Trump call with Duterte left White House âgenuinely horrifiedâ
President Rodrigo Duterte and his partner Honeylet welcome US President Donald Trump prior to the start of the gala dinner hosted by the Philippines for the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states and dialogue partners at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City on Nov. 12, 2017.
Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo
Trump call with Duterte left White House ‘genuinely horrified’
Franco Luna ( - October 15, 2019 - 4:04pm

MANILA, Philippines — A call dated April 29, 2017, that saw US President Donald Trump congratulating Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for an "unbelievable job on the drug problem" left many in the White House "genuinely horrified," a Washington Post report said.

In the call, which occurred during the 30th ASEAN Summit hosted in Manila, both presidents expressed unease towards North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, particularly his arsenal of nuclear weaponry. Trump called the dictator a “madman with nuclear weapons” just days before he publicly stated that he would be honored to meet with the North Korean leader.

The two presidents also exchanged compliments and warm invitations to their respective presidential offices.

“There was a constant undercurrent in the Trump administration of [senior staff] who were genuinely horrified by the things they saw that were happening on these calls,” one former White House official told the Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations.

“Phone calls that were embarrassing, huge mistakes he made, months and months of work that were upended by one impulsive tweet.”

READ: Transcript: In call, Trump praises Duterte's 'great' job on drug war

One former security official called this pandering, saying that, “[p]eople who could do things for him — he was nice to.”

The Washington Post's report published last October 5 comes as Duterte was about to wrap up his visit to Russia, which marked the latest in his longstanding push towards diplomatic independence from the United States — one of the central tenets of his campaign for the presidency. 

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo noted in a statement on Facebook last October 4 that progress in Philippines-Russia relations came "after [Duterte] sought the rebalancing of traditional partnerships and the deepening of relations with non-traditional partners at the onset of his administration."

"[T]here are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way," Duterte said in 2016, signifying a complete reversal in foreign policy since he took office. 

Scourge of my nation 

The Duterte presidency has been marked by a bloody war on drugs, during which the death toll rose to over 12,000 by January 2019, according to Human Rights Watch. This is disputed by the official figure offered by the Philippine National Police, which puts the number closer to 5,200 killed in official operations as of February 2019. 

"This is the scourge of my nation now, and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation," Duterte said of the drug problem in his 2017 call with Trump. 

"I remember when the President [Duterte] was talking about what he is doing for this country pati 'yung mga kotrobersya niya, 'yung cursing niya, the secretary of the state [Pompeo] said 'You're just like our president!' Nagtawanan kami eh," Panelo said during a Palace press briefing last March.

READ: Trump says ‘Filipinos don’t have drug problem because they kill dealers’ — report

Many of the deaths in the drug war came as a result of the suspected drug personalities fighting back, according to police reports.

Upon the release of the call's transcript, which was transmitted by the Department of Foreign Affairs, numerous critics panned Trump's congratulatory remarks on the drug war, claiming they demonstrated an approval and even endorsement of the Philippine president's methods. 

“Unheard of,” one former White House official who handled foreign calls told the Washington Post. “That just blew me away.”

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