Duterte welcomes Trump amid protests

US President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at Ninoy-Aquino International Airport in Manila on Nov 12, 2017.
US President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at Ninoy-Aquino International Airport in Manila on Nov 12, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - US President Donald Trump landed in Manila on Sunday (Nov 12) to a warm reception from his host, the equally provocative Rodrigo Duterte, but also to loud calls of “Dump Trump” from left-wing protesters.

Mr Trump and Mr Duterte had a “very warm and cordial” first meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam, on Saturday, according to Mr Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque.

The Philippines’ usually sharp-tongued leader is likely to display his more charming side for Mr Trump, as the two roll through this week’s meetings at the Asean summit.

Mr Trump and Mr Duterte are set to hold bilateral talks on Monday on violent extremism, efforts to reign in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and Mr Duterte’s war on drugs.

One item that is unlikely to make it into their agenda is human rights.

“I’m sure he will not take it up,” said Mr Duterte, referring to the thousands of suspects killed in his bloody crackdown on the narcotics trade.

The crackdown has led to police killing over 3,900 suspects since he took office last year, provoking cries of “crimes against humanity” among rights groups.

Mr Trump, he said, “cannot afford” to bring up the subject. 

“We do not talk about these things because, first of all, they are not true, and second, we do not do it,” Mr Duterte said.

Mr Duterte had rained profanities, even racial slurs, at former president Barack Obama for expressing concerns over rights violations as a result of the drugs war. 

Last year, he called for a “separation” from the US, threatened to expel US troops, and accused the Central Intelligence Agency of plotting to kill him.

Mr Trump, on the other hand, has refrained from criticising Mr Duterte. In a phone call in April, Mr Trump congratulated Mr Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem”.

Mr Duterte told reporters in Danang he was expecting an “interesting time” with Mr Trump.

“I strongly suspect we will see an alpha-male bromance between the two,” said Mr Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia. For some left-wing groups, Mr Trump remains the “CEO of the imperialist government of the US”, as a student put it.

Dozens of protesters were injured when riot police trained water cannons at them as they marched towards the US embassy carrying placards declaring “Dump Trump”, and “Down with US Imperialism” shortly before Mr Trump landed in Manila.

The Philippines is Mr Trump’s last stop on a marathon tour that has taken him to Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam.