Donald Trump's seat-of-the-pants pre-inaugural telephone diplomacy is causing shock waves in diplomatic circles and world capitals around the globe, whether it's getting all buddy-buddy with despots like Kazakhstan's perpetual leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, throwing US China policy into turmoil by taking a call from the president of Taiwan, or insulting close allies like Great Britain by failing to reach out in a timely fashion.
Duterte's bloody campaign has drawn scathing criticism from human rights groups, the United Nations, and the Obama administration, with Duterte responding to the latter by calling Obama a "son of a whore." But in his phone call with Duterte, Trump was singing a different tune.
Duterte said Saturday that Trump had endorsed his bloody anti-drug campaign, telling him that the Philippines was doing it "the right way" and that Trump was "quite sensitive" to "our worry about drugs."
"He wishes me well, too, in my campaign, and he said that, well, we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way," Duterte said.
In a Philippines government summary of the call between Trump and Duterte, the Filipino president said the pair had spoken only briefly, but touched on many topics, including the anti-drug campaign.
"I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump, and he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem," Duterte said. "He understood the way we are handling it, and I said that there's nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country. I appreciate the response that I got from President-elect Trump, and I would like to wish him success," Duterte said. "He will be a good president for the United States of America."
The Trump team has yet to comment on the call.
Duterte, who rose to national political prominence as the death squad-supporting mayor of Davao City, is among the most brutal of the crop of right-populist political leaders and movements that have emerged around the globe this year, but delicacies like concern about human rights or the lives of drug users don't appear to be on Trump's radar. Especially when he's got more pressing concerns in the Philippines -- such as the Trump-branded residential tower going up in metropolitan Manila. Duterte has just named he Filipino businessman who is Trump's partner in the project, Jose E. B. Antonio, to be a special envoy to the US.
While Trump is seemingly brushing aside human rights concerns about the mass drug war killings raised by the Obama administration, even the administration's protests are undercut somewhat by continued US financial assistance to the Philippines National Police units that are heavily involved.
While the US has suspended weapons sales over the issue, as BuzzFeed News reported, despite US statements of concern the State Department continues to send millions of dollars in aid to the Philippines National Police. The Obama administration requested $9 million in aid for anti-drug and law enforcement programs for this year. The State Department says the funds are no longer being used for anti-drug training, but funds continue to go to the police.
The State Department also said that police units found to be involved in extrajudicial killings would not get US assistance, but BuzzFeed News found that "officers at police stations receiving support from the US have played a central role in Duterte's bloody campaign. By comparing Philippine police data with internal State Department records, it is clear that many of the stations -- especially those in the capital city of Manila -- are collectively responsible for hundreds of deaths."
The continued State Department funding of police linked to the drug war killings itself subverts the Obama administration's rhetoric of concern about Duterte's bloody crusade. But if Trump's first chat with Duterte is any indication, even rhetorical concern about human rights in the Filipino drug war is about to go out the window.