US watchdog opposes red carpet for Duterte

Philippines president hesitant on US visit, warm on China

In this combination of file photos (from left to right): Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Tokyo and US President Donald Trump in Washington.—AP

MANILA: A US-based human rights group says President Donald Trump should not roll out the White House red carpet for Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte, whom it accused of being a “mastermind” of mass murder because of his anti-drug crackdown in which thousands have died.

Human Rights Watch and other critics reacted with alarm yesterday at Trump’s invitation to Duterte to visit the White House. In a telephone call, Trump also affirmed America’s alliance and friendship with the Philippines and its president, who has maintained an antagonistic stance toward US security policies. The US and other countries close to the Philippines “have an obligation to urge accountability for the victims of Duterte’s abusive drug war, rather than offer to roll out the red carpet for official state visits with its mastermind,” said Phelim Kine, HRW’s deputy director for Asia.

Kine said Trump may damage human rights by making overly friendly overtures to Duterte, who is facing a complaint for alleged mass murder before the International Criminal Court. Trump will cut a “bad deal” for the American and Filipino people if he fetes Duterte with a White House reception without assessing the implications “of hosting and toasting a foreign leader whose links to possible crimes against humanity for instigating and inciting extrajudicial killings has already prompted warnings from the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court,” Kine said in an email.

Duterte has said his administration does not back extrajudicial killings, although he has repeatedly threatened drug suspects with death and violence in nationally televised speeches.  Duterte’s spokesman, Ernie Abella, did not immediately reply to a request for comment yesterday.

Duterte said he has not accepted the invitation because of scheduled trips to Russia, Israel and other countries. “I’m tied up,” he told reporters yesterday in southern Davao city. “I cannot make any definite promise.”
US and Philippine officials said Trump’s calls and invitations to several Asian allies including Duterte were aimed at discussing the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear threats. In his phone conversation with Trump, Duterte said he relayed the region’s alarm over the North Korean standoff.

Duterte hesitant
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he may turn down an invitation by Donald Trump to visit the United States, as he welcomed three Chinese warships to his home town. Duterte, who has loosened the Philippines’ long alliance with the United States while strengthening ties with China and Russia, said he could not commit to the American president because of a busy schedule that included a trip to Moscow. “I am tied up. I cannot make any definite promise. I am supposed to go to Russia, I am supposed to go to Israel,” he told reporters when asked about Trump’s invitation made in a telephone call on Saturday.

Duterte expressed concerns about not being able to fit in a visit to Trump even though no firm date has yet been proposed for it. Nevertheless, Duterte said relations with the United States were improving now that Trump had taken over from Barack Obama, who criticized the Philippine president for his anti-drug war that has claimed thousands of lives. Rights groups have warned Duterte may be orchestrating a crime against humanity, with police and vigilantes committing mass murder. But Duterte insists his security forces are not breaking any laws.

Duterte last year branded Obama a “son of a whore” in response to the criticism. He also declared while in Beijing last year that the Philippines had “separated” from the United States. The United States is the Philippines’ former colonial ruler and the nations are bound by a mutual defense treaty. Duterte said yesterday that his efforts to loosen the alliance were only a response to the drug war criticism.

This article was published on 01/05/2017