MANILA – Instead of asking the media to “tone down” its reports on killings, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo must ask the government to stop the killings linked to the war on drugs, a United Nations rapporteur said.
Teo urged the media Wednesday to "tone down" coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly drug war, complaining that reports on extrajudicial killings were scaring away foreigners.
But Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial summary or arbitrary executions, said Teo was barking on the wrong tree.
“Tourism Chief asks media to tone down #EJK report! She should ask Gov & Police to #StopEJK,” Callamard tweeted.
On a trip to Thailand accompanying Duterte, Teo insisted the Philippines was a safe destination but said journalists were making the country a hard sell because of their focus on the killings.
"Help us because you know, it's really difficult for me to sell the Philippines, especially when extrajudicial killings becomes the topic," Teo told Filipino reporters following the Duterte entourage.
Teo said tour operators abroad were "always" asking her about the issue, citing Asia and Europe as regions where people were particularly concerned.
"I would always say it's safe in the Philippines," she added.
"To the media, please tone down a little the extrajudicial killing (reports)."
Duterte was elected last year after promising during the campaign to eradicate drugs in society by killing tens of thousands of people.
Since he took office nearly nine months ago, police have reported killing 2,594 people in the drug war while rights groups say thousands more have been killed in a state-sanctioned campaign of mass murder.
While most of those killed have been poor people living in slums, some foreigners have also died.
The Philippines, despite picturesque tropical islands and spectacular mountains, has long lagged behind its neighbors as a tourist destination.
This is partly due to decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies, as well as frequent kidnappings of foreigners by Islamic militants.
About 5.9 million tourists visited the Philippines last year, compared with 32.6 million for Thailand. – with AFP