MANILA – Despite President Rodrigo Duterte's "plain-speaking," the United States is going to continue to make it clear that it is committed to strengthening bilateral relations with the Philippines, while at the same time making clear that it is concerned about human rights and the rising number of extra-judicial killings in the country.
In a briefing with media on Monday, the US State Department emphasized that while it has a "very frank and candid relationship" with the Philippines, it is "a good relationship".
"[Duterte] is well known as a plain-speaking politician. It's not for me to judge that. I'm just going to say that we continue to work with the Filipino government on a broad range of bilateral and regional issues, and at the same time making clear that the Philippines addresses issues that touch on human rights," said Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner.
Considering its "enduring security relationship with the Philippines," the US is "seeking always to improve that relationship," Toner said.
However, while the Philippines remains an important partner in the region, the US will not turn a blind eye to any alleged human rights abuses.
Toner said that the US is "deeply concerned" about reports of drug-related extra-judicial killings in the country, as it strongly believes in the rule of law and respect for human rights. Thus, the US government will continue to urge the Philippines to "ensure its law enforcement efforts comply with its human rights obligations."
This, he said, was made clear by Secretary of State John Kerry and Duterte during the former’s visit to the country in July. Among the key items on the agenda was how the Philippines could possibly resolve tensions with China over the West Philippine Sea.
Since taking over as the country’s president, Duterte has made jabs at US officials, saying he is annoyed at US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, and joking that after Kerry promised to provide $33 million in funds for defense, the Philippines should continue to take swipes at the US so that it would make amends with money.
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