MANILA (2nd UPDATE) The Philippines on Friday won a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council despite strong opposition from an international human rights group, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.
The Philippines garnered 165 votes of 192 votes cast by member-states, the DFA said in a statement.
With the victory, the Philippines will get to serve another three-year term in the 47-member Council based in Geneva from 2019 to 2021.
“Our election to another term in the Human Rights Council would not have been possible without the support of other UN Member-States who clearly understood where we are coming from,” DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said, after he was informed of the election results by Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Teddy Locsin, Jr.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch earlier said the Philippines, along with Eritrea, should not be given seats at the council because of its "egregious human rights records."
“Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s abusive ‘war on drugs’ has been a killing frenzy that has left thousands dead. In Eritrea, the authorities persecute and jail government critics and force citizens into indefinite national service," the group said in a statement.
At least 4,854 drug suspects have been killed in police anti-drug operations, but human rights groups and government critics said the figure is understated.
The Philippine government has several times denied involvement in summary killings, saying drug suspects slain in police anti-drug operations had put up violent resistance.
‘Repudiation of Duterte’s critics’
Malacañang, meanwhile, has defended the Duterte administration’s human rights track record.
The Philippines' re-election to the council "is a repudiation of the critics and detractors on President Duterte's unrelenting war against illegal drugs," according to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
"With the county's re-election, the President's campaign against illegal drugs, corruption, and criminality has, in effect, been acknowledged by the international community as essential to the protection of the right to life, liberty and property of every peace-loving and law-abiding citizen of our State," Panelo said in a statement.
Cayetano, meanwhile, described it as "a vindication of President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs".
“Our successful bid to keep our seat in the Council is proof that many in the international community remain convinced the Philippines respects and protects human rights and have seen through the efforts of some to politicize and weaponize the issue,” he said.
Aside from the Philippines, the other Member-States elected by the General Assembly were Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, India, Italy, Somalia, Togo, and Uruguay.
The Philippines is serving a fresh three-year term in the Council after its election in 2015. It is serving as Vice President representing the Asia-Pacific Group, according to the DFA. The Philippines first served in the Council from 2007 to 2009 and then from 2012 to 2014.
Hours before the vote, Cayetano lashed out at HRW and other non-government organizations.
He accused human rights groups of criticizing the human rights record of the Philippines "in order to solicit more funds from donors", according to the DFA statement.
“Why moral bankruptcy? Katulad ngayon, budget season sa Europe. Kaya sila maingay, kasi gusto lang kumuha ng additional budget,” he said. “If you want to talk human rights, we’re here. Upuan natin. But [if] you just want to criticize us from afar and don’t want to give solutions, and just keep saying kayo tama kami mali, it’s helping no one except you and your finances."
Cayetano, who is leaving the DFA to run as congressman of Taguig in the 2019 elections, also took a swipe at Iceland, which has criticized the Duterte administration's campaign against illegal drugs.
“Even yung pinakamaingay sa atin na Iceland. Alam mo ang number one problema ng Iceland sa human rights? It’s domestic violence,” Cayetano claimed. “Ang ingay-ingay nila sa atin. Samantalang ang sa kanila the kind of violence is at home, which is the worst kind of violence kasi your home is supposed to be your castle.”
Locsin is set to replace Cayetano as DFA secretary.
The Philippines' seat was virtually assured in Asia Pacific regional group, because there were only five countries vying for the five seats in the bloc.
HRW had called on the UN for a "competitive elections" because it said candidates are elected regardless of their human rights record.