MANILA - The Philippines had to vote against a United Nations General Assembly committee draft resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar because it was chairman of the ASEAN, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Tuesday.
The only options Manila considered were to abstain or vote no since Myanmar has allowed the humanitarian arm of the regional bloc to enter the troubled state, which is accused of ethnic cleansing carried out by its army.
"If we’re yes as ASEAN Chair, magha-harden up against sa atin ang mga leaders ng Myanmar, including their military, instead na ngayon may access tayo, nakakapasok tayo," he told ANC's Headstart.
"How can you say ‘guilty na kayo; tapos pasok na kami para tumulong’? That’s the situation we are in," he said.
Cayetano said if the Philippines was not chair of the ASEAN, "probably abstain would be a consideration," or if it were not part of the regional bloc as Myanmar, "yes would be considered, but there are some paragraphs we don’t agree with."
"We are chairman of ASEAN and Myanmar is in close coordination with our government and they like us," he said.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh due to military operations against Rohingya militants, who attacked 30 security posts and an army base in Rakhine state on Aug. 25.
A total of 135 countries voted in favor of the UN resolution on the crisis while 26 abstained, paving the way for the revival of the text which was dropped last year due to the country's progress on human rights under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Among ASEAN nations, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar voted against the draft, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam were in favor, while Singapore and Thailand abstained.
Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. said the country should have abstained and that he would push for this once the resolution goes to the plenary since it was the "right thing" to do.
Cayetano said the "no" vote was the call of the Philippine contingent in New York based on the country's "historical voting trends," but there is an ongoing internal discussion with some experts "whether the no or the abstain would be the better vote."
He explained, not abstaining was in line with Manila's objective: for international observers to enter the state.
"It’s a strategy we’re adopting because we’re sincere and people in Myanmar know that we’re sincere," he said.
Cayetano said like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, the Philippines may not be taking up the issue of the Rohingyas at the UN "because of certain considerations," but it was focusing on the matter "as ASEAN and as a neighbor."
Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine Red Cross, was recently in Myanmar, and the organization was asked to help Myanmar Red Cross and the International Red Cross to also enter.
"There’s so much openness to the Philippines and ang key sa mga ganitong crisis is to get people in. But if they send people they don’t trust, it’s violence. It’s not only they won’t be allowed in. There’s a threat to the people because there are warring factions talaga," he said.
He added, ASEAN foreign ministers had a statement addressing 4 issues regarding the Rohingya crisis: "Yung humanitarian, talking with Bangladesh para makabalik yung mga tao, addressing yung root cause, and then stopping all violence."
Cayetano said Manila was "sticking" to the ASEAN resolution since parts of the UN draft resolution was "very tough or (has) judgment on the military of Myanmar."
"In a perfect world, we can vote yes and we can go in; but that’s not the situation on the ground," he said.
"The situation on the ground is that by voting no or by abstaining, our humanitarian people can come in and when the humanitarian groups come in, there’s eyes on the ground, the human rights situation also improves because international observers are there," he added.