By Roy Mabasa
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State earned the ire of lawmakers on the first day of his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, January 11 for refusing to recognize certain countries as human rights violators, including the Philippines.
During the hearing, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio grilled Rex Tillerson about his view on the anti-drug campaign launched by President Rodrigo Duterte and the allegations that thousands of Filipino drug suspects were killed by police and vigilantes.
“Since President Rodrigo Duterte took oath last June, The Los Angeles Times reports that roughly over 6,200 people have been killed in the Philippines by police and vigilantes in alleged drug raids, in your view is it the right way to conduct an anti-drug campaign?” Sen. Rubio asked the former ExxonMobil CEO.
In response, Tillerson emphasized instead the “longstanding friendship” of the Philippines and the U.S. and the importance of keeping this in perspective in engaging with the Philippines.
Rubio then asked Tillerson whether he believes that killing thousands of people is an “appropriate way to conduct that operation or that it is something that’s conducive to human rights violations that we should be concerned about.”
Tillerson said while he does not dispute Rubio about the drug campaign launched by President Duterte, he still has to “understand in greater detail” the actual facts on the ground.
“Well, again, I’m not going to rely solely on what I read in the newspapers,” he declared. “I will go with the facts on the ground, I’m sure there’s good and credible information available through our various government agencies.”
Tillerson’s apparent refusal to label the Philippines as a human rights violator infuriated Rubio. “You said you didn’t want to label them because it would somehow hurt our chances to influence them or our relationship with him.”
“But here’s the reality: if confirmed by the Senate and you run the Department of State, you’re going to have to label countries and individuals all the time.
“You gave the need for a lot more information in order to comment on some of these,” Rubio added. “And believe me, I understand that it’s a big world. There’s a lot of topics. These were not obscure areas. I can tell you that, number one, the questions I asked did not require access to any sort of special information that we have.”
Duterte has targeted the U.S. government with numerous tirades after the Obama administration criticized his anti-drug campaign, going as far as threatening to cut ties with its longtime ally.
Following Tillerson’s response during the confirmation hearing, Amnesty International USA executive director Margaret Huang said his commitment to human rights in the U.S. and abroad is now in serious question.
“While he confirmed that U.S. foreign policy should include the prioritization of human rights, he refused to acknowledge human rights abuses by known and long-recognized violators,” said Huang.
“It is extremely concerning that a nominee for Secretary of State would claim that governments in countries like Syria and the Philippines with clear patterns of documented violations are not considered human rights abusers.”
He further noted that Tillerson’s rhetoric suggests that under his leadership, the State Department “would not pressure human rights violators even in the face of overwhelming evidence.”
“If confirmed, Rex Tillerson will hold a position that affects the human rights of millions of people both inside and outside the United States. He must use tomorrow’s hearing to clarify today’s troubling statements.”