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Cayetano: Philippines open to independent probe into drug war

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines Alan Peter Cayetano at the State Department, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, in Washington. AP/Andrew Harnik

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano discussed further cooperation with Washington in addressing the drug menace in the country in his bilateral meeting with his US counterpart.

On Wednesday, the Philippines' top diplomat met with US State Secretary Rex Tillerson to discuss bilateral issues such as the country's ongoing campaign against criminality, terrorism and illegal drugs.

Cayetano told Tillerson that the Philippines is open to receiving independent observers or investigators that would look into the government's anti-illegal drugs campaign, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

"We made it clear that we have nothing to hide and that we are ready to work with experts or observers as long as they are independent and fair," Cayetano said in a statement.

The DFA, however, clarified that the experts would be welcomed if "they would not politicize the investigations because we want to make sure the outcome would be credible."

In May, Cayetano made a similar statement in reference to UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, saying the French expert is biased against the Philippine government.

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"Please look at the tweets and statements of this special rapporteur, your excellencies. If you were Filipino and you read these slides, would you think that the rapporteur is factual, is fair?" Cayetano said in a press conference in Phnom Penh.

READ: Cayetano: Philippines will welcome 'independent', 'fair' UN rapporteur

The government has invited Callamard to check on the human rights situation in the Philippines subject to certain conditions — like a public debate with Duterte — which the special rapporteur said would violate the Human Rights Council’s code of conduct governing country visits.

"An official visit is not a vehicle for entertainment, theatrics or politicking," Callamard reiterated in August.

Defending Duterte's so-called war on drugs, Cayetano also told Tillerson that the Philippines does not have a state policy allowing extrajudicial killings in the conduct of the war on drugs.

Cayetano stressed that the illegal drug problem in the country is serious.

"In the 25 years that I have been in public service, I have seen statistics from various sources placing the number of drug users and dependents from as low as one million to as high as seven million," the secretary said.

The top diplomats of the Philippines and the US reaffirmed the importance of the partnership and alliance between the two countries, the Philippine Embassy in Washington said.

Tillerson described the relationship between both countries as "on an upward vector."

Cayetano is on an official visit to Washington after attending the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

He has been advocating the Philippines' national and foreign policy interests with US government officials and think-tanks while in the US capital.

During the UN meeting, Cayetano defended the government's war on drugs before the international community.

“The Philippines comprehensive campaign against illegal drugs is a necessary instrument to preserve and protect the human rights of all Filipinos,” Cayetano said in his speech.

RELATED: Things Cayetano said at 32nd UN general assembly

Cayetano's defense of the drug war earned him the moniker "denier in chief" from New York-based human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, one of the groups that has been criticizing the government's violent campaign against drugs since 2016.

"Cayetano declared that President Rodrigo Duterte’s 'drug war' was a 'necessary instrument to preserve and protect the human rights of all Filipinos and was never an instrument to violate human rights.' That  demonstrably false declaration did more than add gross insult to injury for family members of the thousands of victims, including children, killed in the anti-drug campaign over the past 15 months," HRW Deputy Asia Director Philem Kine said in an emailed statement.

Kine said Cayetano's statements, his dismissal of reports of alleged abuses as "misinformation, fake news and politicization of human rights" as well as the Philippines' rejection of Universal Periodic Review recommendations on human rights "raises the risk that the death toll will likely continue to rise for the foreseeable future."

The Duterte administration's drug war is widely popular and human rights groups are often dismissed as being in the payrolls of druglords, of being out of touch with reality, or of wanting to shame the president.

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