos working illegally in the United States.

Mr Abella said there were mechanisms in place to provide them with business and employment opportunities and the government encouraged them to return home before Mr Trump takes office.