US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte | Screengrab: Flickr / US Department of State

The Facts

  • US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday during a regional gathering of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila.
  • According to the US State Department, the ASEAN conference covered “a range of issues,” from the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, maritime security, and counterterrorism,” to the United States’ “commitment to…[enhancing] U.S. economic and security interests in the Asia-Pacific region.”
  • Duterte and Tillerson spoke about growing tensions between North Korea and member-states of the United Nations (UN) Security Council.
    • On 5 August, the UN Security Council voted 15-0 for its most stringent economic sanctions against North Korea to date.
      • According to the press release, these sanctions came in response to “continued nuclear…development,” and ongoing “ballistic missile activity” by the North Korean regime over recent months.

The Context

  • According to a State Department release, Monday’s ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila is the first of four official appearances by Tillerson at diplomatic events in the region.
    • Monday’s meetings will be followed by trips to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur over the next three days.
    • The trip is Tillerson’s first official voyage to Southeast Asia since taking office in February.
  • Duterte’s government has been accused of human rights abuses, especially those connected to Duterte’s so-called “war on drugs.”
    • According to a 2012 UN report on drug usage and trafficking across the globe, the Philippines had the highest rate of methamphetamine abuse among all East Asian countries.
    • John Gershman, an expert on Philippine politics at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that since Duterte came to power in June 2016, the “war on drugs” has incited “thousands” of extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects and drug users in the Philippines.
    • In an interview, Gershman said that Duterte’s drug war constitutes “a cornerstone” of his “domestic policy,” and that the president has even publicly encouraged law enforcement and civilians to “go ahead and kill” drug addicts.
    • Human Rights Watch, an international non-profit group that monitors human rights conditions in dozens of countries, said that as of January 2017, 4,800 Filipino citizens had been killed by vigilantes and police, as part of the government’s pursuit of illegal drug traffickers and users.
  • Before the Duterte-Tillerson meeting on Monday, Filipino military Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told reporters that the Filipino president “would likely tackle issues on human rights with the visiting US leader.”
    • Padilla also pointed out that the Filipino city of Marawi is currently under “martial law,” and that “the fight against those who are putting our citizens in danger is a shared responsibility that must be borne by all.”
  • In a 2 August US State Department press conference call ahead of Monday’s meetings, Susan Thornton, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told reporters that the US will “continue to seek broad international cooperation to respond to North Korean provocations.”
      • Thornton also called on “the international community to enforce the UN Security Council resolutions passed to date,” and added that the US “stand[s] ready, of course, to honor…ironclad commitments to defend our South Korean and Japanese allies.”
    • On 5 August, two days before Tillerson’s meeting with Duterte and after passage of the Security Council resolution sanctioning North Korea, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said:

“Today the full Security Council has come together to put the North Korean dictator on notice. And this time, the Council has matched its words and actions… Nuclear and ballistic missile development is expensive. The revenues the North Korean government receives are not going towards feeding its people… Instead, the North Korean regime is literally starving its people and enslaving them in mines and factories in order to fund these illegal nuclear programs… The North Korean threat has not left us. It is rapidly growing more dangerous. We’ve seen two [missiles] fired in just the last month. Further action is required… North Korea’s irresponsible and careless acts have just proved to be quite costly to the regime…We must work together to fully implement the sanctions we imposed today and those imposed in past resolutions.”

  • President Donald Trump issued a statement Saturday that said he “appreciates China’s and Russia’s cooperation in securing passage of this resolution,” and that he “will continue working with allies and partners to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to end its threatening and destabilizing behavior.”
  • Trump also tweeted that he was “impressed” with the unanimous Security Council vote:

  • The same day, foreign ministers of ASEAN also issued a statement supporting “initiatives to improve peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula.” Acting Spokesperson for the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs, Robespierre Bolivar, read the statement to reporters in Manila Saturday:

“We support initiatives to improve inter-Korean relations towards establishing permanent peace in the Korean Peninsula. ASEAN stands ready to play a constructive role in contributing to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula…We reiterate our support for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner, call for the exercise of self-restraint, and underscore the importance of creating conditions conducive for dialogue to de-escalate tensions.”


  • In a press event held after the two leaders’ public and private talks, a reporter asked Tillerson if it was possible for the US to continue to aid ongoing Filipino military efforts against ISIS, which the US started in June, “without endorsing the human rights abuses of President Duterte in his war on drugs.” Tillerson told reporters:

“With respect to the assistance we’re providing the Philippines Government to respond to ISIS, there is… no, I think, contradiction at all in the support we’re giving them in the fight down in Marawi and Mindanao. As you know, most of what we’re providing them is information, some surveillance capabilities with some recent transfers of a couple of Cessnas and a couple of UAVs to allow them to have better information in which to conduct the fight down there… I see no conflict, no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of other human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counternarcotics activities.”

  • Regarding North Korea, Tillerson told reporters at the press event that “there should be no question in anyone’s mind as to the common view held by everyone on that Security Council” that “a denuclearized Korean Peninsula” is the “ultimate objective.”
    • He added that when “the conditions are right…we [the US] can sit and have a dialogue around the future of North Korea so that they feel secure and prosper economically.”
  • According to the Associated Press‘s Jim Gomez, who is covering Tillerson’s trip, Duterte said in a news conference following his meeting with the Secretary of State that he “shouldn’t be questioned about alleged [human rights] violations given the challenges he’s facing.”
    • Duterte added, “Policemen and soldiers have died on me… So human rights, don’t go there.”

Christopher Putney contributed to this report. 

The Whim News Team

The Whim News Desk

We'd rather be second and accurate than be first and wrong. The Whim News Desk is a dedicated team of researchers and investigators committed to presenting the news without bias. Follow us @TheWhimOnline for daily news coverage without the spin!

Related News

Read More Justice Department Investigating Fetal Tissue Practices by Planned Parenthood, Others

The Whim News Desk , in News

Read More Senate to Vote on GOP Tax Bill By Week’s End

The Whim News Desk , in Politics

Read More Chinese Billionaire Buys Stake in Brooklyn Nets, Creates Record $2.3B Valuation

The Whim News Desk , in News

Send this to a friend