Duterte, Trump 'touched on' human rights during discussion of drug war - PH envoy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 14) — The country's ambassador to the United States on Tuesday said President Rodrigo Duterte and U.S. President Donald Trump "touched on" the issue of human rights in their first bilateral  meeting.

"The whole conversation between the two presidents was centered around the drug war," Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez told CNN Philippines' "The Source".

"My interpretation is that it was touched on, because the President was able to explain his drug war, which he has been doing publicly for many months now," Romualdez added. He was present at during the 45-minute meeting between Duterte and Trump.

The Philippine Ambassador also came to the defense of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who earlier said the controversial issue on human rights was not brought up.

"I think Harry interpreted it as it was not asked by the American President," Romualdez said. "It was discussed in an exchange of what happened in the past, in this drug war, and President Trump was obviously listening very intently on the President's story on the drug war, the people involved in it," he added.

There was confusion on Monday afternoon on whether or not Duterte and Trump discussed human rights after the White House released a statement, saying the issue was briefly discussed.

The joint statement between the Philippines and the United States released on Monday also mentioned the topic.

"The two sides underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs to promote the welfare of all sectors, including the most vulnerable groups," the joint statement read.

READ: Malacañang, White House release conflicting statements on human rights discussion

Government data shows almost 4,000 drug personalities have died in anti-drug operations from July 2016 to October 2017. Around 117,000 drug personalities have been arrested.


Critics of the Duterte administration's war on drugs, including human rights group Amnesty International, claim the drug war only targets the poor.

READ: War vs. poor: Police paid per drug killing - Amnesty International

The ambassador said Duterte explained to the U.S. leader why the poor are considered "the most vulnerable group."

"(Duterte) was able to explain that the kind of drugs that come into the country are really, the market is the poor, and he's talking about shabu," Romualdez said.

"This is publicly known, the President has shown a study made by the United Nations on the kind of drugs that are being used worldwide. Cocaine, obviously, many people cannot afford cocaine, so that is the meaning of the 'most vulnerable groups'," he added.

READ: Duterte reveals why drug ops are prevalent among the poor

However, Romualdez said Trump did not react to the drug war's statistics.

"He was simply listening to why there was a number of casualties in this drug war," Romualdez said. Romualdez is set to present his credentials to the United States on November 29, he added.

While human rights was discussed by the Philippines and the U.S., notable was the absence in the United Nations' statement at ASEAN of any reference to the country's war on drugs and alleged human rights violations.

The United Nations' Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivered his statement at the ASEAN-UN Summit on Monday. Duterte has strained relations with the UN, after he told off officials for their criticism of his war on drugs. Recently, he invited the  UN's human rights body to set up an office in the country to monitor killings in the Philippines. The President has also called for a separate summit on human rights.

Trump is in the country for the 31st Association and Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as one of the regional bloc's dialogue partners.

The Philippines, as the chair of ASEAN on its 50th year, is the host of the year-long summit and its related meetings. It will turn over the chairmanship to Singapore in closing ceremonies today.