Duterte to APEC leaders: Lay off human rights

President Duterte

MANILA — Before leaving for Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, President Duterte vowed not to allow United States President Donald Trump or any foreign leader to lecture him on human rights, saying he was attending the APEC gathering as the head of a sovereign state.

“I will not go there as a subservient lackey of anyone, including what you would like to hear from me but which you cannot ask maybe or later on about human rights,” the President said at a pre-departure press briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Wednesday.

“You want to ask a question? I’ll give you an answer. Lay off. That’s not your business. That is my business. I take care of my country,” Duterte said, addressing no world leader in particular.

“The Philippines is a sovereign state. I will not allow anybody to impose anything on my country. I will listen to you. But if it is not to the best of interest for my country, I will ignore you,” he added.

Duterte made the remarks after he was asked about the issues he would raise during his bilateral meeting with Trump.

Officials of the previous Obama administration had called Duterte’s attention to rising cases of human rights abuses in the conduct of his war on drugs.

Duterte responded by accusing the US of undermining the Philippines’ sovereignty and by condemning the American troops’ atrocities during the Philippine-American War and the invasion of Iraq.

Last year, the Philippine leader announced his “separation” from the US but officials clarified that he was just stressing the need for an independent foreign policy.

While he had nothing but contempt for Obama, Duterte is optimistic that he and Trump would be able to get along well because of their similarities.

Duterte has been called the “Trump of the East” because both of them are fond of provocative remarks.

Duterte and Trump are also expected to discuss trade, terrorism and the South China Sea row during their bilateral meeting.

“Number one is always trade because that is the very life of nations. Then, we will discuss extremism, terrorism. And third, maybe they might want to ask a very definitive position of the Philippines vis-à-vis with China,” Duterte said.

“And to all of these things, I would just say that we all hunger for peace and if we can talk about it in a very civilized manner, I would be glad to participate in the discussion,” he added.

In a statement issued yesterday, Malacañang stressed that the Philippines adheres to rule of law and that the administration has already launched investigations on suspected drug killings.

“We reiterate that our adherence to the rule of law remains as firm as ever, as is our commitment to the protection of human rights. The government is investigating allegations of so-called extrajudicial killings, including homicide cases with drug-related motives,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

“Ongoing investigations include the conduct of public congressional hearings. All these are undertaken precisely to ensure that due process and the rule of law prevail despite the Philippines’ significant drug problem,” he added.

Roque said Duterte and Trump are likely to engage in candid and productive discussions on matters of shared interest.

In an interview with CNN International on Monday, Roque said the war on drugs would not be a contentious issue in the President’s meeting with Trump.

“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 said.

“And only a few days ago, the US President himself declared his own war on drugs in the United States,” he added, referring to Trump’s campaign against opioids. Roque said Duterte and Trump have “parallel” policies with regard to illegal drugs.

 “I don’t think it’s an issue that will really cause tension when they meet for the first time here in Manila,” he added.

“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, referring to the expected meeting of the two leaders.

“And what makes it curious is because the Philippine President has declared that he will pursue an independent foreign policy,” he added.

Roque also claimed the Philippines has benefitted from Duterte’s independent foreign policy.

“In the past, when we look to the United States as our most important trading partner, we miss out on a golden opportunity arising from the fact that we’re geographically so proximate to China, which has become an economic dragon,” the presidential spokesman said.

“By pivoting to Asia, only now are we able to achieve the gains of closer relationship with economic giants, such as China. We’ve also reaped the bounty of closer relationship with other Asian nations, such as Japan and even Russia,” he maintained.

Roque clarified that Duterte’s foreign policy does not involve breaking ties with the US.

“The President still considers the United States as a very important trading partner, in addition to the fact that we can’t erase the very long historic ties that exist between the United States and the Philippines,” he said.

Asked how Duterte would respond if Trump brings up his controversial war on drugs, Roque said: “Well, you know, I can’t predict what the US President will do. All I’m saying is that Philippine President Duterte is schooled in the law and our legal tradition is very much influenced by the American legal system, particularly our laws on the bill of rights and the Constitution.

“I think President Duterte, if the issue crops up, will highlight that the exercise of police power is always legitimate in any democratic society and his latest pronouncement on the issue that he will send to jail policemen who kill individuals as a result of illegal engagement,” he added.

Roque also dismissed concerns that Duterte was showing his authoritarian tendencies.

“I think the fact that we are one country that followed the constitutional tradition of the United States with checks and balances between coequal branches of government, will belie the so-called au