MANILA — The Philippines and Sri Lanka this week renewed their commitment to strengthen bilateral relations, as the two countries marked the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic ties, Malacañang said on Wednesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday received a telephone call from Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, said Malacañang.
"Over the last six decades, we have pursued fruitful relations. We look forward to sustaining this and exploring further the full potential of our cooperative ties," Duterte told Rajapaksa, as quoted in a Palace statement.
Duterte thanked the Sri Lankan government for its assistance in the repatriation of Filipinos during the COVID-19 pandemic and the rescue of 17 Filipino crew of an oil tanker that caught fire in Sri Lanka in September last year.
Rajapaksa meanwhile invited Duterte to visit Sri Lanka. The Filipino leader said he was "looking forward to undertaking such visit when the global situation normalizes," according to Malacañang.
PHILIPPINES, SRI LANKA, AND THE UN
Rajapaksa also thanked Duterte for the "cooperation and mutual support between Sri Lanka and the Philippines in multilateral venues, including at the United Nations Human Rights," the Palace said.
The statement did not give more details on the "mutual support" at the UN office.
But last March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet received a mandate to collect evidence of crimes during Sri Lanka’s long civil war, which ended in 2009 with the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers and an upsurge of civilian deaths.
Bachelet in previous instances has expressed concern over the killings in Duterte's drug war, which Rajapaksa's predecessor, then Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, praised in 2019.
Earlier this June, a prosecutor of the International Criminal Court sought a full inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity under Duterte's anti-narcotics drive.
More than 6,000 people have been killed in over 200,000 anti-drug operations conducted since July 2016, according to official data.
Human rights groups estimate the number of dead could be several times higher.
Many suspects have been put on "drug watch lists" by local officials and then visited by police at their homes -- a situation which often ends in a deadly shooting that officers claim was self-defense.
The crackdown is Duterte's signature policy initiative and he defends it fiercely, especially from critics such as Western leaders and institutions which he says do not care about the Philippines.
"If killings occurred, appropriate force and violence were observed," his spokesman Harry Roque said, when he rejected ICC former chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's request for a full drug war inquiry.
Duterte and Sir Lanka's Rajapaksa "committed to explore new opportunities for bilateral cooperation, particularly in the areas of security and defense, trade and investment, labor migration, and tourism," said Malacañang.
"They also agreed that combating COVID-19 is a shrewd responsibility and opportunity to work in solidarity with all nations," it added.
— With a report from Reuters