President Donald Trump has invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to the White House in a move that has shocked both detractors and supporters who are wary of the associating the United States with the controversial leader.
Trump reportedly invited Duterte during a phone call on Saturday, which was described as a “friendly discussion” over regional and internal security issues. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the invitation was critical in leveraging relationships in Southeast Asia that could help reduce tensions with North Korea.
“The issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row,” Priebus said. “We have got to be on the same page.”
Duterte’s invitation was reportedly just one of many given to other Southeast Asian leaders, but the controversy surrounding Duterte and his violent war on drugs has drawn sharp criticism. Duterte has famously led a crackdown on drug dealers and users across the Philippines, with some estimates putting the body count over 7,000 since the war was launched last year. Duterte’s policies have given police significant leeway to execute his aggressive campaign to rid the Philippines’ of illegal drugs, which human rights advocacy groups have said amounts to state sponsored terror.
Duterte has famously said he will kill and eat drug dealers, users, and other criminals in his country. He admitted to killing suspected criminals when he was mayor of Davao, saying he’d “go around Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also. I was really looking for an encounter so I could kill.”
He had also begun to distance himself from the United States at the tail end of the Obama administration, cozying up to Russia by hosting Russian military vessels in his country and hinting at closer ties to Moscow.
But since Trump has taken office, Duterte’s opinion of the US government has warmed. Duterte agreed that their phone call was friendly and productive, saying “[President Trump] was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem, he understood the way we are handling it and he said there is nothing wrong with protecting your country.”
Image courtesy of the Edwin Espejo