Obama-Duterte meeting: Sea dispute ruling, human rights on the table

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Barack Obama are set to meet for the first time on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Laos next week, Malacañang and the White House confirmed separately.

The White House said maritime security and human rights issues, as well as Duterte's controversial statements against the US ambassador to the Philippines, will be part of the discussion between Obama and Duterte during their bilateral meeting, expected to take place on Tuesday, September 6, in Vientiane, Laos.

The Obama-Duterte meeting will "establish rapport" between the two leaders, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a press briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday, August 30.

It will also be the highest-level meeting between representatives of the two countries, in the aftermath of the historic July 12 arbitration ruling, in which the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China had "no legal basis" to claim historic rights to resources in the hotly-contested South China Sea.

"I think we'll want to review the state of play as it relates to our treaty lines and the situation in the South China Sea in that dialogue with the new President of the Philippines," White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in a press briefing Monday, August 29.

"It’s essential that, just as we will be talking to China about matters related to the South China Sea, that we’re also talking to ASEAN countries and treaty allies like the Philippines, as well," Rhodes said.

Obama is also expected to bring up "concerns" about some of Duterte's recent remarks about the US envoy to Manila, Philip Goldberg, as well as the issues over alleged human rights issues over the Philippine government's battle against drugs. 

"We absolutely expect that the President will raise concerns about some of the recent statements from the President of the Philippines," Rhodes said. (READ: US summons PH envoy after Duterte called Goldberg 'bakla')

"We regularly meet with the leaders of our treaty allies where we have differences, whether it relates to human rights practices or derogatory comments," Rhodes said. "We take the opportunity of those meetings to raise those issues directly."

Prior to this, Duterte met with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Manila last July 26. 

Philippine-US relations under the Duterte presidency has so far encountered some bumps, despite the two governments emphasizing that the long-term ties between the two countries remains strong.

The US Embassy in Manila last August 12 pointed out 3 issues surrounding Duterte and the US, including the controversial remarks against Goldberg and the concern over the bloody war against illegal drugs.

The US is also trying to get assurances from its major Asian ally amid heightened tensions over the maritime disputes concerning the South China Sea. During Kerry's visit, Duterte assured the US that the Philippines will abide by the historic Hague ruling in any dealing with China.

The Laos visit will both be firsts for the two leaders: the ASEAN summit will be Duterte's first major international summit as head of state, while it will be the first time an American leader will visit the Southeast Asian country.

Duterte's Southeast Asian tour includes stops in Brunei and Indonesia. – Rappler.com