GENEVA (AP) — A Filipino senator briskly defended the human rights record of President Rodrigo Duterte's government before a U.N. body on Monday, saying his government always "seeks to uphold the rule of law" while critical Western nations aired concerns about deadly vigilante justice and extrajudicial killings in the country.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano came before the U.N.'s Human Rights Council equipped with a slide show and video excerpts of previous comments by Duterte about the Philippines' fight against illegal drug trafficking, repeating claims that critics are smearing the Filipino government's record and urging a distinction between "fake news" and real news.
"One: There is no state-sponsored killing in the Philippines. Two: There is no sudden wave of killings," Cayetano said. "We are asking you — through the mechanisms of this honorable council — to interview our people, to go to our communities, to visit the Philippines and to see for yourself: The truth, the real numbers."
"At all times, the Duterte government seeks to uphold the rule of law," he added.
Cayetano was speaking Monday at a review of Philippines human rights record at the council, part of a process known as the Universal Periodic Review of all 193 U.N. member states. The Philippines currently has a seat on the 47-member council which also includes Britain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump set off an uproar in Washington by inviting Duterte to the White House, despite rights groups' criticism of his anti-crime campaign. Human Rights Watch says it has left over 7,000 suspected drug dealers and users dead since Duterte took office in June; the Manila government contests that figure.
The two-week UPR session focuses of 14 countries including Britain, India and South Africa. Following Cayetano's opening remarks, delegations had one minute to comment on the Philippines' record and make recommendations. Such reviews are mostly used to spotlight alleged abuses and urge countries to honor their rights obligations.
Some countries praised the Philippines' efforts: A Chinese delegate cited Cayetano's "very convincing" remarks and challenges faced by China and other "developing countries" to fight the drugs trade. Several Western countries in particular raised concerns about violence against journalists, the prospects of a reinstated death penalty, and extrajudicial killings.
Deputy Permanent Representative Tanya Bennett of Australia said her country was "deeply concerned" about the reports of extrajudicial killings linked to the "so-called war on drugs, noting credible allegations of involvement by elements of the Philippine national police."
Germany's envoy called for the Philippines to take "all necessary measures" to stop extrajudicial killings, and the Vatican said reports of enforced disappearances were "deeply troubling."
Cayetano argued that critics altered the definition of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines from that used under previous governments, insisting: "Suddenly, 'extrajudicial killing' refers to any death outside those causes by natural causes, accidents, or those ordered by courts — and we do not have the death penalty, so none are ordered by courts."
"Make no mistake ... one death or any death or killing is one too much," he added. "However, there is a deliberate attempt to include all homicides as 'EJKs' or killings related to the campaign against criminality and illegal drugs — and that these are state-sponsored, which is absolutely not true."
He said more than 1.2 million drug pushers and users have surrendered "voluntarily" and are "being rehabilitated."