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‘Philippines should have abstained from Rohingya vote’

“The proper vote given our position is abstention because we must do our best to accommodate both our Muslim ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) brothers and our Burmese brothers,” Locsin said on Twitter yesterday. Teddyboy Locsin/Facebook, File

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines should have abstained from voting on a draft resolution calling on Myanmar authorities to end a military campaign against Rohingya Muslims in the nation’s Rakhine state.

“The proper vote given our position is abstention because we must do our best to accommodate both our Muslim ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) brothers and our Burmese brothers,” Locsin said on Twitter yesterday.

“(We) should have abstained in deference to the Muslim and non-Muslim member-states of ASEAN, like Singapore did,” he added.

Singapore was one of two ASEAN countries, along with Thailand, that abstained from the vote.

Joining Myanmar in the “no” vote were fellow ASEAN member-states the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia – which are all Muslim-majority countries – voted in favor of the resolution.

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But Malacañang defended yesterday the Philippines’ move to oppose the UN General Assembly draft resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar, with presidential spokesman Harry Roque saying it should not be misconstrued as the country’s lack of concern for Rohingya.

“We have expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in the Rakhine state. We are fully aware that it has deep historical roots and we acknowledge Myanmar’s efforts towards resolving the issues faced in the Rakhine State,” Roque said in a statement.

He added that the Philippines is merely respecting the efforts being done by Myanmar to address the situation.

“These efforts included Myanmar’s setting up of an Advisory Commission on Rakhine State led by former UN secretary-general Dr. Kofi Annan and establishment of a ministerial-level committee to ensure that the recommendations of the commission are implemented expeditiously,” Roque said.

He added that ASEAN as a bloc had been briefed about Myanmar’s efforts during the recently concluded 31st ASEAN Summit. 

“ASEAN is committed to assist Myanmar in implementing the Advisory Commission’s recommendations. The issue in the Rakhine state is a complex one, and we believe that isolation and censure would only add to the difficulty the people there are now facing.
This explains the vote of the Philippines in the UN resolution,” Roque pointed out.

Asked if he had a say on the Philippine vote, Locsin said he was in Manila for the ASEAN summit, which was attended by UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres.

“It will be different when it goes to plenary. I will push for abstention. It is the right thing. But a ‘yes’ is divisive and will kill ASEAN,” added Locsin.

The UN General Assembly’s human rights committee adopted on Thursday the measure presented by Muslim countries by a vote of 135 to 10, with 26 countries abstaining.

The resolution will go to the full assembly for debate next month.

Despite his inclination to abstain from the vote, Locsin still dubbed the situation in Myanmar as “genocide.”

“ASEAN cannot stop the genocide of Rohingya. We adhere to unanimity and non-intervention,” he wrote.

Reports said the draft text calls for full and unhindered humanitarian aid access and for Myanmar to grant full citizenship rights to Rohingya Muslims, who are treated by Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. 

A total of 135 countries voted in favor of the resolution, paving the way for the revival of the text, which was dropped last year due to the country’s progress on human rights under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Once adopted, the resolution is seen to deepen international pressure on Myanmar but has no legal consequence. – Christina Mendez

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