US President Donald Trump (R) speaks during a bilateral meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila on 13 November 2017. Photo: Rolex dela Pena / AFP / Getty Images

13 November 2017 (AP) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sanctioned a bloody drug war that features extrajudicial killing. He called Barack Obama a "son of a whore." This week, he boasted that he murdered a man with his own hands.

All that went unmentioned in public by President Donald Trump when the leaders held talks Monday in the Philippines.

Reporters saw the beginning of the leaders' bilateral meeting in during which Trump praised Duterte's hospitality, the organization of the summit he was hosting and even Manila's weather. Trump said nothing about human rights and both leaders ignored shouted questions about the violent drug crackdown. The two men also shared a laugh in the meeting when Duterte called reporters "spies."

Later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the 40-minute meeting focused on ISIS, illegal drugs, and trade. Human rights, she added, briefly came up in the context of the Philippines' fight against illegal drugs. She did not say if Trump was critical of the violence.

That appeared to conflict with the Philippines' version of the meeting. Harry Roque, a spokesman for Duterte, said "there was no mention of human rights. There was no mention of extralegal killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion of the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining."

Breaking with his presidential predecessors, Trump has largely abandoned publicly pressing foreign leaders on human rights, instead showing a willingness to embrace international strongmen for strategic gain. He has cozied up to autocrats such as Saudi Arabia's King Salman, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. And earlier in this trip to Asia he made no mention of human rights during multiple appearances in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"Trump seems very comfortable with strongmen. It's not just that he won't criticize Duterte. I wouldn't be surprised if he patted him on the back," said Mike Chinoy, senior fellow at U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California, before the meeting.

Duterte's war on drugs has alarmed human rights advocates around the world who say it has allowed police officers and vigilantes to ignore due process and to take justice into their own hands. Government officials estimate that well over 3,000 people, mostly drug users and dealers, have died in the ongoing crackdown. Human rights groups believe the victim total is far higher, perhaps closer to 9,000. [more]

Trump does not publicly rebuke Duterte for drug war killings

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