‘Don’t go there,’ Philippine president says on human rights

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met in Manila on Monday.
FRANCIS R. MALASIG/European Pressphoto Agency
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met in Manila on Monday.

MANILA — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met Monday with America’s top diplomat, where he voiced solidarity with the United States amid global concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program and angrily dismissed media questions about human rights abuses by his government.

Duterte and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met in Manila at a regional Asia gathering. It was the highest-level interaction to date between a member of President Trump’s administration and Duterte, accused by human rights groups of flagrant abuses in his bloody war against illegal drugs.

If the two leaders discussed those or other US concerns about Duterte’s government, they didn’t do so in public. Instead, the two focused on the alliance between the two countries and on the North Korea issue as reporters were allowed in briefly for the start of their meeting.


Entering an ornate, wood-paneled hall in the Philippine leader’s palace, Tillerson was introduced to members of Duterte’s Cabinet, shaking hands with each. Duterte welcomed the American and said he said he knew the United States was concerned about Pyongyang’s missile program.

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‘‘You come at a time when I think the world is not so good, especially in the Korean Peninsula,’’ Duterte said.

Earlier, as they shook hands, the two ignored a shouted question about whether they would discuss human rights. And at a news conference after their meeting, Duterte bristled but didn’t answer directly when asked whether human rights had come up.

Duterte said he shouldn’t be questioned about alleged violations, given the challenges he’s facing. ‘‘Policemen and soldiers have died on me. The war now in Marawi — what caused it but drugs? So human rights, don’t go there.’’

But ahead of the meeting, Duterte’s presidential spokesman, Ernesto Bella, said the topic would indeed come up, along with other pressing matters such as global terrorism threats, economic cooperation, and security in Marawi, the city that has been under siege by militants linked to the Islamic State for more than two months.


Human rights groups have questioned the Trump administration’s willingness to engage with Duterte. But Tillerson argued there’s no contradiction presented by the US decision to help his country fight the militants, whose insurgency in the Philippines has stoked global fears about the Islamic State exporting violence into Southeast Asia and beyond.