MANILA- Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday assured the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) of the Philippines’ commitment to human rights as he defended the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
In his opening statement, Cayetano said President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration remains committed to “real change” and its obligations to international treaties.
“The Duterte administration has vowed to integrate the human rights agenda in its development initiatives to protect all, especially the most vulnerable sectors, including but not limited to, the indigenous people, children, women, migrant workers, elderly, domestic workers, persons with disabilities, farmers, laborers and members of the LGBT community,” he said during the Universal Periodic Review held at Geneva, Switzerland.
Cayetano co-chairs the Philippine delegation to the periodic review, which happens every 4 years.
For this year, the review covers the last 4 years of the term of former President Benigno Aquino III and the first 10 months of Duterte's.
The senator hit back at critics of Duterte, including the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), for allegedly spreading “alternative facts.”
"Killings in the Philippines in the previous administrations varied from a low of 11,000 to a high of 16,000 per year. Why wasn't this reported? Why is there no apples to apples comparison between the figures of past and present administrations?" he said.
“Because some of the critics of the Duterte administration, including our very own Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a senator and some local media changed the definition of extrajudicial killings (EJK) therefore deceiving the public and foreign media into believing that there is a sudden wave of state-sponsored extrajudicial killings in the Philippines,” Cayetano added.
He said there were 77,468 murder and homicide cases in the country from 2010 to 2015, and 79,417 cases from 2009 to 2015.
"There is no new wave of killings in the Philippines, just a political tactic of changing definitions," he said.
"Administrative Order (A.O.) 35 signed by then President Benigno Aquino III defined EJKs as the killing of the members or advocates of cause-oriented organizations like labor, environment or media activists resulting in very low number of supposed EJKs in the past administration," he said.
"Make no mistake, any death or killing is one too much. However, there is a deliberate attempt to include all homicides as EJKs (extra-judicial killings) or killings related to the campaign against criminality and illegal drugs, and that these are state-sponsored, which is simply not true."
Under the Duterte administration, he said there were 9,432 homicide cases from July 1 2016 to March 31, 2017, and 2,692 deaths resulting from presumed legitimate police operations in the drug war.
Cayetano, the running mate of Duterte in the May 2016 polls, said the government seeks “at all times” to uphold the rule of law and has a policy of zero tolerance for abuse by law enforcers.”
“Human rights is not only about making people feel safe, but is actually about making people safe,” he said.
The senator also said illegal drugs can easily destroy a whole generation and are linked to problems of poverty and criminality.
“Unless we recognize the relationship of illegal drugs, especially crystal Meth or Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, to violent crimes and poverty, we will not understand the Philippine situation,” he said.
Cayetano also cited the relatively lower number of drug operations in Aquino’s 6-year term compared to Duterte's first 10 months.
“In the 6-year period prior to the Duterte administration, 93,197 drug operations were conducted. Now, barely 10 months into the Duterte administration, a total of 53,503 anti-illegal drug operations have been conducted,” he said.
A total of 64,917 drug personalities have been arrested under Duterte's drug war, according to Cayetano. "Arrested, your excellencies, not killed," he added.
Any such death was presumed legitimate under the law, but it was automatically subject of investigation, he said. Duterte has a zero tolerance policy towards abuse of power by the police, he added.
He also explained the deaths in the drug operations being undertaken by authorities.
"Why are there more deaths due to police operations? Because law enforcers are now conducting operations every day and the ratio of those who surrender and those who violently resist is consistent. Therefore, more operations lead to more arrest, more surrenderers and, unfortunately, more who resist violently thus resulting in more deaths," he said.
Authorities say police are only responsible for deaths that were in self-defense during anti-drugs operations. They say the thousands of mysterious murders of drug users are the work of vigilantes or rival drugs gangs.
That is rejected by human rights groups, who say most of those killings follow the same pattern and allege they were carried out by police or hired assassins, while executions were often presented as police killings in self-defense.
Human Rights Watch Geneva Director John Fisher noted that many member-states expressed concern at the "human cost of President Duterte's murderous war on drugs."
"The Philippines is facing a growing chorus of international concern at the human cost of President Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs. The government’s denial and deflection of criticism shows it has no intention of complying with its international obligations. The Human Rights Council should establish an international inquiry and, if killings without accountability continue, reconsider the Philippines’ council membership," he said in a statement.
China's Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu congratulated Duterte's administration on its "remarkable achievements" in protecting human rights and said Beijing supported his "holistic campaign" against drugs.
The Vatican representative Mauro Cionini said disappearances and extra-judicial killings were "deeply troubling". -- with reports from Reuters