Duterte not welcome in the United States – U.S. lawmaker

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte can expect protests from human rights advocates to welcome him if he accepts an invitation from the White House to visit the United States, a U.S. congressman said.

"It was a mistake for our current administration in the United States to extend an invitation to President Duterte here," said U.S. Massachusetts representative James McGovern at a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

"I certainly believe very strongly that a man with the human rights record of Mr. Duterte should not be invited to the White House. If he comes, I will lead the protest," said McGovern, who co-chairs the commission, which is tasked with "promoting, defending, and advocating for international human rights," he added.

The hearing in the U.S. is intended to come up with "policy recommendations for ensuring accountability for human rights violations and for addressing the problems of drug abuse and trafficking," said McGovern.

"I think it is important for members of Congress in a bipartisan way to make our concerns known loudly and clearly," he added.

A video of the hearing was posted on YouTube channel of the Tom Lantos Commission.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Duterte have spoken twice since Trump won the presidency in November 2016. Trump has extended an invitation to him to visit the U.S. Duterte has yet to accept or reply to the invitation.

Related: Palace unfazed by furor over Trump invite to White House

In May, two U.S. senators filed a bill seeking to restrict the export of firearms to the Philippines amid questions over the drug war.

McGovern said he will make sure that a counterpart bill will be filed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Earlier on Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said he believed the hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will not affect the two countries' relations.

Speaking in a news briefing in Malacañang Palace that took place before the hearing in the U.S. Capitol, Abella said all sides should be considered during the hearing.

"Any proceedings that allege wrongdoing should provide the opportunity for all sides to be considered. Insinuations and hasty judgments have no place in due process," Abella said.

"Numbers should be verified and information should be cross checked so that the ensuing conclusions have a solid basis in fact," he added.

Local and international media, as well as human rights groups, have continuously cited at least 7,000 deaths due to the drug war since July 1, 2016.

However, allies of the President and the police said the figures are blown up. According to government data, there are 3,200 drug personalities who died in anti-drug operations.

READ: Gov't forum clarifies numbers in Duterte's war on drugs

In June 30, the administration posted the latest #RealNumbersPH, which contains statistics on the drug war.

 

But McGovern expressed skepticism about how the statistics are prepared. He suggested allowing independent investigation on the killings, citing the United Nations Special Rapporteur's initiative to visit the Philippines.

But Abella was unfazed with the statements of McGovern, saying the high ratings in recent polls reflected the Filipinos' trust in Duterte.

"The real judge of the situation would be the people and who have given him overwhelming support and overwhelming approval. We trust that the people understand that they are really getting the better side of this deal," he said in a media briefing on Friday.

He added the Philippine government was not asked to participate in the hearing, adding  it would help if people listened to both sides of the story.

Despite criticism from human rights advocates, President Duterte still enjoys high popularity and trust ratings among Filipinos based on recent surveys.

Related: Pulse Asia: Most Filipinos still happy with Duterte, Robredo, Pimentel

CNN Philippines' Lara Tan contributed to this report.