Foreign minister meeting Duterte

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Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende was back in the Philippines on Friday, with plans to meet the island nation’s controversial new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Between Duterte and US President-elect Donald Trump, Brende faces challenges galore.

Foreign Minister Børge Brende met school children waving handmade Norwegian- and Filipino flags on a visit to the Philippines two years ago. Now he'll be meeting the country's controversial new president along with other government officials, to discuss peace, trade and foreign aid. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Astrid Sehl

Foreign Minister Børge Brende met schoolchildren waving handmade Norwegian- and Filipino flags on a visit to the Philippines in 2014. Now he’ll be meeting the country’s controversial new president along with other government officials, to discuss peace, trade and foreign aid. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Astrid Sehl

“This is an opportunity to take up some of the concerns Norway has,” Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on the phone from Manila Friday morning.

Duterte has generated headlines worldwide for his often rough language and his campaign against drugs in the Philippines. The anti-drug campaign has spread to nightly shootings, by masked men, and the loss of more than 3,000 lives in recent months, with victims tied to the drug trade and including drug addicts. Since Duterte assumed office earlier this year, the murder rate in the Philippines has risen by 60 percent.

Duterte recently said that as many as 30,000 more people can be killed in the war on drugs. The murders by allegedly unknown assailants, and Duterte himself, have been condemned in both the EU and the US, but Duterte enjoys widespread support both at home and among Filipinos living abroad who want a crackdown on crime.

Stepping into the fray is Brende, who had several other items on his agenda in the Philippines this week. High among them are the peace talks between the government of the Philippines and the country’s communist movement, which Norway has nurtured for years, along with business and trade issues. Thousands of Filipinos work on board Norwegian ships, for example, and Brende opened the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association’s new training center for Filipino seafarers in Manila, with the association’s managing director Sturla Henriksen.

Brende attracted attention from local media in the Philippines when he visited to oversee emergency aid issued after a typoon three years ago. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Astrid Sehl

Brende attracted attention from local media in the Philippines when he visited to oversee emergency aid issued after a typoon three years ago. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Astrid Sehl

In addition to meeting Duterte, Brende also had meetings planned with the Philippines’ foreign minister Perfecto Yasay and its peace minister, Jesus Dureza. Brende said on national radio in Norway Friday morning that it’s most important to maintain dialog, also on issues of disagreement.

“It wouldn’t be right to say that we will cooperate closely (with Duterte),” Brende said, “but if you’re going to try to get someone to change their behaviour, you have to speak with them.” Brende also stressed the close ties otherwise between the Philippines and Norway, which also is home to many people from the Philippines.

“Now there’s also a lot of momentum in the peace process that started 15 years ago,” Brende said. He intended to meet those involved as well as take part in a business event involving Norwegian companies in the Philippines.

Brende said it would be “exciting” to meet and talk with Duterte, and that he thinks Duterte will listen. While Norway has been quick to offer millions in foreign aid to the Philippines during various natural disasters in recent years, the Philippines also helped free a Norwegian hostage from the clutches of Islamic insurgents in the southern Philippines.

“Norway has, for years, had tight cooperation with the Philippines,” Brende said. “There are large Norwegian investments in the country and the peace process, so I think that will contribute to us being heard.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund