US Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson says that the country will preserve its “longstanding friendship” with the Philippines, despite the violent anti-drug campaign of leader Rodrigo Duterte.
During Tillerson’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Senator Marco Rubio asked Tillerson whether the killings in the Philippines were “conducive to human rights violations that we should be concerned about and condemning.”
Tillerson said he’d need further “facts from the ground” before commenting.
Since Duterte took power in June, he’s waged a bloody so-called “war on drugs,” in which he’s encouraged police and vigilantes to shoot drug dealers and users.
More than 6,000 people have been killed, including a six-year-old Manila boy who was shot in his sleep last month.
Human rights advocates have condemned the campaign, as has the Obama administration. However, Duterte said in a call last month that President-elect Donald Trump told him he was going about the drugs war “in the right way.”
Since coming to power, Duterte has tested the country’s relationship with the US – at one point announcing a military and economic “separation” – but then announcing he could work with the US now that Trump was in charge.
Despite the surge in violence, Duterte is popular in the Philippines, with approval ratings over 70% reported at the end of last month.
On Wednesday, he again vowed to diplomats that he would continue to end drugs, corruption, and criminality as part of a “sacred” promise, according to CNN Philippines.
Duterte has said he will not stop the crackdown until every last drug-related drug criminal is dead.