'I'm your humble friend,' Philippines' anti-US leader tells Tillerson

US State Secretary Rex Tillerson gives an opening statement during the Asean-US Ministerial meeting at the sideline of the Association of South East Asian Nations Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings in Manila Philippines. EPA

"I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia", Duterte said in a marked change from the crass criticism the strongman leader offered former President Barack Obama, and the U.S.in general.

Duterte has come under fire from his war on drugs in the Philippines, which had led to deaths of some 700 people, including 528 militants and 122 soldiers and policemen, according to the Inquirer.

Asked directly if the topic came up, Duterte cursed at a reporter who asked about reported abuses and said not to 'go there'.

He added that the issue on human rights was tackled but only in passing.

"I hope that (you) stay alive, fight cool, do not be in a hurry, do not go into a rage or you could lose yourself", the Star quoted Duterte as saying.

Human rights groups have questioned the Trump administration's willingness to engage with Duterte.

The White House described an April call between Trump and Duterte as "very friendly".

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Almost 700 people have been killed in fighting since gunmen affiliated with the Islamic State stormed homes and businesses in the city of Marawi, a heavily Islamic community in the predominantly Catholic nation.

USA diplomat for Asia, Susan Thornton, who traveled to the Philippines, told reporters before the trip that alongside counter-terrorism, Tillerson would also be addressing human rights abuses with Duterte.

"I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia", President Rodrigo Duterte told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when the two met in Manila on Monday to discuss regional issues, including the ongoing fight against radical Muslim militants with ties to the Islamic State in the southern Philippines.

Almost 700 people have died in the intense fighting, including 528 militants and 122 soldiers and policemen, since hundreds of black-flag-waving gunmen stormed into buildings and homes in the business district and outlying communities of mosque-studded Marawi, a centre of Islamic faith in the southern third of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

The US has provided Philippine forces with surveillance, training, planes and drones to help it fight the militants, gangs who have long fought the state and raised funds through kidnap for ransom.

When asked by media how the US could support Marawi without endorsing the Philippines' war on drugs, Tillerson said there was "no conflict at all" between the assistance they extended in Marawi and their concerns over alleged human rights violations.

A Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 transport aircraft airlifted humanitarian supplies worth US$100,000 (S$136,343) to the Philippines yesterday afternoon to provide relief to displaced civilians in the southern Philippines, said a press release by Mindef. Duterte began shifting his focus to Beijing and Moscow, explaining that "there are three of us against the world - China, the Philippines, and Russian Federation".

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