Philippine President Duterte says 'looking forward to closely working' with Biden

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had said he personally would rather see Mr Trump elected to a second term. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who privately backed US President Donald Trump, said on Sunday (Nov 8) he was "looking forward to closely working" with president-elect Joseph Biden.

"We look forward to working closely with the new administration of president-elect Biden, anchored on mutual respect, mutual benefit and shared commitment to democracy, freedom and the rule of law," his spokesman Harry Roque said in a text message.

"The Philippines and the United States have long-standing bilateral relations, and we are committed to further enhancing the relations with the United States under the Biden administration," said Mr Roque.

Mr Duterte had said he personally would rather see Mr Trump elected to a second term, having been at odds with Democrats in Washington who criticised his brutal drug war and crackdown on civil liberties.

He once called then President Barack Obama a "son of a bitch".

But he had recently been making overtures for better ties with the US, after upending the Philippines' foreign policy to bring it closer to China.

He has put off temporarily his decision to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US and pardoned and sent home an American serviceman convicted of killing a Filipino transgender.

"I think these moves signal an interest to work with whoever wins the heated elections," Mr Lucio Pitlo III, a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, told The Straits Times.

Still, Mr Pitlo added, "Human rights may be a difficult issue and may beset ties if not handled properly."

Political analyst and author Richard Heydarian said he expects Mr Biden to be "much more pragmatic" and "cautious" when dealing with populists like Mr Duterte.

"Biden is coming in as a diminished president compared to what was expected based on the polls. He'll face very contentious politics at home. That will make him much more pragmatic in dealing with the world in a sense that he will be more cautious. He will seek functional and civil relations with tricky allies and partners and strongmen populists like Duterte," said Mr Heydarian.

He said Mr Duterte would likely leverage on the US's desire to maintain security arrangements with the Philippines and reconstitute an alliance to check China to wrangle concessions from Mr Biden, especially on issues concerning human rights, as Mr Duterte's own presidency comes to a close.

Mr Duterte's term ends in 2022.

"The Biden administration will have to have some difficult conversations with the Duterte administration," he said.

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