The Philippines has hit back at U.N. rights experts for calling for an independent probe into alleged human rights violations in Manila’s drug war that has killed thousands, saying their recommendation was done in bad faith.
The group of 11 special rapporteurs and independent experts on Friday urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to launch an investigation into the killings, pointing out what they had described as a sharp spike in rights abuses in the country amid a “staggering number of unlawful deaths.”
But Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. defended Duterte on Sunday, saying the U.N. experts have already made up their mind ahead of any official investigation. He emphasized that the Philippines was “democratic” and said that the calls to investigate was undue interference.
“We reject this call as it is being made in bad faith by parties who want to undermine domestic processes and spread disinformation, on the basis of one-sided reports coming from questionable sources,” Locsin said in a statement.
By ignoring information provided by the Philippines in good faith, Locsin said, the special rapporteurs and experts showed their bias and political agenda.
“This action indicates the refusal of these parties to engage in true dialogue,” he said.
A day earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte said during an interview with a local religious leader that he never ordered law-enforcement officials to kill suspected drug dealers.
“I did not say: kill this person because he’s a drug pusher or drug importer. What I said to them: ‘Destroy the apparatus of the drug organization’,” Duterte said, according to a transcript released by the presidential palace Saturday.
The police have recorded about 5,300 killings of suspected dealers and pushers since Duterte became president three years ago, but other experts have said the number could be at least four times as many.
On Sunday, Vice President Leni Robredo said that instead of hitting back, the government should welcome any independent inquiry if it had nothing to hide. She called on the government to allow the experts to do their jobs, and lift a ban Manila has imposed against them.
“Their purpose is to ensure something bad will not happen. But if we block it, don’t you think it looks like it’s adding doubt?” said Robredo, the head of the political opposition.
But Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said the U.N. experts’ call was an “outrageous interference” on the country's sovereignty, and that the call of the rights experts was based on "a biased and absolutely false recital of facts, adulterated with malicious imputations."
"The latest call by 11 Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations for an international probe of the Philippines not only is intellectually challenged but an outrageous interference on Philippine sovereignty," Panelo said, adding that such "intrusion" was "unpardonable."
The 11 experts include Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people. In February 2018, Philippine officials said that Callamard had already prejudged the Philippines, while Tauli-Corpuz-Corpuz saw her name included on and later removed from Manila’s list of suspected terrorists.
"The reasons foisted by them for the aforesaid investigation have been discredited and repudiated by the very nation they pretend to care about," he said, arguing that their allegations were based on “false information.”
Duterte, 74, is already facing two murder complaints before the Hague-based International Criminal Court. The first was filed by a former policeman and a self-confessed assassin who alleged that Duterte ordered the killings of criminals and opponents when he was the longtime mayor of Davao city in the south; and the second, filed by relatives of eight people killed in the drug war.
Duterte withdrew the Philippines from an international treaty that created the ICC, after initially saying he welcomed any probe into his bloody war on drugs.