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Duterte: EU chief 'not at all interested' in discussing EJKs

President Rodrigo Duterte and European Council President Donald Tusk join the traditional Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) handshake prior to the start of the ASEAN-European Union (EU) 40th Anniversary Commemorative Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center on November 14, 2017. REY BANIQUET/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he raised the issue of reported extrajudicial killings in his deadly drug war with the European Union chief, whom he claimed was indifferent to his explanation.

European Council President Donald Tusk met leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the regional bloc’s 40th Commemorative Summit with the EU. Duterte, as this year’s ASEAN chair, presided over the meeting.

In a press conference after back-to-back talks with world leaders, Duterte said he took the opportunity to address to Tusk the alleged summary killings in his drug war but the EU president was “not at all interested.”

“I think we were in the same group and I said, ‘Whatever happened to that precious phrase. It’s a Western thing. The right to be heard,’” Duterte told reporters.

“I was the one who injected the topic. He was not at all interested. There were a lot of TV. The TV was working there... I inserted the matter of extrajudicial killing,” he added.

Meetings during the summit were held behind closed doors and media was only allowed to cover the opening statements before sessions.

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Duterte easily won last year’s presidential elections after promising to wipe out illegal drugs with an unprecedented campaign that would see thousands of people killed.

Human rights groups believe many of the 3,900 deaths in police operations were extralegal killings. But the police deny the accusations, saying drug suspects had violently resisted arrest while gangsters were silencing potential witnesses.

Duterte, who is sensitive to criticisms of his rights record and anti-drug campaign, had repeatedly berated the EU and accused the bloc of bias, hypocrisy and interference for expressing concern about the spate of killings during his fierce war on drugs.

Citing police data, the EU last month released a report flagging the worsening “respect for the right to life, due process and the rule of law” in the Philippines during the second half of 2016.

Duterte rejects 'conditional' EU grants anew

According to Duterte, he asked the EU chief why the 28-member bloc sympathizes with criminals, a common characterization of groups and people who raise concerns on human rights.

“And I said whatever happened? You thought it’s about democracy, now your hearts bleed for the criminals?’ the firebrand leader claims to have said during the summit.

He also rejected anew any conditional foreign assistance that the EU may offer to the Philippines, citing his duty to protect his country’s sovereignty “even at the expense of being pictured as a berdugo (executioner).”

“Forget it. We will survive even if we have to eat dried fish and rice. We will survive,” he said.

“You do not bargain the dignity by accepting their money and they would make conditionalities that are not really acceptable to us because it trims on the edge of violation of our sovereignty,” he added.

EU chief mentions human rights in opening remarks

In his opening remarks at the ASEAN-EU meet, Tusk reminded Southeast Asian leaders that deepening ties based on respect for human rights and the rule of law remains a “priority” of Europe.

READ: EU chief: Developing ties based on human rights still a priority

“Many of our interests coincide and still many of the challenges we face,” Tusk said.

“Forty years on, I am personally very glad we have the ASEAN-EU ready and available as a bridge between Asia and Europe in troubling times,” he added.

Europe had been funding about 100 community projects across the country, which is drawn from the European Development Fund.

In 2014, the Philippines was granted beneficiary country status under the General System of Preference (GSP+)—a preferential trade deal that allows 6,200 of its products to enter the EU market duty free.

However, the alleged cases of extralegal killings in the country as part of Duterte’s drug war has put at risk the country’s GSP+ privileges.

The country’s beneficiary status under the GSP+ necessitates the implementation of the 27 international treaties and conventions on human rights, labor rights, environment and governance.

Results of the latest GSP+ review is expected to come out in January next year.

READ: 'No surprises' for Philippines, EU says, as results of trade perks review loom

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