Duterte assures PH upholds human rights in 1st UNGA participation

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 23) – In his first appearance at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly after four years of being the Philippines' head of state, President Rodrigo Duterte assured the international body that the government remains committed in protecting the human rights of its citizens.

"The Philippines will continue to protect the human rights of its people, especially from the scourge of illegal drugs, criminality, and terrorism," Duterte said in his pre-recorded speech aired during the general debate of the 75th UNGA on Wednesday (Philippine time).

Duterte stressed some groups are weaponizing human rights to prey on most vulnerable sectors of society, such as using children as soldiers in conflicts and promoting anti-government propaganda in schools.

"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 enjoy the same widespread approval and support," the President added.

Duterte encouraged the UN to engage in a constructive and open dialogue to promote productive international cooperation on human rights.

"But these must be done in full respect of the principles of objectivity, noninterference, non-selectivity and genuine dialogue," Duterte said.

The President emphasized the Philippines is firm on its commitment to fight terrorism and violent extremism by addressing its root causes. He also guaranteed the rebuilding of communities affected by terrorist activities.

"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 reckless response to it," he cited.

Upon his assumption as president in 2016, Duterte repeatedly lashed out at UN for having a critical view of his government's centerpiece program, the war on drugs. He even threatened to leave UN because of the body's opposition to the reported extrajudicial killings in the country brought by the anti-illegal drug war called Oplan Tokhang.

Over the last few years, the UN Human Rights Council had repeatedly called for a probe on the country's bloody war against illegal drugs. The latest was the report filed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, which found "serious human rights violations" in the anti-illegal drugs war.

Government data show at least 6,600 people have been killed in anti-illegal drug operations since Duterte took office in July 2016. The Philippine Commission on Human Rights and international human rights groups have pegged the deaths at more than 27,000 that are filed by the police as "homicides under investigation."