US reaffirms alliance with incoming PH president
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday, May 17, personally called presumptive Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to congratulate him on his victory.
“President Obama noted that the successful election and record voter participation were emblematic of the Philippines’ vibrant democracy,” the White House said in a statement released Tuesday, May 17.
However, the US president also emphasized the importance of protecting human rights in his conversation with Duterte, who vowed during his campaign trail to execute 100,000 criminals and dump them into Manila Bay.
“The two leaders affirmed their interest in seeing the relationship continue to grow on the basis of these shared principles,” the White House statement said.
Duterte received the call in the middle of an interview with GMA News and said Obama was the first head of state to call him.
“I am quite honored,” he told GMA News of the US president’s call.
On early Wednesday morning, May 18, Duterte said he also told Obama he is open to having bilateral talks with China about the disputed West Philippine Sea should current efforts to resolve the issue fail, according to GMA News.
“[I] assured [Obama] that we will continue with our mutual interests and that we are allied with the Western [World] in this issue on China Sea. But I gave him that, well, I would agree to just go with you,” Duterte told reporters, according to GMA News.
Duterte has received criticism from human rights groups who accuse him of running a vigilante death squad in Davao. Last year, New York-based non-profit human rights organization Human Rights Watch estimated that more than 1,000 people have died under Duterte’s leadership since the 1990s. He has also said he would re-instate the death penalty and kill suspected criminals.
“If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because as the mayor, I’d kill you,” Duterte previously said.
The new president has also stirred controversy with certain previous statements, including what appeared to be a joke he made about the 1989 rape and murder of an Australian missionary in Davao City. In a YouTube video that surfaced in April, Duterte said that as mayor, he should have been first in line. Later on, he said he had used “gutter language” but did not apologize.
US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes acknowledged the controversy of some of Duterte’s previous statements, but said the United States wants to build on the “good progress” achieved between the two countries under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
“For us, the priorities will remain the security and prosperity of the Philippines. We’ll want to see continued efforts in the Philippines in respect of rule of law and to combat corruption, just as we support those types of efforts across Asia and around the world,” Rhodes told the Center for a New American Security think tank, according to Philstar.
Duterte won the presidency in the Philippine elections on May 9 in a record-setting 81.62 percent voter turnout, which US Department of State Elizabeth Trudeau said is a testament to the Philippines’ democracy.
He is scheduled to be sworn into office on June 30.