Dispatch from Crame No. 199: Sen. Leila M. de Lima’s Statement on the Philippine government’s decision not to support the UN draft resolution against Myanmar’s military campaign on Rohingya Muslims


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135 “YES” votes; 26 abstentions; 10 “NO” votes.

That was the result of the vote taken on a UN General Assembly committee draft resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar last week. A “Yes” vote would have been an unequivocal reaffirmation of a nation’s commitment to honoring the value of human lives, and of its obligation to ease human suffering where it exists in the world.

Two years ago, I could have stated with confidence which vote the Philippine government would NOT have taken. After all, our commitment to human rights, international humanitarian law, and particularly to helping the plight of the Rohingya boat people was already made clear as early as May 2015.

In those days, we made a commitment not to turn away those who seek refuge from us, and to treat them with humanity. I remember having proposed a concerted effort and regional action that could include the sending of a rescue ship or two in order to save those who are dying at sea, and offered to share best practices with Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, borne out of our past experiences in sheltering up to 2,700 Vietnamese boat people after the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and once providing asylum to 1,500 Jewish refugees who had been denied asylum in other countries.

It deeply disturbs and disappoints me that we have basically turned our backs to our own history as a nation of being a staunch defender of human life. We now hold the questionable distinction of being among the 10 nations to have voted against protecting it.

Why? Malacañang says because a yes vote would have worsened an already complex situation. This from a government whose leadership attempts to sell itself as “fearless” and “decisive”. It chose to stand by while people are dying, in genocide magnitude, because to do something is to worsen the problem. What hypocrisy, and, most of all, what cowardice.

Some believe that, at the very least, we should have abstained from voting, out of diplomatic deference to a fellow ASEAN member.

I agree that that would have been the less objectionable course of action – as opposed to the outright “no” vote. But that would still not satisfy what I know to be the true spirit of the Filipino people: matapang, tumatayo para sa tama at nagtatanggol sa naaapi. We Filipinos stand for our values – and I believe that a “yes” vote would have been more consistent with them.

And it isn’t as if we are condemning the Myanmar government – we only seek to make our voice heard as to where we stand. After all, the text was already put on hold for a year out of respect for the efforts being made by the new Myanmar government to address the situation. Unfortunately, the delay only meant an escalation of the violence, without a foreseeable end to the humanitarian crisis. That is where the world stood when the vote was taken last week. And we should have taken a firmer stand.

I suspect that the real reason for the government’s “no” vote is not out of diplomacy, but out of fear. It fears that a mirror will be held to its face, and it will be made to see how monstrously it has been treating its own people. It knows that it has lost any moral ascendancy to call out state abuses being committed against its own people. It is not a case of calculated diplomacy, but a case of people saying nothing when they dance with the devil.

I lament the state that this regime has brought us down to.

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