MANILA - A former Philippine ambassador to the United States believes US President Donald Trump avoided raising human rights issues in his meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte to allow for a fruitful discussion.
Former envoy Jose Cuisia Jr. described the talks between the two leaders as positive after Trump said he is open to a free trade agreement with the Philippines.
"The fact that President Trump deliberately avoided taking up human rights issues, the EJKs (extrajudicial killings)... I think that helped ensure more cordial discussions between the two," he told ANC Wednesday.
White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders earlier said “human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs” during the discussion between the two leaders Monday.
The Philippines and the US later issued a joint statement saying human rights and dignity are "essential" as they recognized the drug problem as a mutual concern.
During discussions between Trump and Duterte, both sides agreed to discuss a free trade agreement and to enhance defense ties. The two sides also expressed mutual condemnation of North Korea's "unlawful" nuclear weapons and missile development program.
While the US President skipped the issue, it was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who "impressed" upon Duterte the need to respect the rule of law and human rights during informal talks Tuesday.
While Trudeau said Duterte was "receptive," the President said he was insulted by this move.
Cuisia meanwhile anticipated that Trump may draw flak for not pressing on human rights issues during his meeting with Duterte, as some US lawmakers had sought.
"Definitely, members of the US Congress will of course be giving Trump flak for that decision he made. But that was his desire to ensure a more fruitful talk with Duterte," Cuisia added.
Duterte, who has been criticized for alleged extrajudicial killings under his drug war, earlier said he would not take any lecturing from foreign leaders on human rights when he attended the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vietnam.
The administration has repeatedly defended the drug war, saying it does not sanction summary killings or condone police abuses.