Nov. 13 (UPI) — U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday praised his relationship with Philippine President Rodrigo Dueterte, a remark seen as controversial due to Duterte’s past comments and his leadership record on human rights and extrajudicial, drug-related killings.
Trump arrived Sunday in Manila, where he will complete his lengthy Asia trip that began Nov. 3.
“We’ve had a great relationship,” Trump said of Duterte in a joint speech. “This has been very successful.”
Trump repeatedly thanked Duterte for hospitality at the start of the ASEAN summit Monday.
In his comments, Duterte called reporters “spies,” which elicited a laugh from Trump, who himself has made much criticism of U.S. news media.
Trump made no mention of Dueterte’s human rights record, including the slew of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines’ war on drugs. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump and Duterte discussed human rights and the drug war during private meetings.
“The conversation focused on ISIS, illegal drugs and trade,” Sanders said. “Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs.”
Duterte spokesman Harry Roque, however, said the two leaders didn’t talk about human rights at all.
“No mention of human rights. There was no mention of extralegal killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion of the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining,” he said.
The meeting between Trump and Duterte garnered extra attention Monday given some of the remarks the Philippine leader has made in the past.
Duterte has publicly advocated the death penalty for those who commit drug crimes and has been nicknamed “The Punisher” for his aggressive war against drugs — which has seen at least 3,800 people killed.
Duterte has even stated that he’d kill his own son if he was convicted of drug trafficking.
Trump and Duterte were involved in a photo opportunity Monday, called the ASEAN handshake, during which the U.S. president was caught off guard by the tradition.