By Dennis Jay Santos
The American envoy met with a top aide of President Rodrigo Duterte to explain that a new U.S. intelligence report criticizing the Philippine leader’s “autocratic tendencies” was based on widely available information, Washington’s embassy in Manila said Friday.
After Philippine officials expressed displeasure over the report and warned it could strain bilateral ties, Ambassador Sung Kim was summoned to meet with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on Thursday to discuss the U.S. Worldwide Threat Assessment, which was released last week, according to a statement issued by a presidential spokesman on Friday.
The U.S. diplomat stressed that the 28-page report was an “annual assessment on conditions in each of the world’s various regions based on widely available information,” the embassy said in a statement.
“Their discussion focused on the reference to the Philippines in the report, including clarifying that the information about the Philippines has been previously reported by media sources,” it said while stressing that Washington would continue to collaborate with Manila.
“Additionally, they discussed shared interests and possibilities for expanding our partnership,” the statement said.
The meeting ended with both men reaffirming the strength of the broad and deep bilateral relationship enjoyed by the allies bound by a 67-year-old mutual defense treaty, which calls on each side to aid the other in times of aggression or war.
Earlier in the week, Duterte told members of the Chinese-Filipino Business Club in Manila that he wanted to send soldiers to China to train, even though most soldiers prefer to train with U.S. troops, The Philippine Star reported.
“My suggestion is the next batch should go directly to China … so there would be balance. I’m sure there is an academy there to train good professional Chinese soldiers. Maybe China can accommodate them also and let them … not really to fight the Americans but terrorism,” he told the Monday meeting.
On Friday, students walked out of classes and launched a protest march toward the Presidential Palace in Manila, calling for an end to Duterte’s rising dictatorship. They pointed to worsening political, economic and human rights conditions in calling for his ouster, according to the Associated Press.
Manila: report myopic
The U.S. intelligence report was described as “myopic and speculative at best” by Manila, which the International Criminal Court in The Hague had pushed to the defensive lately after saying it was launching an investigation into the thousands of deaths logged in Duterte’s war on drugs.
The report was part of an annual assessment delivered by intelligence chief Daniel Coats to a congressional committee on Feb. 13.
It said democracy and human rights in some Southeast Asian countries would remain fragile in 2018, citing “autocratic tendencies” in some regimes and named the Philippines under Duterte, junta-ruled Thailand and the dictatorship in Cambodia as examples.
Coats cited Duterte’s internationally condemned drug war, his threats to suspend the constitution and a possible expansion of military rule nationwide as among the threats to democracy in the region.
Following Thursday’s meeting, Medialdea instructed the foreign affairs department to “coordinate and engage with the U.S. agencies” involved in writing the assessment, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
All U.S. embassy staff also were told to provide Washington with accurate information about what is happening on the ground, Roque said.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines contributed to this story.