Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo’s remarks on extrajudicial killings are making it hard to sell the Philippines as a tourist destination, the country’s tourism chief said on Wednesday.
In a press conference in Thailand, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo urged Robredo and the media to “tone down” reports on extrajudicial killings as they raise security and safety concerns among tourists. Teo echoed Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. chief Andrea Domingo, who blasted Robredo’s remarks in a gaming conference in Manila on Tuesday.
Robredo, in a video played during a United Nations meeting, criticized the sharp increase in extrajudicial killings and human rights violations under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“I have a great respect for VP [Vice President] Leni. Philippines is now becoming an alternate destination in Asia and Europe. Statements like that make it hard for us to sell the Philippines as a tourist destination,” Teo told reporters.
“This does not only refer to VP Leni but also to media. Let’s tone down on those statements because it’s difficult to promote tourism. Because I’m always asked wherever I go, even in Asia and Europe, ‘Is this true’? And I would say it’s safe in the Philippines and I would always ask them to come,” she added.
Despite the negative impression on the country, Teo was confident of an increase in tourist arrivals.
“I still see that more tourists are coming to the Philippines especially from China, Europe and Asia,” she said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday clarified that the March 16 showing of the video message of the Vice President was not part of the official proceedings of the 60th Session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drugs in Vienna, and did not reflect the stand of participating governments like the Philippines.
DFA Spokesman Charles Jose said the Philippines participated in the event by sending officials from the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency, the Dangerous Drugs Board, and the Philippine Permanent Mission to the UN in Vienna.
Alongside the session were around 100 side events and numerous exhibitions organized by nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
“On 16 March 2017, one such side event sponsored by an anti-drug network featured the video-taped remarks of Vice President Leni Robredo, who spoke on alleged drug-related extrajudicial killings in the country,” the statement released by the office of the DFA spokesman said.
“In the UN context, side events, or activities organized outside the formal program of official UN meetings, provide an opportunity for Member States, UN entities and NGOs to discuss themes in parallel to the official UN meetings or conferences where the NGOs are not involved,” the statement added.
The same video was shown before the EU Parliament, which voted to direct the Philippine government to release Sen. Leila de Lima, who is accused of drug trafficking, from jail.
The DFA said the Philippines respects fundamental freedoms, including the right of everyone to speak freely on any topic.
However, the department said freedom of expression is a right that comes with the responsibility to ensure that facts are verified, and unfounded allegations from questionable sources are avoided.
“In this regard, elements in the Vice President’s side event statement need to be verified, as already earlier stated by the Presidential Spokesperson on the matter,” the statement said.
The DFA explained that the government was investigating the veracity of allegations of drug-related extrajudicial killings, which it said were being undertaken precisely in strict adherence to due process and the rule of law.
“This was conveyed by the Philippine Permanent Mission to the UN in Vienna in a statement delivered at that same side event after the Vice President’s remarks were shown,” the DFA said.
“The Philippine Government has pursued a balanced and holistic approach to the drug issue in all its facets – prevention, education, enforcement, rehabilitation, and reintegration. The five pillars of supply reduction, demand reduction, alternative development, civic awareness and regional and international cooperation inform the Philippines’ mission against illicit drugs,” it added.
WITH A REPORT FROM JAIME R. PILAPIL