US to provide total of $101.3-M additional funds to PH
On the final leg of his five-nation Asian tour, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday, November 13, that he and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte “had a great relationship” during their first in-person meeting on the sidelines of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit held in Manila.
Further adding to their relationship, Trump congratulated Duterte on the liberation of Marawi City, Mindanao, from the ISIS-inspired Maute group, and promised to increase support from the U.S.
“We’ve had a great relationship,” Trump told reporters Monday. “This has been very successful. We’ve had many meetings today with many other leaders. The ASEAN conference has been handled beautifully by the president of the Philippines and your representatives. I’ve really enjoyed being here.”
On Tuesday, November 15, the White House included in a statement, Trump’s pledge to provide additional funds to the Philippines in support of administration initiatives. According to Philstar.com, the U.S. embassy confirmed that these were the same commitments made by Washington last September.
“President Trump announced an additional $14.3 million for Marawi City to address the humanitarian needs of 360,000 displaced persons and to support stabilization and a speedy recovery in Marawi by jumpstarting livelihoods and promoting alternatives to violent extremism,” said the Tuesday statement.
The $14.3 million would be in addition to the $85 million already provided by the U.S. for counterterrorism-related equipment, training, and support for the armed forces of the Philippines, according to the White House.
Approximately $65 million has also been noted to have been provided to the Philippines by the U.S. to “enhance the Philippines’ maritime security capabilities”.
$2 M to PH drug campaign
Also announced in the Tuesday statement was $2 million by the U.S. towards drug demand reduction programs in the Philippines. Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. on Thursday said the monetary assistance was an act of support, despite being late in announcement.
“I wish President Trump had said that during their bilateral meeting so President Duterte would be happier,” said Roque during a Malacañan Palace briefing on Thursday.
“That proves without a doubt that the U.S. President supports the war on drugs. Why would he otherwise give $2 million to this cause if he thinks it’s not being implemented correctly?,” said Roque.
According to reports, Philippine ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said that it would be a violation on the U.S.’ part to give aid to the Philippine government due to the latter’s ongoing allegations of internationally recognized gross human rights violations.
During Trump and Duterte’s bilateral meeting on Monday, Trump did not respond to questions of whether the issue of human rights was raised. Duterte too kept mum and instead admonished reporters, saying it was a bilateral meeting, not a news conference.
“Whoa, whoa,” said Duterte to reporters. “This is not a press statement. This is the bilateral meeting.”
“We will be discussing matters that are of interest to both the Philippines and…with you around, guys, you are the spies,” Duterte told reporters at which Trump laughed.
In a following press briefing, Roque seemed to put the question to rest when he said, “The issue of human rights did not arise. It was not brought up.”
“There was no mention of human rights. There was no mention of extralegal killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion of the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining,” said Roque.
He also said that Trump “seemed to be appreciative of his efforts.”
However, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made a contradicting statement and said that the issue of human rights did come up, though rather fleetingly, in addition to talks of fair trade, the war on drugs, and terrorism.
“Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs,” said Sanders.
In a following joint statement released late Monday, the topic was included.
“The two sides underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs to promote the welfare of all sectors, including the most vulnerable groups,” reads the statement.
In a separate reference, the statement said, “The two sides discussed the ongoing campaign in the Philippines against criminality including illegal drugs. Both sides acknowledged that illegal drug use is a problem afflicting both countries and committed to share best practices in the areas of prevention; enforcement, including capacity-building and transparency in investigations; and rehabilitation.”
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.
Last week, Duterte said on Wednesday, November 8, that he was ready to tell Trump to “lay off” if the latter was to bring up the issue of human rights during their upcoming meeting — Trump has never publically raised the subject before, despite urges by human rights advocates for him to do so.
Despite his warning to avoid the subject, the relationship between the two seemed rather cordial in the days leading up to their awaited bilateral meeting.
The camaraderie continued up until the ASEAN summit where Duterte sang Tagalog song “Ikaw” (You) in a duet with Philippine singer Pilita Corrales. He later told ABS-CBN new that he sang the song uninvited “upon the order of the commander-in-chief of the United States.”
Also present at the summit were leaders of the 10-member ASEAN. China, Russia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand were also present.