US President-elect Donald Trump told Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte that Manila was conducting its deadly drug war “the right way,” Duterte said Saturday, in stark contrast to the criticism he received from President Barack Obama.
Duterte called Trump late Friday evening to congratulate him on his election victory with Trump wishing him “success” in his controversial anti-crime crackdown, in which some 4,800 people have been killed since June, according to Duterte.
“He was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs. And he wishes me well... in my campaign and he said that... we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Duterte said in a statement Saturday.
Duterte, 71, launched an unprecedented war on drugs that drew a wave of global criticism with Obama urging the leader in September to conduct his campaign “the right way” following concerns over alleged extrajudicial killings.
Trump’s office released a brief statement following the conversation, saying Duterte had congratulated Trump and the two agreed to work together closely.
Duterte won presidential elections in May after pledging to kill tens of thousands of drug suspects, warning that otherwise the Philippines would turn into a narco-state.
Since assuming office, he has called on police and even civilians to kill drug users.
Duterte also said he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts, and likened his campaign to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s efforts to exterminate Jews in Europe.
In October, Duterte announced a “separation” from the United States and had called for the withdrawal of American troops from his country, putting into question Manila’s 70-year-old alliance with Washington.
But on Saturday, Duterte said he “could sense a good rapport” with an “animated” Trump.
Video released by Duterte’s office showed the Philippine leader laughing as he chatted on the phone, later saying Trump would be “a good president for the United States of America.”
Duterte said the president-elect invited him to visit New York and Washington DC and he returned the favor by asking Trump to attend a regional summit that the Philippines is set to host next year.
“If I’m around, he wants to be notified of my presence,” said an upbeat Duterte.
The optimism was shared by Palace officials with presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella saying the conversation may signal a change in Duterte’s hostile attitude to the White House and the outgoing Obama administration.
“I think it will change,” Abella said in an interview broadcast over state radio dzRB. “Even the President expressed that he has a good rapport [with Trump] so I believe that the relationship will our relationship with America, with other nations.”
On Friday night, special assistant to the president Christopher Go said Duterte had a “very engaging” discussion with Trump, whom he invited to visit the Philippines during the Philippine hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit next year.
Trump also invited Duterte to visit him when he assumes office at the White House next year, Go said.
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