MANILA – Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop on Friday met with President Rodrigo Duterte in the latter’s stronghold, Davao City, despite criticisms from Human Rights Watch.
Bishop met with the tough-talking leader in a bid to strengthen the two Pacific neighbors’ relations.
“Both emphasized the importance of Philippines-Australia relations and the need to broaden cooperation on mutually important issues,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“It was warm and cordial meeting which reaffirmed the long-standing ties between the Philippines and Australia. It sets the tone for a more positive engagement between the two countries as strategic partners,” Abella added.
According to Abella, Duterte and Bishop discussed violent extremism and terrorism, and both leaders agreed that the two countries can identify areas of collaboration.
“Both sides also stressed the need to address piracy at sea and to ensure that maritime areas are safe and secure and allow for freedom of navigation and overflight,” Abella said.
Abella said Australia also expressed support for the peace process in Mindanao and pledged $40 million, to be given over the course of 6 years.
He also said Duterte expressed Philippine interest in learning responsible mining from Australia, “citing that country’s experience and expertise.”
On Thursday, Bishop was criticized by Human Rights Watch Australia Director Elaine Pearson for the planned visit. Pearson said Bishop's decision to visit Duterte in "the birthplace of the death squad" may appear as legitimizing Duterte's controversial policies like the war on drugs and reimposition of death penalty.
Pearson said Bishop should have instead scheduled “a more formal, less cozy” meeting with Duterte in Manila.
She added, Bishop during her visit must “take a strong, public stance not only against the killings, but of the need to investigate those responsible.”
“She should announce that Australia will suspend all police assistance and training programs until the government ends its abusive war on drugs and allows an international investigation into the unlawful killings, given the government’s failure to conduct its own,” Pearson added.
The New York-based human rights organization had also scored Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo when the latter visited Duterte in Davao City.