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An audition in Geneva

He was dancing as fast as he could, but in the end, he got only one positive review.

Alan Peter Cayetano was sent to Geneva to defend his boss’ human rights record at the Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He went to Geneva with guns blazing and issuing press releases telling us what he was going to say to the world when he faced the Council last week. 

Cayetano — young, earnest and articulate, was auditioning for the job of Secretary of Foreign Affairs, primus inter pares, the first among equalswhich, by tradition, is the exalted position of the DFA secretary in the Cabinet. He went to Geneva with so much confidence that he could turn the nations of the world around to his point of view and see the extra-judicial killings in the country as part of good governance and the protection of human rights, and the many eye-witness reports by the local and international media as “inaccurate reporting,” if not “alternative facts.”

Cayetano was impressive in the Senate, and in the presidential campaign. We watched him bring alleged grafters to their knees during Senate hearings with his pointed questioning. We cheered when he cornered Bongbong Marcos and put him in his place during the vice-presidential debates. He had this amazing talent for ferreting out the truth and shaming the other party to silence. But since he ran and lost for VP and cast a moist eye on the DFA post, he has become just a glib talker who defends his master at all costs, manipulates facts, and actually lies for convenience.

Gone is the masterful — okay, arrogant, but masterful — lawyer-senator who was unafraid to take an unpopular though principled position. In Geneva, he tried his best to dazzle the seasoned diplomats in the Council with fighting statements, quick numbers, and facile definitions. But inexplicably, he also showed a video of his President vowing to put drug lords “below (the) ground,” which the Singapore Straits Times observed as “unusual,” since the UN Council is hardly the place where governments “publicize death threats by their heads of state.”  Oops.

At least 45 countries ignored Cayetano’s assertion that there have been “no state-sponsored killings” and “no new wave of killings” in the country, and that his government is “committed to change, the rule of law, and upholding human rights.” 

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The delegations lined up to speak in alphabetical order,  to a man/woman, demanding an end to  extra-judicial killings that have spooked the Filipino people and the world, a thorough investigation of all cases, and  bring the perpetrators to justice. They advised the Philippine government to officially invite recent Manila visitor Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, to look into the reported EJKs in the country. And, for good measure, they warned against his President’s desire to restore the death penalty.

Of the 47 council members, only China took Cayetano’s side, agreeing with his assessment of and solution to the drug menace, and echoing his demand for non-interference in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs. 

I was once part of the Philippine delegation at a universal periodic review led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.  I was then a member of the government panel for peace negotiations with the CPP-NDF-NPA, and was assigned to join, in case there were questions about the human rights aspects of the talks that would be fed to sympathetic member states by local and international NGO lobby groups. 

I recognized a number of activists sitting in the gallery as we waited for our turn to present.  But when we were on the dock, it was easy. The amiable Sec. Ermita presented the government’s position, admitted the government’s shortcomings, promised immediate action where possible, and long-term remedies for bigger problems.  There were few questions, as I recall, and we left the hall, not exactly victorious, but relieved that it was over. And we didn’t have to lie.

To prepare for the UPR, we met over several weeks to discuss the issues that would be raised, learn about the UPR process, and identify our dependable allies and likely critics among the council members.  The DFA guided us every step of the way, prepping us for every possible situation.

To be sure, in spite of President Arroyo who was our principal then, our job was easier than Cayetano’s today.  Still, by any standard, the Cayetano mission to the UPR was an epic failure.  45-1 is not an impressive score. 

But hey, someone actually thought Cayetano gave a marvelous performance in Geneva.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the government’s new Secretary of Foreign Affairs. 

It will be a long five years.

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