Duterte, Trump had brief cordial exchanges at APEC sidelines, officials say
President Rodrigo Duterte and United States President Donald Trump had a brief exchange of pleasantries at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting in Vietnam on Saturday.
The two leaders shook hands and Trump told Duterte "see you tomorrow," according to Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go, who was with the President in Da Nang.
This was the first time that the two leaders met in person although they already talked over the phone twice since Duterte assumed office in June last year.
Trump will fly to Manila on Sunday to attend the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and Related Summits.
In a press conference in Vietnam, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said while the exchanges between Duterte and Trump were short, "it was very warm and cordial."
Manila and Washington have been arranging a bilateral meeting between Duterte and Trump at the sidelines of ASEAN.
During their possible bilateral meeting, Roque expressed belief that Trump would not raise human rights issue in the wake of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines due to Duterte's war on drugs.
"I think the Philippine President was very clear in his statement to the Philippine media on our first night here in Da Nang. He will refuse to pursue any talks relating to a domestic issue, such as his war on drugs. Now, having said that, I’m confident that President Trump, having endorsed Duterte’s war on drugs, will also see no necessity in bringing it up," he said.
Duterte earlier said that he would tell Trump to "lay off" if during his talks with him, the US leader would bring up the human rights issue.
Roque, a human rights advocate prior to becoming Duterte's spokesperson, explained that the use of force by the state agents was not absolutely prohibited.
"It can be utilized in valid instances of the exercise of police power. But that the use of force, in order to be legal, there must be necessity and proportionality and that it is the latest pronouncement of the President in this regard," he said.
The Duterte administration has been criticized due to thousands of drug suspects being killed since the war on drugs was launched in July last year.
Meanwhile, asked if the South China Sea issue could be discussed during the meeting of Duterte and Trump, Roque said, while he did not have the talking points yet of the bilateral talks, "I would suppose it would be safe to assume that the discussion on West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) will take place because in the remark of the US President, he also said that the interest of the United States is to maintain freedom of navigation in crucial waterways."
He noted that the South China Sea is one of the busiest sea routes in the world.
"And it is to the interest of everyone that countries in the region, including the claimants to the disputed islands and waters of the West Philippine Sea, should recognize the principle of freedom of navigation," he said.
China has been claiming almost the entire South China Sea where it also built artificial islands.
Other claimants in the disputed waters are the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Celerina Monte/DMS