Duterte Inks Deals, Wins Hearts in Capital

After meeting with an adoring crowd of Filipino expatriates in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte got to work on Wednesday, meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen to sign four deals, boost trade and offer scholarships to Cambodians, an official said.

Mr. Duterte and Mr. Hun Sen inked memorandums of understanding to promote greater cooperation in the labor, sports and tourism sectors, and in combating transnational crime, the prime minister’s personal adviser, Eang Sophalleth, told reporters after their meeting.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sip champagne in the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Reuters)

The Philippine president also said he would award scholarships next year to 66 Cambodian university students to study in the Philippines in an effort to promote cultural exchange, Mr. Sophalleth said.

Mr. Hun Sen said he hoped the number of Filipino tourists visiting Cambodia—90,000 have made the trip so far this year—would increase after the addition of more direct flights between Cambodia and the Philippines, the adviser said.

In the agricultural sector, Mr. Hun Sen said the Cambodian rice market was fully open to Filipino investors, whom he welcomed to produce, mill and buy Cambodian rice, Mr. Sophalleth said.

“To do this, we will reduce the milled rice cost for import to the Philippines,” he added.

Mr. Duterte encouraged both countries’ national police forces to “cooperate with each other on security, fighting drugs and combating transnational crime,” Mr. Sophalleth said, adding that Mr. Hun Sen reciprocated the desire to boost such collaboration.

At a gathering on Tuesday evening, Mr. Duterte encouraged Filipinos living in Cambodia to support his war on drugs back home, defending his desire to kill those who are behind the proliferation of drug abuse in his country while also saying that rehabilitation was a necessary part of the solution.

Those in attendance, representing an expatriate community that largely supported Mr. Duterte in the presidential election earlier this year, seemed receptive to his appeal.

“He said the Filipino community needs to support the war on drugs and corruption,” said Jesus Aquilar, 60, the owner of Pinoy Resto, a Philippine restaurant on Norodom Boulevard, adding that he believed his vote for Mr. Duterte was already proving to be well cast.

“The crime now in the Philippines is less,” he said on Wednesday.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte walks near a statue of King Norodom Sihanouk in Phnom Penh’s Hun Sen Park on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Other Filipinos interviewed on Wednesday were largely supportive of Mr. Duterte and his anti-drug campaign, which has resulted in thousands of deaths since he took office in July, drawing mounting criticism over extrajudicial killings.

“What he is trying to say is fight the drugs. That’s what the Filipino people like: Fight the drugs; put the drugs away,” said Anne Mantilla, 35, a manager of Filmart, a Filipino grocery store on Street 29 in Phnom Penh.

“He’s my president,” she added.

The Philippines’ ambassador to Cambodia, Christopher Montero, told those gathered on Tuesday that 70 percent of Filipino voters in Cambodia had cast their ballots for Mr. Duterte in the last election, according to Romyr Libo-on, 36, who attended the event.

Arriving a few hours later than expected, Mr. Duterte told his countrymen in Phnom Penh that he had gone on police patrols and shot blindly at suspected criminals while he was mayor of Davao City, AFP reported on Wednesday.

“I [would] sometimes go along with them. If you say I shot someone, maybe I did. I was closing my eyes because I am scared of firing a gun,” Mr. Duterte said.

Such statements, with Mr. Duterte apparently admitting to criminal activity in the name of eliminating criminals, is nothing new, noted Enrico Geronimo, a 48-year-old expatriate from the Philippines.

“He said that many times before,” he said on Wednesday. “This is not new.”

Mr. Geronimo, who has lived in Cambodia for seven years, said he was no fan of Mr. Duterte or his anti-drug policies.

“It’s time for him to admit his strategy is not working,” Mr. Geronimo said of Mr. Duterte’s deadly drug crackdown.

“Why can’t he attack poverty with the same passion and fervor that he is attacking the drug problem? Instead, he is only introducing draconian measures.”

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