MANILA - The Philippines and the United States have declared that human rights and the dignity of human life are "essential" as both sides recognized the drug problem as a mutual concern.
The long-standing allies said this in a statement released Tuesday following bilateral talks between President Rodrigo Duterte and United States President Donald Trump, where anticipation was high whether or not the US leader would raise the issue of human rights to Duterte amid international criticism over his fierce drug war.
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 two sides underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs to promote the welfare of all sectors, including the most vulnerable groups," the two sides said in a joint statement.
The two leaders also discussed the anti-drug campaign, acknowledging that the scourge of illegal drugs is "a problem afflicting both countries."
They also "committed to share best practices in the areas of prevention; enforcement, including capacity-building and transparency in investigations; and rehabilitation."
Some 3,800 people have been killed in the anti-drug campaign since Duterte took office last year, according to police data. The administration has many times defended the anti-narcotics campaign, saying it does not sanction summary executions nor condone summary killings.
Human rights groups meanwhile place the death toll at 13,000, a figure that government has said is overblown.
Rights groups had urged Trump to raise concerns on the anti-drug campaign in his first bilateral meeting with Duterte on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila.
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.
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.
During their talks, Duterte and Trump also discussed ways to expand free trade between the Philippines and the US.
"The United States welcomed the Philippines' interest in a bilateral free trade agreement and both sides agreed to discuss the matter further through the United States Philippines TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA)," their joint statement said.
Both leaders also condemned the "unlawful" nuclear weapons and missile development of North Korea. They called on Pyongyang to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and agree to irreversible denuclearization.
The 2 sides also reaffirmed their defense treaties and discussed further US assistance to help modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the joint statement read.