President Rodrigo Duterte defended his anti-narcotics campaign and the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act in his debut appearance in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
He also accused “interest groups” of “weaponizing” human rights against his administration.
The President, in his speech aired early Wednesday, insisted that the government protects Filipinos from the scourge of illegal drugs, criminality and terrorism amid fresh calls for an independent probe on the human rights situation in the Philippines.
He pushed for an “open dialogue and constructive engagement” with the UN on human rights but said it must be done with respect, objectivity, non-interference, non-selectivity and genuine dialogue.
“A number of interest groups have weaponized human rights — some well-meaning, others ill-intentioned,” Duterte said.
“They attempt to discredit the functioning institutions and mechanisms of a democratic country and a popularly-elected government which in its last two years, still enjoys the same widespread approval and support,” he added.
The Chief Executive even claimed that “detractors pass themselves off as human rights advocates” while preying on the vulnerable sectors, including children.
“They hide their misdeeds under the blanket of human rights but the blood oozes through,” he said.
His speech came a week after UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged the Duterte administration to stop its “violent policies.”
The European Parliament later warned the Philippines that it would withdraw tariff perks granted to the country if the government will not cooperate with the probe on alleged human rights abuses.
During the summit, President Duterte stressed that the government remains firm on its commitment to protect people from threats as “terrorism looms large.”
He added that the Philippines is fighting terrorism and violent extremism by addressing its root causes as he guaranteed the rebuilding of communities affected by terrorist activities.
Duterte also defended the Anti-Terrorism Law he had signed early in July and in the middle of a pandemic, saying it provides a strong legal framework to address the problem.
“The Marawi siege, where foreign terrorist fighters took part, taught us that an effective legal framework is crucial. Our 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act shores up the legal framework by focusing on both terrorism and the usual response to it,” he said in his pre-recorded speech.
The President also said that the enactment of the law was pursuant to Security Council resolutions and the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
The new law, currently the most contested measure at the Philippines’ Supreme Court, has earned local and international backlash as critics feared that it could be used as a tool to prosecute political opponents.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson said the President’s mention of the law before the UN General Assembly has made the legislation more significant.
In the same speech, Mr. Duterte told the UN that this new law shows the Philippines’ commitment to the resolutions passed by the Security Council and the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
“PRRD is absolutely right on the issue of the Anti-Terrorism Law. UN members know we had the weakest law before,” Sotto, one of the main authors of the law, said.
“I couldn’t agree more with the President. Stating his strong position on the issue before the community of nations, many of whom are leaders of countries that continue to grapple with the threats of terrorism, made it more significant,” Lacson said.
“(The ATL) contains the needed legal backbone to let our security forces implement the law with efficacy and confidence, even proactively — as well as the needed safeguards to curb potential abuse and violation of the 1987 Constitution,” Lacson added.
with Hananeel Bordey