Duterte's drug war won't spark tension with Trump – Roque

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 7) — Controversies surrounding the country's war on drugs won't cause tension between President Rodrigo Duterte and U.S. President Donald Trump, Duterte's newly appointed spokesperson told CNN.

In an interview with CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the two leaders share a similar stance on the drug problem.

"I don't think it will be a contentious point between the two presidents. To begin with, President Trump has said that President Duterte has done the right thing in embarking on this war on drugs," Roque, a human rights advocate, said.

He was referring to a December 2016 phone call between the two leaders, shortly after Trump's election victory. Duterte then said he sensed good rapport with "an animated President-elect Trump… who understood the way we are handling" the anti-drug campaign.

Read more: Duterte: Trump supports the Philippines' drug war

Last month Trump declared the U.S. opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. He then called for the liberation of U.S. communities from the "scourge of drug addiction."

Reacting to the development, Duterte in a speech said he had predicted Trump's crackdown.

For Roque, this shows "there are parallels with the policies adopted by the two Presidents as far as drugs is concerned."

"The U.S. President himself declared his own war on drugs in the United States," he said. 

But Amanpour interjected, "Not quite like that one, Mr. Roque."

Roque clarified, "There was a similar declaration that opioid constitutes a serious threat and that it warrants at least special attention on the part of the American authorities." 

Opioids refer to a classification of both legal and illegal painkillers that function similar to opium. They include the powerful painkiller fentanyl, which President Duterte had admitted to using.

 

In defense of the drug war

Duterte and Trump are expected to meet for the first time during the Asia Pacific Economic Convention (APEC) Leaders' Meeting in Vietnam, scheduled from November 8 to 10.

Read more: Duterte, Trump to meet in Vietnam

If Duterte and Trump would discuss drug war in their upcoming meeting, Roque is confident Duterte will highlight that "the exercise of police power is always legitimate in any democratic society."

Over 3,900 drug suspects were killed in police operations since the start of the bloody drug war in July 2016, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

After the controversial deaths of teenagers in the drug war, Duterte in October tasked the PDEA to handle the campaign, prompting the police to suspend their anti-drug operations.

Duterte gives PDEA lead role in drug war

Roque said the country's anti-drug campaign was not meant to violate laws or human rights.

"The President is a lawyer and was a public prosecutor for 10 years. I would say that it was never his intention to conduct a war on drugs that would violate the constitution and fundamental human rights," Roque said.

Trump and Duterte 'very much alike'

The country's drug war has received criticism from world leaders, including former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Duterte, who is known for his tough talk, at one point told Obama to "go to hell" after Obama expressed concern over alleged human rights violations in the drug war.

Roque said the dislike for Obama is among the many similarities between Duterte and Trump, often compared for their controversial statements and policies.

This makes their first meeting highly anticipated, Roque said.

"It's going to be very interesting. Because you have two individuals who are very much alike in their thinking, in their language and even in their demeanor meeting each other for the first time," Roque said.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Leo Herrera-Lim said there are a number of venues for the two to meet in Vietnam, including the welcome dinner and the gala dinner for state leaders. They might even hold a bilateral meeting.

This comes ahead of Trump's visit to Manila from November 12 to 14 for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and Related Meetings.

Related: Trump to extend PH stay until Nov. 14