Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte told reporters on Wednesday that he was prepared to tell his American counterpart, Donald Trump, to “lay off” if Trump challenged him on reports that his administration is violating the human rights of its citizens.
Duterte, who took office in June 2016, has come under fire for his campaign against illegal drug trafficking, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Philippine citizens caught in violent police exchanges. Duterte won the presidency largely because of his focus on the eradication of violent drug crime as a candidate.
Shortly before leaving the Philippines for a summit in Vietnam on Wednesday, Duterte answered questions on Trump’s scheduled visit to the nation next week. One reporter asked Duterte what he would tell Trump if he mentioned human rights concerns in the Asian country.
“You want to ask a question, I’ll give you an answer. Lay off. That is not your business. That is my business. I take care of my country and I will nurture my country to health,” Duterte responded, according to Reuters.
The Philippine Star notes that White House officials have stated that Trump does expect to mention human rights concerns while meeting with Duterte. Duterte, on the other hand, expects to discuss “trade, terrorism, and the U.S. position on the South China Sea dispute” with Trump.
China claims most of the South China Sea, which in the Philippines, is referred to as the West Philippine Sea, including Filipino, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Malaysian, and Bruneian territory. An international tribunal rejected China’s claims to the region, including Philippine territory in the Spratly Islands, in 2016; the Chinese government responded with an announcement that it would ignore the verdict.
Duterte said he could not forecast his discussion with Trump on the South China Sea, as Trump is currently in China meeting with President Xi Jinping.
“To all of these things, I would just say that we all hunger for peace and if we can talk about it in a very civilized manner. I would be glad to participate in the discussion,” Duterte told reporters, according to the Star. “We will wait for results when I would be in a position to give him a balanced answer.”
While American officials have said that Duterte and Trump enjoy a “warm rapport,” concerns exist that the two explosive personalities may clash over Duterte’s support of extrajudicial killings in the war against drugs. Nonetheless, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque insisted on CNN on Wednesday that he did not expect any conflict between the two leaders.
“I don’t think it will be a contentious point between the two presidents,” he said. “To begin with, President Trump has said that President Duterte has done the right thing in embarking on this war on drugs.”
“I think President Duterte, if the issue crops up, will highlight that the exercise of police power is always legitimate in any democratic society,” he added.
The website Rappler notes that Roque himself served as a human rights lawyer before joining the Duterte administration.
Duterte’s language regarding Trump has been much more favorable than his attitude towards America generally. In October, Duterte promised to treat Trump “as an important leader” and “in the most righteous way” in the Philippines. He has referred to Trump as “profound” and said of their relationship, “we have no problem there.”
“We remain the best of friends with America,” Duterte said last month.
In contrast, Duterte referred to America as a “lousy” country in July and asserted, “There will never be a time that I will go to America during my term, or even thereafter.”
Trump and Duterte will first meet in Vietnam, where they will both attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Trump’s final stop on his Asia tour will be Manila, where Duterte will host a summit of the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN).