With Asia trip winding down, Trump meets with allies

Trump lands in Philippines, offers to mediate on S.China Sea

Trump's Asia Trip Ends as it Begins: Shadowed by Russia

A special counsel's examination of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides so far has led to indictments against Trump's former campaign chairman and another top aide for crimes unrelated to the campaign, and a guilty plea from a Trump foreign policy adviser for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

US President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, hold a bilateral meeting before senior officials on the sidelines off the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines.

The United States and the Philippines, a former U.S. colony, have been strategic allies since World War Two but their relations have been strained by anti-US outbursts from Mr Duterte and his enthusiasm for better ties with Russian Federation and China. He also restricted U.S. access to Philippine bases under the newly implemented Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Ahead of the talks, Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told the New York Times he predicted the world would likely "see an alpha-male bromance between the two..." Ahead of his meeting with the U.S. president, he promised that his country will "remain to be the best of friends with America".

"It is disappointing that President Trump might have ignored the opportunity to raise the horrifying human rights abuses in the Philippines, and left a proper discussion off the table", Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a researcher for Amnesty International in the Philippines, tells Bustle.

Deeply unpopular at home, Trump has openly embraced and seemingly envies global strongmen, who exercise nearly total control over their respective countries.

But there are also pragmatic factors at play.

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Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a former defence attache in Washington, thanked the U.S. for playing a "vital" role in defeating ISIL elements in Marawi. He's also frequently referred to as a "dictator", which isn't true: If Filipinos wanted to impeach Duterte tomorrow, they could. At the G20 summit in September of 2016, Obama said that Duterte needed to "to engage in that fight against drugs in a way that's consistent with basic worldwide norms".

Finally, the two shared a tender moment over their mutual distrust of the press, with Duterte referring to the press pool as "spies" as Trump laughed.

Both leaders have publicly praised the other and appear to have a good relationship, with some Filipinos even calling Duterte the "Filipino Trump".

The most disturbing commonality between Duterte and Trump, however, is their ability to manufacture enemies that support their political ends.

To Chhoa-Howard, Trump's position on Duterte actually could have been a boon for the human rights cause.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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