MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte thinks he will get along with Donald Trump as the U.S. president-elect “has not meddled in human rights” issues, and he trusted Trump’s judgment to deal fairly with the undocumented workers he plans to kick out.
Duterte’s hostility towards traditional ally the United States has defined his presidency so far, but he has changed his tune since Trump’s surprise election win last week.
“It was a well-deserved victory. You (Trump) are the chosen leader of the most powerful country,” Duterte told reporters at a function at the presidential palace late on Tuesday.
He acknowledged Trump’s intent to crackdown on illegal migrants. Large numbers of Filipinos are believed to be working illegally in the United States and remittances from all U.S.-based Filipinos is equivalent to 3 percent of the country’s GDP.
“I trust in his judgment that he would be fair in the matter of the treatment of illegal immigrants. I cannot talk for the illegals because, whether President Trump or anybody else for that matter, an illegal is always an illegal.”
Duterte’s volatility and willingness to castigate anyone he disagrees with earned him the nickname “Trump of the East” when he was campaigning as the alternative candidate in a presidential election he won in May by a big margin.
His warm words for Trump contrasts starkly with the abuse he poured on incumbent Barack Obama, who he told repeatedly to “go to hell” and called a “son of a bitch” for daring to voice concern about the death toll in Duterte’s drugs war.
When asked if he thought he would get along with Trump, he said he could be friends with anyone and noted the incoming president had not said anything about human rights - a no-go topic for Duterte and a trigger for his rage.
“We don’t have any quarrels. I can always be a friend to anybody especially to a president, a chief executive of another country,” he said. “He has not meddled in the human rights.”
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella on Wednesday said Trump’s migration policy would have little impact on the Philippines.
He declined during a regular briefing to give an estimate of the number of Filipinos working illegally in the United States.
Abella said there were mechanisms in place to provide them with business and employment opportunities and the government encouraged them to return home before Trump takes office.
Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore