One week before U.S. President Donald Trump’s arrival for the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was asked by reporters what he would tell Trump if the issue of his alleged human rights violations were brought up:
“You want to ask a question, I’ll give you an answer: ‘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.’”
But there was no need for the sharp rebuke as President Trump sidestepped the issue on human rights violations and the contentious situation with China’s claims over disputed islands in the Western Philippine Sea during his 40 minute meeting with Duterte.
Duterte won the presidency in 2016 riding a campaign built on eliminating the drug problem in the country. Since he assumed office, his bloody “war on drugs” has claimed more than 13,000 lives which included a 4-year old child.
The policy on the war on drugs was based on Duterte’s assertion that there were 4 million drug users in the country. However the latest study by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) only stated 1.7 Million users which had declined from 4 million in 2004.
Under Duterte’s administration, the Philippines chose not to enforce a 2016 ruling from the United Nations granting the country exclusive territorial rights over disputed islands in the Western Philippine Sea despite historical claims by China.
As a result, China has continued its massive build-up of military structures in an area widely recognized as strategic for military operations and trading.
The islands are of particular interest to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in light of heightened fears of war with North Korea. The United States has continued to send its naval fleet to the disputed waters even with the presence of the Chinese navy.
H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, informed reporters that the U.S. President had a “very strong stance” on human rights and had “quietly” brought them up with leaders during private meetings.
Another White House senior official stated that the discussion on the war on drugs between Trump and Duterte would focus on “ways in which that war could be prosecuted that conform to Philippine law and international norms for human rights.”