Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday, November 8, he would tell U.S. President Donald Trump to “lay off” if the latter were to bring up the issue of human rights during their upcoming meeting.
Upon speaking to reporters before leaving for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam where he arrived Wednesday night, Duterte was ready to answer questions of how he would respond to human rights discussions.
“You want to ask a question, I’ll give you an answer. Lay off,” said Duterte. “That is not your business. That is my business. I take care of my country and I will nurture my country to health.”
Since taking office in June of last year, Duterte has been condemned by international leaders and human rights groups for his war on drugs that has left thousands dead.
Bloomberg previously reported that a White House official said Trump would send a clear message on human rights principles during his meeting with Duterte, but the U.S. president hasn’t raised the subject before.
In a Thursday, November 2, media briefing, U.S. National Security Adviser H .R. McMaster defended Trump’s reluctance to speak out about human rights abuses.
“How much does it help to yell about these problems,” said McMaster. “What the president is doing is being effective,” he added.
McMaster suggested that Trump may be speaking on the issues more privately and said, “I don’t think you should assume anything.”
In May, Trump was revealed congratulating Duterte on his “unbelievable job on the drug problem” in a leaked telephone conversation between the two.
“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,” he added.
Duterte’s war on drugs has left over 7,000 people dead with most coming from the urban poor community, according to Human Rights Watch.
Despite Duterte’s warning to avoid the subject of human rights, the relationship between the two leaders have been rather cordial.
Preceding Trump’s 12-day Asian tour, a White House senior administration official signaled that the two leaders have a good relationship and said, “I think there’s a warm rapport there, and he’s very much looking forward to his first in-person meeting with President Duterte.”
This followed a media briefing in which Duterte also expressed camaraderie with Trump and said he “would deal with President Trump in the most righteous way, welcome him as an important leader.”
On his upcoming meeting with Trump, Duterte said on Wednesday that discussion priorities would be on trade, extremism and terrorism, and maybe Philippines’ position in relation to China, adding “we all hunger for peace”.
“The Philippines is a sovereign state. I will not allow anybody to impose anything on my country. I will listen to you, but if it is not to the best interest of my country, I will ignore you,” said Duterte.
“I have to hear them first before I make my response because it will be based on the outcomes of their talks,” he added. “I will not go there as a subservient lackey of anyone.”
The two leaders will have opportunity to meet for the first time at the APEC Summit events. Trump is also slated to arrive in the Philippines on Sunday, November 12 to attend the East Asia Summit.