Australia vs Duterte? ‘Just difference in perspective,’ Abella says

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
Australia vs Duterte? ‘Just difference in perspective,’ Abella says
There 'was no contradiction' between President Rodrigo Duterte and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella says

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella, denied that Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop contradicted Duterte’s statement about their recent meeting. 

Duterte had claimed that he and Bishop “never” discussed human rights, but Australia’s top diplomat said she relayed her country’s concerns about the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

Bishop also said she stressed the importance of human rights during their meeting in Davao City on Friday, March 17. 

Still, Abella said in a statement on Tuesday, March 21, “There was no contradiction between Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the Philippine president, just a difference in perspective.”

Abella explained that Duterte “did not deem it sufficient to mention” human rights “as having been discussed.”

This is because Duterte and Bishop “had a productive dialogue which emphasized possible areas of constructive cooperation” in the war on drugs.

In general, Abella said, “the meeting was positive and just affirmed the growing Philippine-Australia relations.”

In a statement made public on Monday, March 20, however, Bishop said: “During my conversation with President Duterte, we discussed the country’s anti-drug campaign at length. I conveyed Australian and international concerns with respect to extrajudicial killings and spoke of the importance we attach to human rights and the rule of law.”

Duterte: ‘They are so courteous’

Before this, Duterte claimed in a press conference on Sunday, March 19: “We never discussed human rights. They are so courteous…Because if you say that, if you utter those things in my presence, you’ll get an insult. So what we did was to discuss transnational crimes, terrorism.”

Elaine Pearson, director of Human Rights Watch in Australia, said in a statement: “The conflicting accounts of the same meeting show why Bishop should have spoken publicly in Davao condemning the killings so it was crystal clear what Australia’s position is.”

“Either her message never got through, or Duterte is deliberately distorting what she said. But anyone listening to Duterte’s press conference would presume Australia’s foreign minister had nothing but praise for Duterte,” Pearson added.

She said that Bishop “needs to take a strong stance in correcting Duterte’s assertions so that Filipinos know where Australia stands,” as Duterte “is desperate to show he has international allies.”

Bishop had been quoted in October 2016 as urging the Philippines “to ensure the cessation of extrajudicial killings.”  

When she was in the Philippines last week, however, Bishop refrained from making public statements about human rights abuses in Duterte’s war on drugs. 

In her Rappler Talk interview on Thursday, March 16, Bishop in fact said Duterte’s electoral victory provides a “lesson for politicians around the world” about tapping into the concerns “of those who feel left behind by globalization.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email