Donald Trump didn’t find time to rebuke Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for his blood-soaked war on drugs during their 40-minute conversation in Manila, Philippines, on Monday. Instead, the two bonded over their shared dislike of Barack Obama, according to Duterte’s spokesman.
“It’s very apparent that both of them have a person who they consider as not their best friend,” spokesman Harry Roque told reporters. “They have similar feelings toward former U.S. president Barack Obama.”
Duterte has openly insulted Obama in the past. He once called him a “son of a whore” and said he could “go to hell” for his criticism of the Philippines’ deadly drugs offensive.
Ahead of the meeting, on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit meeting, U.S. politicians and human rights groups had urged Trump to raise objections to the Philippine’s anti-drug campaign, which has killed up to 12,000 people since Duterte entered office last year, according to Amnesty International. Philippine officials acknowledge more than 3,000 have been killed.
It’s unclear whether Trump did raise any concerns, but he sure didn’t hammer home the point, by any account.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that human rights had come up “briefly,” but she didn’t specify who had raised the issue.
By contrast, Duterte’s spokesman said that human rights were not discussed and that Trump “appeared sympathetic” as Duterte spoke of the drugs war.
“The issue of human rights did not arise. It was not brought up,” Roque said. “It was President Duterte who brought up with President Trump the drug menace in the Philippines, and the U.S. president appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter but was merely nodding his head.”
Trump’s failure to press Duterte on the issue will come as no great surprise. Trump had previously praised Duterte during an April phone call for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem” and has shown an affinity for authoritarian leaders, from Egypt’s Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Trump hailing his “great relationship” with his Philippine counterpart came just days after Duterte’s latest public admission on Friday: that he had stabbed a person to death in his teens.
“Rodrigo, I would like to commend you on your success as ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] chair at this critical moment of time,” Trump said at the press conference in Manila, the last stop on his five-country Asian trip. “The show last night was fantastic. And you were fantastic.”
READ: Duterte stands accused of mass murder. So why do his people still love him?