Updated at 4:40 p.m. ET on 2018-10-12
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has named the country’s U.N. ambassador as the replacement for outgoing Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetono, in what appears to be a first move in an expected cabinet reshuffle ahead of midterm elections in 2019.
Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr., Manila’s envoy to the United Nations, said he had accepted an invitation to take over from Cayetano. The outgoing secretary had defended on the world stage the Duterte administration’s unpopular drug crackdown, which has left thousands of suspects dead. Cayetano plans to return to Congress if he wins next year’s polls, officials said.
“I was asked, I said yes,” Locsin confirmed in a message posted on Twitter. “I will be Secretary of Foreign Affairs, which includes the U.N.; I will have a direct hand until the architecture of sovereign independence in all matters of state that my team started to erect is remitted.”
Duterte briefly and cryptically referred to the cabinet change after returning from a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders in Bali.
“Can you please call Teddy Boy Locsin and ask him if I can mention his name here,” Duterte told an aide during a news conference in Manila, Reuters news agency reported.
Locsin, a lawyer and former newspaper executive, said his experience as ambassador to the U.N. had more than adequately prepared him for the job of foreign secretary, because it was “like sharpening a blade everyday.”
He is fond of using colorful language in his Twitter posts. He once caused a controversy for saying that the severity of rape should be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Locsin remains staunchly opposed to the family of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, which backed Duterte in his 2016 election. Locsin’s father was jailed when Marcos put the entire country under martial law in the 1970s.
How these two facets will be reconciled when Locsin takes over as the Philippines’ top diplomat remains to be seen, particularly his stand on daily killings of suspected drug pushers and addicts in Duterte’s drug war.
Rights watchdog: Duterte on ‘killing frenzy’
At the U.N.’s 73rd General Assembly in New York last week, his predecessor, Cayetano, defended Duterte’s drug war, saying it had prevented the country from sliding into a “narco-state.” He also appeared to endorse the rights of policemen to kill suspects, and later criticized rights groups for making noise about the country.
Ahead of the U.N. meeting, Duterte admitted for the first time that his “only sin is the extrajudicial killings.” He has maintained that the estimated 4,500 drug addicts and dealers slain in the drug war were killed when they put up a fight against police officers.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch campaigned against the Philippines’ inclusion into the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, saying that Duterte was on a “killing frenzy,” which has left thousands dead.
“By putting forward serious rights violators and presenting only as many candidates as seats available, the regional group risks undermining the council’s credibility and effectiveness,” HRW’s U.N. director, Louis Charbonneau, said.
The Philippines has been “undergoing a human rights crisis” that could amount to crimes against humanity, he added.
“The killings continue daily and have spread to cities and provinces outside the capital, Manila,” Charbonneau said. “The Duterte administration has sought to quell dissent and criticism of the drug war by jailing, threatening, and harassing critics.”
Later on Friday, the U.N. General Assembly elected the Philippines, Bangladesh and 16 other candidate-countries to the Rights Council, the United Nations announced.
Other changes to cabinet
In addition to Cayetano’s resignation, Duterte recently accepted the resignation of Mocha Uson, a former dancer and blogger, who had taken on the role as his administration’s assistant secretary for communications.
Uson had become perhaps the most polarizing figure in the cabinet, often spreading what the political opposition labeled as fake news on her popular Facebook page, which is followed by nearly six million people.
Uson recently said that she would join next year’s race, and would seek a seat as well in the Senate.
Duterte’s trusted aide, Bong Go, and former police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, who has faced criticism as the government top anti-drug enforcer, have also made public their plans to campaign in the elections next year.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines contributed to this report.