MANILA – Two American lawmakers snapped back at President Rodrigo Duterte for arguing that the country’s drug war and human rights abuses linked to the campaign are internal matters in which other nations and concerned organizations should not intervene.
US Congressmen Randy Hultgren and James McGovern, co-chairs of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said asserting sovereignty “does not give governments free rein to kill their own people at will.”
The lawmakers made the statement in response to Duterte's earlier threat to bar them from entering the Philippines after they called on US President Donald Trump to raise human rights issues during their meeting here.
“We will continue to stand up for human rights and the rule of law in the Philippines and everywhere else in the world, in keeping with American and international values,” the two lawmakers said.
“We urge Mr. Duterte to join us in that endeavor. Should the situation in the Philippines improve, it will be our pleasure to recognize that the next time we hold a hearing on that country.”
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in July conducted a hearing into the Philippines’ war on drugs, where human rights organizations urged the Philippine government to uphold the rule of law and respect human rights in its anti-drug campaign.
Trump left the Philippines on Tuesday afternoon after attending the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit without discussing in depth with Duterte concerns raised by the international community over the Philippines’ war on drugs.
White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders earlier said "human rights briefly came up" during the talks between the two leaders Monday "in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs.”
The Philippines and the US issued a joint statement Tuesday saying human rights and the dignity of human life are "essential," as both recognized that the drug scourge is a mutual concern.
The ASEAN Summit ends Tuesday with the leaders of the 10-nation bloc and their dialogue partners skipping sharp criticism of the Philippine government’s war on drugs.
Based on official figures, over 3,900 deaths have been recorded in presumed-legitimate anti-drug operations, mostly by police, since July 2016.
This count is being disputed by human rights groups, which claim there have been about 13,000 killings since the firebrand leader took power.
Since Trump became US President in January, Duterte has expressed optimism he would be able to build good rapport with the American leader despite his, at times, brash rhetoric towards the US.
The US is a long-term ally of the Philippines, helping the Southeast Asian country deal with various problems ranging from frequent disasters to terrorism in Mindanao.