US President Donald Trump and his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte are renowned for their unpredictable nature and coarse rhetoric. Their meeting comes accompanied by a wave of protests. Ana P. Santos reports.
Trump's detractors in the Philippines were delivering on their promise to host a wave of protests against the US president even before he arrived on Sunday.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance), a mostly left-wing coalition of labor and peasant groups, launched the #BanTrump campaign calling Trump's trip "the worst aspect of US imperialism."
Bayan marched to the US Embassy in the Philippine capital of Manila to deliver this message but were met by riot police who formed a tight barricade in front of the embassy.
"Donald Trump is a threat to democracy and world peace as shown in the way he has carried himself as president of the United States," Bayan spokesperson Teddy Casino told DW. "He has the lowest trust ratings and much like the Americans, we distrust Trump. He brings with him an agenda of war and plunder to countries in Asia," Casino added.
Protesters pushed against the police to get past the barricade but were held back by security forces in full riot gear. "I think there was restraint on both sides. There will be a series of protests throughout this week. We did not want to get off on a violent start," Casino said.
Trump's Philippines visit is the last leg of his whirlwind 12-day trip to various Asian countries. The US leader is attending a gala dinner in Manila on Sunday, honoring the 50th anniversary of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). And then he is meeting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday for bilateral talks.
Human rights advocates have hoped that Trump would speak out against the human rights crises brewing in Asia, from the Rohingya crisis to Duterte's war on drugs. In an interview earlier this week, Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial or arbitrary executions at the UN's High Commission on Human Rights, said Trump could set a "moral benchmark."
"It is extremely important that President Trump - or anyone else with that kind of stature - uses their position in the global community to say and take a stand," Callamard said.
But protesters at Friday's rallies were not optimistic. "We are expecting Trump and Duterte to hit it off. Their political agendas will intersect. We are not expecting anything from Trump on the war on drugs except the token mention of respect for human rights which Duterte is already doing anyway," said Casino.
Jigs Clamor, deputy secretary general of rights group Karapatan, told DW they do not welcome Trump's visit to the Philippines. "It is hypocrisy on the part of the US government to criticize human rights violations when it is supporting Duterte's war on drugs that has claimed the lives of mostly poor suspected illicit drug users and pushers."
Citing US Congress documents, Clamor said that the US government allocated $9 million (€7.7 million) for the Philippines "to support police training and infrastructure development." The money is now being used to fund the Duterte administration's brutally violent war against drugs, he noted, adding: Next year, the US is allocating $111 million as military assistance to the country, with $7 million of that to be used for the country's anti-drug campaign.
Cut from the same political tapestry
The US and the Philippines have a shared but not always happy history. The Philippines was a US colony from 1898 to 1946, and the two countries have been close allies for decades.
More than 3 million Filipinos live in the United States, representing the second-largest Asian ethnic group in the country. A 1951 mutual defense treaty binds the countries to protect each other if attacked, and the United States is the Philippines' biggest supplier of military hardware and arms.
The longstanding relationship of the two countries was put to the test when Duterte assumed the Philippine presidency in 2016 and launched a bloody war on drugs that has left more than 3,000 suspected drug pushers dead.
Smarting from Trump's predecessor Barack Obama's criticism of the drug war, echoing a global call to respect human rights and the rule of law, Duterte called Obama a "son of a whore." He threatened to cut all ties to the US and forge new diplomatic friendships with China and Russia.
That may change now with President Trump seen as cut from the same political tapestry as Duterte, who has been labelled as "Trump of the East."
At another protest on Friday at Mendiola peace arch, a traditional staging ground for demonstrations, about a hundred people from urban poor communities and student groups resisted an alliance between Trump and Duterte, citing the Philippine president's tendency to backpedal on his pronouncements and his promises.
"He said he would kick the Americans out of the Philippines. Why is Trump now coming here? Are we just being taken for a ride?" asked Estrelia Bagatbat, vice chairperson of Kadamay, a group representing the urban poor.
Among the protesters were informal settlers whose homes were demolished about three weeks ago. Bagatbat said that the billions of pesos the Philippine government is spending over the visit of Trump and other world leaders could have been used to build homes and provide livelihoods for these people.