The White House indicated that President Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in their private meetings over the weekend did discuss human rights, if briefly. Duterte’s spokesman denies that happened, however. According to CNN, Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said “human rights did not arise” in their discussions, that it “was not brought up” and that when Duterte mentioned the drug problem in the Philippines, President Trump “appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter but was merely nodding his head”.
The White House’s assertion that Trump and Duterte did discuss human rights was made by White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said, “Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs”, according to CNN. Human rights abuses and the Philippine drug problem go hand in hand when it comes to brutal Philippine dictator Duterte. Duterte is a controversial figure who has openly favored the extrajudicial killing of alleged drug dealers and drug users in his country. Death squads condoned by Duterte have been responsible for the murders of more than 6000 alleged criminals and street children, according to Amnesty International. Nonetheless Duterte has already been the subject of praise from President Trump. In a transcript of an April conversation between Trump and Duterte, according to the New York Times, Trump praised Duterte for “doing an unbelievable job on the drug problem”.
President Trump is in the Philippines both to meet with Duterte and to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit as part of Trump’s 13-day diplomatic tour of Asia. The ASEAN organization is comprised of 10 member countries and has been functioning for more than 40 years.
This marks the second time over the weekend that Trump has indicated he talked on a subject with a foreign leader that the leader then denied discussing. The first time was when Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin while the two were attending the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam. Trump stated that during that time he had again asked Putin if Russia was involved in meddling in the 2016 election and that Putin again denied involvement. Trump further stated that he believed those denials, supporting Putin over the findings of the CIA and Congress. Putin’s camp, however, denied that Trump and Putin ever discussed election meddling when they met at the summit.
Agreeing with Trump’s side of the story could have benefited Putin, so one is given to wonder if Putin may in fact actually be telling the truth in denying that the subject ever arose. And follow this logical hairball for President Trump: if, as Trump says, Putin’s denials are to be believed, and Putin denies that the subject of election meddling ever came up, wouldn’t that mean, according to Trump’s reasoning, that it didn’t?
Another day, another dictator, another embarrassing assertion by President Trump that functions to give a pass to dictators on their misdeeds.