MANILA, Philippines – The “understanding” forged between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and US President-elect Donald Trump during a phone conversation signaled “improving” relations between their countries, Malacañang said on Saturday, December 3.
“We can say at this stage, that our relationship with the US is improving,” said Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
On Friday night, December 3, Duterte called Trump to personally congratulate him on his election victory. (READ: WATCH: Duterte invites Trump to visit Philippines in 2017)
Duterte, who was at odds with US President Barack Obama over the latter’s statements on the spate of killings linked to the Philippine leader’s war on drugs, said he sensed “good rapport” with the next US leader.
Trump apparently got off on the right foot with Duterte, as he wished the Philippine leader well on his campaign against illegal drugs. Duterte quoted Trump as telling him that the Philippine government was doing it “as a sovereign nation, the right way.”
At the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Laos in September, Obama said in a news briefing that Duterte should fight crime “the right way,” alluding to concerns over human rights abuses in the Philippine leader’s anti-crime effort.
At the East Asian Summit in Laos, Duterte set aside a prepared speech and showed photos of Muslim Filipinos killed in the US pacification campaign in the early 1900s, when the Philippines was a US colony. He did this in front of other leaders, including Obama, a move that aimed to show US “hypocrisy” in calling him out on human rights abuses.
As of December 3, there have been over 5,800 deaths, both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings, since the Duterte administration began its campaign against illegal drugs. (READ: Impunity: Murder as Meme)
Since being called out by Obama and US State Department – which he had described as manned by “fools” – Duterte had seesawed between threats to cut military and economic ties with its oldest and most powerful ally, and clarificatory statements that he would not.
Duterte’s anti-US pronouncements had caused jitters among US businesses, particularly those involved in the Philippines’ business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. (READ: Duterte vs US: PH to lose third largest trading partner)
A Trump presidency, meanwhile, is seen to have some negative impact on Filipinos in the US and also those at home. (READ: 5 ways a Trump presidency can affect Filipinos)
Relations between the Philippines and the US flourished under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, under whose term the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was sealed. The Philippine Supreme Court upheld it in January this year. – with a report from Agence-France Presse/Rappler.com
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