Responding to questions from reporters on Wednesday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he would tell President Trump to back off if the U.S. leader asked about Duterte’s human rights record during their upcoming meeting.
“You want to ask a question, I’ll give you an answer,” he said. “Lay off. That is not your business. That is my business. I take care of my country and I will nurture my country to health.”
Trump is currently on a 12-day trip across parts of Asia and has so far met with leaders in Japan and South Korea. He is scheduled to meet with Chinese leaders on Wednesday before flying to Vietnam on Friday and the Philippines on Sunday. Duterte will hold meetings with Trump on the U.S. president’s final day in Manila before heading home.
The Philippine president has been condemned by human rights groups worldwide over his brutal crackdown on drugs, his refusal to address related prison overcrowding, and his attempts at silencing his critics since his inauguration last June. In the past year, more than 7,000 people — who Philippine authorities have questionably claimed were “drug dealers” and drug users — have been killed by police and “unidentified gunmen” in an escalating, bloody “war on drugs,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Duterte’s administration has also been criticized for using “secret jails” where police reportedly torture suspects and demand bribes for prisoners’ freedom.
“Duterte has supported and incited ‘drug war’ killings while retaliating against those fearless enough to challenge his assault on human rights,” HRW deputy Asia director Phelim Kine stated in June. “…During his first year in office, President Duterte and his government have demonstrated a fundamental unwillingness to respect rights or provide justice for people whose rights have been violated. A UN-led international investigation is desperately needed to help stop the slaughter and press for accountability for Duterte’s human rights catastrophe.”
Duterte may not have to worry about facing similar challenges from Trump, however. In the past, the U.S. president has lauded Duterte’s extreme efforts, with senior White House aides extolling the “warm rapport” between the two men.
“President Duterte, he’s spoken with, they’ve had exchanges of letters,” one administration official said in October, according to The Guardian. “I think there’s a warm rapport there, and he’s very much looking forward to his first in-person meeting with President Duterte.”
In April, during a phone call with the Philippine president, Trump went so far as to praise Duterte’s violent crackdown, congratulating him for his work so far.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump said. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
After Duterte bemoaned the fact that drugs were the “scourge of my nation” and claimed he “[had] to do something to preserve the Filipino nation,” Trump responded that “[the United States] had a previous president who did not understand that,” seemingly referencing President Obama.
Trump closed the call by inviting Duterte to visit the Oval Office “whenever” he wanted.
“I will love to have you in the Oval Office, anytime you want to come,” he said. “Take care of yourself, Rodrigo. God bless you.”
The two leaders have mirrored one another in the past as well, specifically in terms of their views on the press.
In June 2016, just before being sworn into office, Duterte said, during a press conference, that journalists were not exempt from assassination and that most of the 75 journalists who had been killed in the country since 1992 had deserved to be murdered. (The number of journalists killed in the Philippines since 1992 has since risen to 78.)
“Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch,” he said. “Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong.”
While less severe, Trump — who often refers to the media as “fake news” — has also been adamant in his belief that the press are largely “bad people” with a dishonest agenda.
“For the most part, honestly, these are really, really dishonest people and they are bad people. And I really think they don’t like our country. I really believe that,” he said during a rally in Arizona this past August.
You’re taxpaying Americans who love our nation, obey our laws, and care for our people. It’s time to expose the crooked media deceptions, and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions. And yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage. You see that.
Trump has also threatened to pull “licenses” for broadcast networks he deems unfavorable to him (broadcast networks do not need a license to operate) and tweeted photoshopped gifs that depict violence against the press.