President Rodrigo Duterte, calling himself America’s “humble friend” in Southeast Asia, thanked the United States for its assistance to the Philippines during a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Malacañang on Monday.
The President said he was “happy” to see Tillerson again.
Tillerson was accompanied by US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim and other American officials when he paid a courtesy call on Mr. Duterte.
“I’m your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” Mr. Duterte told America’s top diplomat before introducing his Cabinet members.
He thanked the United States for its assistance to the Philippines, noting that the two countries had been friends “for many years.”
“I’m happy to see you again … you come at a time when I think the world is not so good … especially [on] the Korean Peninsula and, of course, the ever-nagging problem of the South China Sea,” Mr. Duterte said.
“I know you’re worried there because you also have domestic problems … We are friends. We are allies,” he added before reporters were told to leave the meeting.
The meeting lasted for less than 30 minutes.
Malacañang said earlier that Mr. Duterte would raise with Tillerson the return of three church bells that American soldiers took away as “war booty” from Samar province more than a century ago.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Malacañang also “welcomed” the opportunity to discuss the human rights situation in the country with the top US diplomat.
Wide range of issues
“We expect the President to discuss with Secretary Tillerson a wide range of relevant issues, including the security situation in Marawi, the global threat of terrorism, increasing Philippine-US economic and people-to-people engagement, the Balangiga bells, among others,” Abella said.
In a speech to a joint session of Congress last month, Mr. Duterte urged the United States to return the Balangiga bells, which the US Army took from a church in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, in 1901.
The President said American troops massacred Filipinos in Balangiga during the Philippine-American War in 1901.
“That’s why I say today, ‘Give us back those Balangiga bells. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage,’” Mr. Duterte said.
Tillerson was expected to raise concerns about human rights in Manila and discuss the crisis in Marawi in meetings with Filipino officials, US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton said in Washington on Wednesday.
Mr. Duterte has come under fire from human rights activists here and abroad for alleged extrajudicial killings in his brutal war on drugs.
“We also welcome the opportunity to address concerns, such as human rights, if and when raised,” Abella said.
“We have always included this issue in our discussion and engagements with foreign governments, particularly Western democracies,” he added.
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