Duterte, Tillerson to discuss Balangiga bells, Marawi crisis
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte and United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are likely to discuss the Balangiga bells, the Marawi crisis, and other security issues during their meeting on Monday, August 7.
"We expect the President to discuss with Secretary Tillerson a wide range of relevant issues, including the security situation in Marawi, the global threat of terrorism, increasing Philippines-US economic and people-to-people engagement, Balangiga bells, among others," said Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
He was holding a press conference on Monday, a few hours before the Tillerson courtesy call in Malacañang at 4 pm.
Tillerson will be the highest-ranking official of the Trump administration to meet with Duterte so far.
Duterte asked the US to return the historic Balangiga bells during his second State of the Nation Address last July 24. The bells were taken by US soldiers in 1901 as spoils of war following the Balangiga Massacre.
The US soldiers took the church bells after killing Samar residents, including children, in retaliation for deaths of American soldiers at the hands of locals.
The US embassy has said it will work with the Philippine government in finding a "solution" to the issue.
Abella said Duterte will be willing to discuss another thorny topic during his meeting with Tillerson: human rights.
"We also welcome the opportunity to address concerns such as human rights, if and when raised," said the President's spokesman.
Duterte has bristled at criticism from the United States, led by former president Barack Obama, about human rights violations being perpetrated supposedly in the name of his government's drug war.
Last July 20, American congressmen held a hearing about the alleged abuses in Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs.
But US President Donald Trump has chosen to take a different tone, even supposedly commending Duterte for the drug war in a phone conversation.
Security issues, especially the crisis in Marawi City and the threat of terrorism in general, will likely be discussed by Duterte and Tillerson.
The US continues to extend assistance to the Philippine military in its fight against terrorists in Marawi City.
The US has also expressed concern for North Korea's nuclear tests, with Trump even asking Duterte in a phone conversation to ask China to intervene.
North Korea's two successful launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles has sparked global alarm and was among the key topics during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Manila.
Aside from Tillerson, Duterte is also expected to meet with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Monday. – Rappler.com