MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte and United States President Donald Trump on Monday held their first bilateral meeting, with the American leader calling ties between the long-standing allies "a great relationship."
The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit, where the 10-nation bloc is set for talks with dialogue partners on crucial security, political and trade issues, among others.
In a brief message before reporters were escorted out of the meeting room at the Philippine International Convention Center, Trump spoke of the US and the Philippines’ “great relationship.”
He also praised the Philippines’ hosting of this year’s ASEAN Summit, as well as the “good weather.”
“We very much appreciate the great treatment you have given us. I thought last night's event was fantastic. Tremendous talent,” Trump said, referring to Sunday’s ASEAN Summit gala dinner, which featured several performers.
It is Trump's first visit to the Philippines as President.
PALACE: TRUMP, DUTERTE HAD ‘FRANK’ DISCUSSION
Speaking to reporters after the bilateral meeting, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Trump indeed did not bring up the sensitive topic on human rights, as analysts had anticipated.
Prior to attending two regional meetings where Trump’s attendance was expected, Duterte had warned he would not accept lecturing from the US leader over human rights issues.
Before the bilateral meeting, Duterte had said "matters of mutual interest" would be discussed, responding to an American journalist's query whether or not the human rights issue linked to his anti-narcotics campaign would be tackled.
And while Trump did not bring it up, it was Duterte who raised discussions on his drug war.
“The issue of human rights did not arise. It was not brought up. It was President Duterte who discussed with President Trump the drug menace in the Philippines,” Roque said.
“The US President appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter, merely nodding his head, indicating that he understood the domestic problem that we face on drugs,” he added.
Human rights groups had urged Trump to raise in his meeting with Duterte human rights concerns over the Philippines’ war on drugs.
Per police figures, over 3,800 deaths have been recorded in anti-drug operations 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.
Earlier, Duterte had expressed confidence that Trump would not take up the issue with him.
“Not extrajudicial killing. Well, he cannot afford it. We do not talk about these things because, first of all, they are not true; and the second is, we do not do it,” Duterte said on Sunday upon his arrival from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Vietnam.
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.
Duterte, however, has been determined to lessen Manila’s dependence on Washington, as he adopted an independent foreign policy. He has since sought closer ties with US rivals China and Russia.
Meanwhile, Roque said Trump also discussed trade matters with Duterte, including the possible conclusion of a free-trade agreement between the US and the Philippines.
“It was observed that the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry has become very important in the Philippines, and they will probably think of a way to reduce the trade surplus between the Philippines and the United States,” he said.
Roque said Trump also “singled out” the issue on tariffs being imposed on US automobiles.