Manila — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson brushed aside questions about the Philippines’ deadly drug war on Monday, as he received a warm welcome from President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte’s administration has launched a brutal crackdown on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives and led to warnings by rights groups that he may be overseeing a crime against humanity.
The US fears that offending its long-time ally could push it into the arms of China and it is backing Philippine troops as they battle to recapture part of a southern region occupied by militants aligned to the Islamic State group.
When Duterte welcomed Tillerson to his palace on Monday, the pair ignored reporters’ questions about human rights and afterwards, the Philippine leader insisted the topic had not come up at the talks.
Tillerson described the crisis in the southern Philippine city of Marawi as a "tragic situation" and said US forces were providing surveillance aircraft and important advice for the Philippines forces in the battle there.
"Bringing our knowledge in how to deal with this enemy in other parts of the world is useful to them, and I think that is also in our security interests as well," he told journalists.
"I see no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views on other human rights concerns that we have in how they carry out their counter-narcotics activities," Tillerson said.