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Kerry in Manila: Protect human rights while keeping society safe

US State Secretary John Kerry shares a light moment with President Rodrigo Duterte during a courtesy call at the President's Hall of the Malacañan Palace on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. PPD/King Rodriguez

MANILA, Philippines — Respect for human rights can go with efforts to achieve security, United States State Secretary John Kerry said during his visit to Manila on Wednesday.

Kerry, who met with President Rodrigo Duterte and his Philippine counterpart, said that the US's "broader agenda" in the Philippines outside the question of the South China Sea involves the fight against crime, which the two countries have long undertaken.

"I made very clear that civil and human rights need to be protected even as we work to keep our society safe," Kerry said at a joint news conference with Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay.

Kerry's statement came amid the war on crime launched by Duterte, who took office June 30. Duterte, who has been known as the iron-fisted mayor of Davao City, called for a "relentless and sustained" fight against criminality, illegal drugs and corruption.

Since the start of the month, more than 3,000 arrests have been made alongside the surrender of over thousands of alleged drug dependents and pushers.

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Human rights groups, however, have linked the aggressive anti-crime policy to the rise of extrajudicial killings around the country.

Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, earlier this week urged Kerry to express concern over the surge in killings of suspected criminals and drug offenders.

"Kerry should make clear to President Duterte that the Philippines’ government and security forces must respect universal rights and freedoms and constitutional guarantees of due legal process in enforcing the country’s laws, including those governing illegal drugs," Kine said in a statement.

Kerry, meanwhile, said the US and the Philippines will continue to work "very closely" to counter the threat of terrorism, which the Philippines is no stranger to.

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