Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met face-to-face with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila this weekend, with both expressing solidarity on pressing North Korea for its nuclear ambitions and defeating the Islamic State adherents that are terrorizing the southern part of the Philippines.
“You come at a time when I think the world is not so good, especially in the Korean Peninsula,” Duterte said to Tillerson, who also told him, ”I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” according to numerous press reports. The two met during Tillerson’s trip to Asia for a series of meetings with regional officials.
“Human rights groups have questioned the Trump administration’s willingness to engage with Duterte, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported. “But Tillerson argued there’s no contradiction presented by the U.S. decision to help his country fight the militants, whose insurgency in the Philippines has stoked global fears about the Islamic State group exporting violence into Southeast Asia and beyond.”
“I see no conflict—no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of the human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counter narcotics activities,” Tillerson told reporters.
Duterte has come under fire from his war on drugs in the Philippines, which had led to deaths of some 700 people, including 528 militants and 122 soldiers and policemen, according to the Inquirer.
Tillerson said the United States is providing the Philippines with surveillance capabilities, training, and aircraft to help it fight the militants, including Cessna aircraft and drones.
The equipment is part of the more than $300 million in military aid granted to the Philippines over the last five years, according to NBC.
“We are providing [the Philippines] some training and some guidance in terms of how to deal with an enemy that fights in ways that is not like most people have ever had to deal with so it’s a tragic situation down there,” Tillerson said.
U.S. diplomat for Asia Susan Thornton told reporters before the trip that alongside counter-terrorism, Tillerson would be addressing human rights abuses with Duterte, NBC reported.
“There will be a chance for, to have a very good, robust bilateral program with the Philippines while we’re there on the margins of the ministerial meetings,” said Thornton. ”It’s one of our very important and oldest friends and partners in the region, and we are looking forward to being able to furnish the relationship and restore those bonds of friendship.”
The meeting was in stark contrast to the relationship between Duterte and former President Barack Obama. Duterte had called Obama a “son of a bitch”—a comment he later retracted—and warned him not to interfere in Philippines’ internal affairs, the UK Independent reported. Despite Obama denying that he would meet with Duterte during a regional conference in 2016, the two exchanged greetings.
“The leaders saw each other briefly, albeit informally, in a back room before attending a dinner at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Laos,” the Independent reported.
A White House official told the Independent that Obama had a brief discussion with Duterte before the ASEAN Gala Dinner in the leaders’ holding space.
The official said the exchange consisted of pleasantries between the two, but Obama and Duterte “entered the dinner venue separately, were seated far apart and did not interact with each other during the meal that lasted an hour and 20 minutes.”
During his trip to Asia, Tillerson attended the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit Ministerial, the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial, and the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial, according to the State Department.