Trump is in the country with 18 other Asia-Pacific leaders for two days of summits on the final leg of his East Asia tour dominated by the North Korean nuclear crisis.
“We’ve had a great relationship,” Trump said during a joint press conference. Duterte, host of the Asean summit, described the media as “spies” and had them forced out.
Manila estimates that more than 3,000 people have died in the anti-drug killings, while rights groups believe the death toll of alleged drug users and dealers is far higher.
Trump told the summit: “Rodrigo, I would like to commend you on your success as Asean chair at this critical moment in time, and in the association’s history.
“And the show last night, the talent at that show — I assume mostly from the Philippines — was fantastic. And you were fantastic,” Trump said of his populist soulmate.
Duterte has regularly been described as the “Donald Trump of Asia” for his outbursts and anti-establishment, populist stance.
Duterte, a former mayor of the southern city of Davao, is exceedingly thin-skinned, telling the Catholic church “don’t fuck with me” and accusing the UN of releasing “shitting” statements about his policies.
Manila spokesman Harry Roque said human rights were not discussed.
He suggested Trump and Duterte shared their disdain for the previous president, Barack Obama, in private.
“They been very candid in their dealings, and it is very apparent that both of them have a person they consider as not their best friend,” Roque told the media. “They have similar feelings toward former US president Barack Obama.”
Duterte famously called Obama a “son of a whore” at a press conference ahead of an Asean summit last year.
Outside demonstrators chanted against the drugs murders and Trump’s fiery rhetoric on North Korea. Protesters burned an effigy of Trump that showed his body twisted into the shape of a swastika.
His administration’s human rights violations have been condemned by Obama and numerous bodies, including the US Congress, EU, UN and Human Rights Watch.
Protesters greet Donald Trump in Manila. Picture credit: YouTube