MANILA, Philippines – After their first bilateral meeting, the United States and the Philippines – in a show of unity – released a joint statement that included a topic many observers hoped to be raised: human rights.
"The two sides underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs to promote the welfare of all sectors, including the most vulnerable groups," the statement released late Monday, November 13, said.
However, human rights was not directly mentioned in the context of Duterte's controversial drug war. Instead, a separate reference was made to the campaign against drugs.
"The two sides discussed the ongoing campaign in the Philippines against criminality including illegal drugs," it said. Expounding on this, the statement said both countries would share best practices in "transparency in investigations."
"Both sides acknowledged that illegal drug use is a problem afflicting both countries and committed to share best practices in the areas of prevention; enforcement, including capacity-building and transparency in investigations; and rehabilitation."
The statement contradicted Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque's claim that human rights was not discussed at the bilateral meeting.
"The issue of human rights did not arise. It was not brought up," Roque said.
He also said Duterte himself introduced his drug war as a topic of conversation.
"It was President Duterte who brought up with President Trump the drug menace in the Philippines, and the US President appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter but was merely nodding his head," said Roque.
The conversation between Duterte and Trump was much awaited by observers because of the perceived similarities between the two, with Duterte being called the “Trump of the East” in the past. The two are tough-talking, anti-establishment leaders, who are seen to have little regard for rules and protocol.
Their talk came as Duterte faces global criticism from human rights advocates for his controversial drug war, which has claimed thousands of lives. Trump in December said Duterte was doing a "great job" in his drug war. (Read: IN PHOTOS: Trump and Duterte's budding friendship)
Trump is in the Philippines for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits. The Philippines is his final stop on his 5-nation, 13-day Asia tour. – Rappler.com