Obama calls Duterte, highlights shared human rights values

Updated 5:16 AM EDT, Wed May 18, 2016
Front-running presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his second news conference after voting in a polling precinct at Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School, Matina district, his hometown in Davao city in southern Philippines Monday, May 9, 2016. Duterte was leading by a wide margin in unofficial tallies but still refuses to claim victory. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Bullit Marquez/AP
Front-running presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his second news conference after voting in a polling precinct at Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School, Matina district, his hometown in Davao city in southern Philippines Monday, May 9, 2016. Duterte was leading by a wide margin in unofficial tallies but still refuses to claim victory. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
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This combination image of two photographs taken on September 5, 2016 shows, at left, US President Barack Obama speaking during a press conference following the conclusion of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, and at right, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaking during a press conference in Davao City, the Philippines, prior to his departure for Laos to attend the ASEAN summit. 

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Story highlights

President Obama called Duterte to congratulate him on his election success

Duterte recently called for the introduction of a 'shoot to kill' policy in the Philippines

(CNN) —  

President Obama has personally called his counterpart in the Philippines with a subtle message about the importance of human rights.

Just weeks ago, in his last campaign speech, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte told a crowd to “forget the laws of human rights.”

Duterte’s tough-on-crime stance proved popular with Filipino voters as he won by a landslide, with his two closest rivals pulling out within 24 hours.

Duterte vows to be ‘dictator’ against evil

00:59 - Source: CNN
Tough-talking Duterte, popular and polarizing

According to a statement issued by the White House, Obama commended the country for its “vibrant democracy.” But he also highlighted “enduring values” that underpinned their “longstanding ties,” including “shared commitments to democracy, human rights and rule of law.”

Many of Duterte’s inflammatory comments have drawn criticism from election opponents and human rights groups. “If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because as the mayor, I’d kill you,” Duterte said.

Could Duterte’s ascent cool Philippine-U.S. ties?

Human rights record?

In Davao City, where Duterte held office for decades, he has long been dogged by allegations of ties to death squads and extrajudicial killings.

Last year the New York-based Human Rights Watch estimated that more than 1,000 people had died in Davao since the 1990s under Duterte’s leadership and urged the Philippines government to investigate the killings.

In April, a YouTube video surfaced appearing to show him joking about the 1989 rape and murder of an Australian missionary in Davao City, saying as mayor he should have been first in line. He later described it as “gutter language” but refused to apologize, motivating Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, to say on Twitter that Duterte’s comments were “a disgusting endorsement of sexual violence.”

On the campaign trail he vowed to execute 100,000 criminals and dump them into Manila Bay, and more recently, he said he wanted to bring back the death penalty and empower security forces to ‘shoot to kill’ those who resist arrest.

Opinion: Why fatigued voters yearn for ‘strongman’ leader

Longstanding ties

The United States and the Philippines signed a treaty of mutual defense in 1951 and are deepening military cooperation in the face of China’s increasingly assertive claims to disputed land features in the South China Sea.

Last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announce