Trump backs PH drug war–Duterte
President Duterte’s unrelenting war on drugs that has left thousands dead was being pursued the “right way,” US President-elect Donald Trump said in an “animated” phone conversation that also signaled a warming of bilateral ties chilled by the Filipino leader’s anti-American stance.
The conversation came amid tension and uncertainty between the US and the Philippines after months of criticisms from Mr. Duterte, fueled by his anger over the Obama administration’s concerns about his deadly war on narcotics.
Mr. Duterte, in comments released by his office on Saturday, said Trump was “quite sensitive” about Manila’s drug situation, which the Filipino leader has repeatedly portrayed as having infiltrated local politics.
“The President-elect Trump wishes … to extend his warmest regards to the Filipino people. And in just a few minutes, we were talking a lot of things. He was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs,” he said of the Friday night conversation, adding that Trump “wishes me well” in the bloody campaign.
Trump said that “we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” according to Mr. Duterte.
“I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump. And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem,” he said.
“He understood the way we are handling it and I said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country,” the president said.
Trump’s office also released a brief statement following the conversation, saying Mr. Duterte had congratulated Trump and the two agreed to work together closely.
Trump extended an invitation for Mr. Duterte to visit New York and Washington at a future date, and the Philippine leader reciprocated by inviting the incoming US leader to the summit of Southeast Asian leaders that Manila is hosting near year.
Mr. Duterte had lashed out at the government of outgoing US leader Barack Obama, for questioning his campaign that, according to rights groups, has left close to 5,000 drug suspects dead either in police operations or vigilante killings.
“I appreciate the response that I got from President-elect Trump and I would like to wish him success. He will be a good president for the United States of America. I am very sure,” he said.
The phone call lasted a little over seven minutes, according to the President’s special assistant Christopher Go.
A video of the call released by Malacañang showed Mr. Duterte smiling and laughing while he held the phone to his left ear. He appeared to read from a statement.
Mr. Duterte’s tone when talking about Trump was markedly different from his earlier strident stance against the United States.
In five months in office, Mr. Duterte has upended the country’s foreign policy by attacking the United States after it expressed concern over the killings.
He earlier said President Obama can “go to hell” and subsequently announced an economic and military separation from the United States during a state visit to China.
Mr. Duterte has made overtures of military and economic alliances with China and Russia, the United States’ traditional rivals.
He also blasted supposed American hypocrisy, for questioning his war on crime when they themselves massacred hundreds of Filipinos during the pacification campaign over a century ago.
Trump of the East
But after Trump won the November elections, he softened his stance.
Mr. Duterte, 71, dubbed the “Trump of the East,” has often been compared to Trump, 70. Both have been known for their outrageous statements and fiery rhetoric.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said all indications pointed to improving relations.
“So, I believe also, we could say at this stage that it seems our relationship with the United States is improving,” Abella said.
As for the Filipinos’ concerns that business process outsourcing companies would pull out because of Trump’s wish to keep American firms at home, Abella said this was not discussed between the two leaders.
“So at this point, let’s play it by ear. At our pace, it seems that the industry is doing well and is secure,” he said.
Abella also said that while the country’s leaders may be issuing very strong statements, “they always have the national interest at heart.”
Right kind of responses
He noted that Mr. Duterte has been described as “reckless” in his statements, but he has however been “getting the right kind of responses.”
“The President continues to return to his goal: to bring back to the Filipinos their sense
of dignity and sense of sovereignty,” he said. “People all over the world are beginning to respond to that, and [President-elect] Trump had a good response to us.”
A source who has advised Trump on security policy told Reuters last week that Trump would come to the relationship as a “clean slate,” something that could help alleviate some of the problems in the relationship.
“He’s not invested in a policy of the past,” the source said of Trump. “He is perfectly capable of talking to Mr. Duterte in an open way without being wedded to previous policy failures. If anyone is going to be able to right the ship, it’s someone with Mr. Trump’s profile.”
But in an earlier interview, Trump said that Mr. Duterte’s comments about the United States and President Obama showed “a lack of respect for our country.”
He however stressed the “very important and strategic location” of the Philippines as he criticized Obama for failing to take time to get to know world leaders.—WITH A REPORT FROM ALLAN NAWAL AND THE WIRES
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