That’s the tactic Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano deployed last week when he took the podium at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in a bid to justify his government’s murderous “war on drugs.”
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. It also airbrushed the fact that compelling evidence compiled by Human Rights Watch and investigative journalists has demonstrated that many of those deaths amount to extrajudicial killings by Philippine National Police personnel and their agents.
Cayetano appeared untroubled by those facts. That’s likely because he has had five months to hone his delivery of such blatant falsehoods since his role as denier-in-chief for Duterte’s “drug war” began during the United Nations’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Philippines’s human rights record in Geneva in May. At that time, Cayetano rejected outright reports of high death tolls linked to the drug war as “alternative facts” with no basis in reality. He dismissed statistical evidence and well-documented accounts of a surge in killings of suspected drug users and dealers since Duterte took office in June 2016, as a baseless “political tactic” wielded by the president’s critics.
Cayetano isn’t backing down. During his UN speech, he dismissed evidence of abuses linked to the “drug war” as nothing more than “misinformation, fake news and politicization of human rights.” And in an apparent response to Human Rights Watch’s call for a UN-led investigation, Cayetano invoked Philippine “sovereignty” in defense of the government’s “assessment of threats and how to go about addressing them.”
These statements – and the move last week by the Philippines to reject all UPR recommendations that would make a practical difference in ending extrajudicial killings perpetrated in the name of its deadly “war on drugs” – raises the risk that the death toll will likely continue to rise for the foreseeable future.