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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Duterte sings Filipino ballad for Trump

In a sign the two brash leaders warmed to each other in their first meeting, the Philippine president performed 'Ikaw' in duet with a Filipina diva at US counterpart's request 

US president Donald Trump speaks with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte before the opening ceremony of the 31st Asean Summit in Manila. AP
US president Donald Trump speaks with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte before the opening ceremony of the 31st Asean Summit in Manila. AP

US president Donald Trump said on Monday he had a "great relationship" with his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, while a White House official said human rights merited only a brief mention when the two met during an Asian summit.

Their meeting was one of the most anticipated of the summit of South East Asian leaders in Manila, as human rights groups pressed Mr Trump to take a tough line on the Philippine leader for his violent campaign against the drugs trade, in which thousands of people have been killed.

"We are your ally. We are an important ally," Mr Duterte told Mr Trump at the beginning of their talks.

Mr Trump said: "We've had a great relationship. This has been very successful. And the Asean conference has been handled beautifully by the president in the Philippines."

When Mr Trump was asked if he would raise human rights at the meeting, Mr Duterte said: "Whoa, whoa. This is not a press statement. This is the bilateral meeting."

A Philippines government spokesman said human rights were not raised.

However, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the topic was addressed briefly.

"The conversation focused on ISIL, illegal drugs, and trade. Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines' fight against illegal drugs," she said.

Mr Duterte, who has spoken highly of Mr Trump, said last week he would tell the US president to "lay off" if he were to raise the matter of human rights violations.

Mr Duterte has been called the "Trump of the East" for his brash style and provocative language.

Mr Trump was criticised in May for praising Mr Duterte for the "great job" he was doing to counter illegal narcotics.

More than 3,900 people have been killed in a war on drugs that Mr Duterte declared when he took office last year. His government said the police act in self defence, but critics said killings are taking place with no accountability.

The United States and the Philippines, a former US colony, have been allies since the Second World War. But their relations have been strained by anti-US outbursts from Mr Duterte and his enthusiasm for better ties with Russia and China.

However, Mr Duterte clearly appears to be getting on better with Mr Trump than with his predecessor Barack Obama.

The two leaders seem to have warmed to each other after meeting for the first time on Saturday at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) group meeting in Vietnam.

On Sunday, Mr Duterte crooned hit Filipino ballad Ikaw [You] at a dinner for summit leaders in Manila on "the orders" of Mr Trump.

One of the song's verses, translated from Filipino, begins: "You are the light in my world, a half of this heart of mine".

"Ladies and gentlemen, I sang uninvited, upon the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States," Mr Duterte said later, according to the ABS-CBN news channel.

Mr Trump praised Mr Duterte for hosting the summit meetings.

"Rodrigo," he said, "I would like to commend you on your success as Asean chair at this critical moment in time, and in the association’s history."

Mr Duterte's communications secretary, Martin Andanar, said the two leaders got on well, after a tense relationship between with the Obama administration.

"The issue between president Duterte and former president Barack Obama is a thing of the past," Mr Andanar said.

"They really hit it off," he said of Mr Trump and Mr Duterte.