Duterte aims to buddy up with Trump, Putin

By Jim Gomez, AP

MANILA, Philippines–Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been hostile to U.S. President Barack Obama for criticizing his deadly anti-drug crackdown, has congratulated U.S. President-elect Donald Trump for a “well-deserved victory.” Duterte also said he is excited to meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin at an upcoming Asia-Pacific summit.

Duterte, who has been criticized for using foul language and crackdown on drugs, gave upbeat remarks about Trump and Putin at a news conference in Manila late on Tuesday.

Asked whether his ties with the U.S. can improve under Trump, Duterte replied: “I’m sure, we have no quarrel. I can always be a friend to anybody, specially to a … president, chief executive of another country.”

Duterte, who has been compared to Trump for his irreverence to rivals and critics, said the U.S. president-elect was “the chosen leader of the people of the most powerful country in the world.”

“I trust in his judgment,” Duterte said, adding that he expected Trump to be fair in dealing with immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

Filipinos make up one of the largest expatriate groups in the U.S.

Duterte, 71, has had a frosty relationship with Obama and the U.S. government since the U.S. spoke out against his drug war that is thought to have left more than 4,000 suspects dead since July. At the height of his public outbursts, he told Obama to “go to hell” and announced his “separation” from the U.S., his country’s treaty ally, during a state visit to China last month.

Duterte later walked back on that, saying he meant to express his desire to chart a foreign policy that would not overly lean on the U.S.

However, Duterte has publicly vowed to stop joint combat drills with the U.S. military, and to scale back other security engagements with Washington, although he has also softened up on those threats.

Philippine defense officials said last week that Duterte had agreed to allow a smaller number of joint military exercises, adding that overt assault drills would be discontinued.

The push away from Washington has been accompanied by Duterte reaching out to China and Russia.

Duterte said he wants to meet with Putin, who he said also loves guns and hunting, at this month’s APEC summit in Peru, and that he wants Russia and the Philippines to have strong ties. “I will not ask for anything. I want to be friends with him. I just want the two countries to be the best of friends,” he said.