Trump, Duterte 'bromance' in full bloom at Asean summit

SPH Brightcove Video
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sang for his US counterpart during a dinner at the Asean summit and Donald Trump said they had a "great relationship".
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Donald Trump hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 31st Asean summit and related meetings in Manila on Nov 13, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA - US President Donald Trump on Monday (Nov 13) spoke of his "great relationship" with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte, as the two sidestepped questions concerning human rights and focused instead on issues they already had broad agreements on.

"We have a great relationship. This has been very successful," Mr Trump told reporters, shortly before holding bilateral talks with Mr Duterte.

When journalists shouted questions on whether Mr Trump would raise the thousands of extrajudicial killings that had marred Mr Duterte's brutal anti-crime drive, the Philippine President shot back: "Whoa, whoa… This is not a press statement. We are in a bilateral meeting. You are the spies."

Mr Duterte has come under intense international criticism for his bloody drugs war. His crackdown has led to police killing over 3,900 suspects since he took office in 2016.

Human rights groups have pressed Mr Trump to take a tough line on Mr Duterte.

White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr Trump briefly discussed human rights with Mr Duterte in the context of his war on drugs.

But in a news conference, Mr Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said: "There was no mention of human rights, no mention of the extrajudicial killings".

He said Mr Duterte explained at length his anti-crime drive, and that Mr Trump mostly just listened.

"Many times (Mr Trump) was nodding, specifically on the ill effects of drugs," said Mr Roque.

Mr Trump overall heaped praises on his host.

"The Asean conference has been handled beautifully by the President of the Philippines, and I really enjoyed being here… One thing about the Philippines, eventually it gets good no matter what," he said.

Mr Duterte even obliged by serenading Mr Trump and the other leaders who attended a gala dinner on Sunday with a local love song.

One of the song's verses, translated from Filipino, begins: "You are the light in my world, a half of this heart of mine."

"Ladies and gentlemen, I sang uninvited, upon the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States," Mr Duterte said later, according to the ABS-CBN news channel.

The flattery heaped upon Mr Trump has been in stark contrast to how Mr Duterte treated Mr Trump's predecessor, Mr Barack Obama.

The usually provocative leader had rained profanities and even racial slurs at Mr Obama for expressing concerns over rights violations as a result of Mr Duterte's drugs war.

Last year, Mr Duterte 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 Roque said Mr Obama's criticisms had been "sour points" in US-Philippine relations, but this is in the past now.

"I think the issue between President Duterte and former president Barack Obama is a thing of the past. There's a new administration now, and we see in their body language that (Mr Duterte and Mr Trump) are hitting it off," said Philippines' Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.