Duterte says he was not consulted on Philippine vote for UN probe on Israel

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 17 2021 11:08 AM | Updated as of Jun 17 2021 11:43 AM

Duterte says he was not consulted on Philippine vote for UN probe on Israel 1
President Rodrigo Duterte talks to the people from the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on June 14, 2021. Richard Madelo, Presidential Photo/File

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte revealed he was not consulted on a Philippine vote in late May that backed an investigation into alleged crimes committed during the deadly 11-day conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza. 

Israel has summoned the Philippine ambassador to Tel-Aviv to clarify Manila's vote that backed the independent investigation of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The President was about the wrap up his remarks at a ceremonial signing of new laws at Malacañang on Tuesday, when he mentioned that an outgoing ambassador of Israel would pay him a farewell call. 

He then told Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, "Ayusin muna natin ito. Ano ba 'yong boto natin sa UN na pina-withdraw ni…? ‘Yong sa Israel." 

(Let us fix this first. What is our vote at the UN that was asked to be withdrawn by...? The one about Israel.) 

Medialdea approached the President's podium and answer, but his statement was inaudible. 

"Sabi ko na ano, i-withdraw. Sabi ni… Sino ba may alam d'yan? What was that ruckus about?" Duterte replied. 

(I said withdraw it. Who knew about it?) 

Medialdea then pointed at Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert Borje, who also approached Duterte and appeared to be explaining the issue. His remarks were inaudible, too. 

"Our representative voted without consulting the home government," the President said, prompting more explanations from Borje. 

The rest of their conversation was not caught on the event's livestream uploaded on government's social media pages. 

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WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE 

Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque earlier this June said that while the President is the chief architect of foreign policy, he "does not micromanage" and deferred to the Israel probe vote of the Philippine delegation to the UN. 

The delegation "consistently" votes in favor of Palestine's recognition as a state, in the same way that the Philippines supported the recognition of Israel as a country, he said in a press briefing. 

"Iyong boto pong iyan sa (the vote in the) UN Human Rights Council does not in any way, or should not in any way affect our excellent bilateral relations with Israel," said Roque. 

"Wala naman pong kinalaman iyan doon sa napakalapit na samahan natin with the state of Israel," he added. 

(That has no connection to our very close ties with the state of Isreal.) 

The UN typically passes resolutions between Israel and Palestine "with the majority vote in favor of the Palestinians," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Roque read. 

"In short, our vote has been consistent with the previous positions of the Philippines. Although we say that, at the same time, we very much value our bilateral relations with Israel," said the agency. 

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The UNCHR probe will have a broad mandate to look into all alleged violations, not just in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, but also in Israel during hostilities that were halted by a ceasefire on May 21. 

Israel hosts some 30,000 OFWs, most of whom are domestic workers. However, there are only 300 Filipinos in Israel's Ashkelon and Ashdod cities, and another 100 in the Gaza Strip, where the fighting was concentrated, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said. 

"As far as our OFWs are concerned, wala namang (there is no) negative effect," Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello of the UNCHR probe, during the same briefing. 

The Philippines is negotiating with Israel to get some of its surplus COVID-19 vaccines. Duterte also relies on Israel for the Philippine military's modernization, noted Roque. 

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, earlier told the council that deadly Israeli strikes on Gaza might constitute war crimes and that Hamas had violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets into Israel.

Israel rejected the resolution adopted by the Geneva forum and said it would not cooperate.
 
Israel's foreign ministry said its forces acted "in accordance with international law, in defending our citizens from Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket fire."

A spokesman for Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, called the group's actions "legitimate resistance" and called for "immediate steps to punish" Israel.

Israel's main ally, the United States, said it deeply regretted the decision in the forum, where it has observer status and no vote.

"The action today instead threatens to imperil the progress that has been made," said a statement released by the US mission to the UN in Geneva.

By a vote of 24 states in favor, and 9 against, with 14 abstentions, the 47-member UNHRC adopted a resolution for the Israel-Gaza investigation. European countries were split, with Austria, Britain and Germany voting against. France and the Netherlands abstained.

— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters