PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte says he is willing to discuss any issue with Barack Obama when the two leaders meet in Laos next week, on one condition – the U.S. president must listen to him first.
Explaining his remark, the straight-talking Davao city mayor pointed out that Obama first needs to understand the problems faced by the Philippines before the two can delve into a discussion on human rights.
“They must understand the problem first before we talk about human rights. I would insist, listen to me: this is what the problem is, then we can talk,” he was quoted in a Straits Times report (via Reuters) as telling reporters in Manila today.
Duterte is presumably referring to the drug scourge in his country, a menace he promised to wipe out when campaigning for presidency. And since taking office in June, Duterte has done just that but his heavy-handed approach to tackling the issue has raised concerns among international rights advocates.
After declaring a war on drugs and urging the public to kill drug criminals, at least 2,000 people have been reportedly killed over their suspected involvement in the narcotics trade.
Reuters reported this week that Obama is expected to raise human rights and security concerns when he meets with Duterte during their official visit to Laos.
White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes revealed this in a press conference Monday when asked if the two leaders would talk about Duterte’s controversial remarks about women and journalists, among others.
“We absolutely expect that the president will raise concerns about some of the recent statements from the president of the Philippines.”
He said the meeting will also cover other pressing issues such as the tensions involving the South China Sea territorial dispute. In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China breached the Philippine’s sovereign rights by exploring resources in the South China Sea, a decision which has incensed the Chinese government.
It is unclear, however, whether Obama also plans to discuss Duterte’s controversial anti-drugs campaign, which has been blamed for the wave of extrajudicial killings in the Southeast Asian nation.
Washington recently expressed concern over the killings but Duterte, in typical fashion, later dismissed this and lashed out at U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, labelling him a “gay son of a whore”.
Criticism of the Philippines’ drug war by representatives of the United Nations have also evoked equally furious responses from Duterte, who threatened to pull his country out of the organization.
Obama is expected to meet Duterte in Laos on September 6 as part of a summit of leaders from Pacific Rim nations.
During his visit, the first ever by a sitting U.S. president, Obama is scheduled to attend a pair of regional conferences: the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit.
He will also have bilateral meetings with President Bounnhang Vorachit and other officials to “advance U.S.-Laos cooperation on economic, development, and people-to-people ties, among other areas.
Prior to Laos, Obama will also drop by China to participate in the G-20 Leaders’ Summit in Hangzhou, alongside leaders from the world’s top 20 industrialized and developing nations.