Sen. Cory Gardner’s office explains why he met with self-professed murderer and Philippines leader Duterte

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner meets with President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. (Presidential Communications Operations Office, Philippines)
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner meets with President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. (Presidential Communications Operations Office, Philippines)
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner meets with President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. (Presidential Communications Operations Office, Philippines)

By James Anderson, Associated Press

Colorado’s Republican U.S. senator, Cory Gardner, discussed human rights and security issues during a meeting this week in the Philippines with President Rodrigo Duterte, a Gardner spokesman said Thursday. Gardner left the country before an attack at a tourist resort near Manila’s airport.

Duterte has been widely criticized for an anti-drug campaign that has led to thousands of deaths.

Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano said the senator met with Duterte Wednesday “to discuss face to face … the importance to adhering to the rule of law.”

Gardner also met with the head of the Philippines Human Rights Commission, Chito Gascon, and U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim in Manila at the end of a tour in which he met with Taiwan and South Korean leaders.

Gascon is a fierce critic of extrajudicial killings under Duterte.

Siciliano said the Duterte meeting was in keeping with Gardner’s role as chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity.

“These meetings have been an important firsthand opportunity to discuss threats to U.S. national security, such as North Korea’s illicit nuclear program and China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea,” Siciliano said.

Duterte and Gardner “also discussed joint efforts to defeat ISIS-linked groups, as they continue to gain a stronger presence in the country,” Siciliano said.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner meets with President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. (Presidential Communications Operations Office, Philippines)
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner meets with President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. (Presidential Communications Operations Office, Philippines)

Philippine troops have been battling a deadly siege by Muslim militants aligned with the Islamic State group in the southern city of Marawi. At least 120 militants, 25 soldiers and 25 civilians have been killed in the fighting since May 23.

A U.S. State Department human rights report in March detailed more than 6,000 killings by Philippines police and vigilantes of suspected drug dealers and users. The killings, carried out without formal evidence or trials, followed repeated promises by Duterte to eliminate illegal drug activity in the country.

Gardner left the Philippines before an attack on a tourist resort early Friday local time near Manila’s international airport and was returning to the U.S.

ProgressNow, a Denver liberal advocacy group, criticized Gardner Thursday for meeting with a strongman abroad and accused him of avoiding open town halls at home since President Donald Trump took office in January.