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VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Andanar twists UN SecGen Guterres’ human rights call

Neither the UN or Guterres issued a statement in response to Andanar's Feb. 26 speech at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Mar 5, 2020

VERA Files


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Communications Secretary Martin Andanar misled the public when he said United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres “reminded” the body not to fall prey to organizations who “use human rights” to forward a “hidden agenda.”


On Feb. 26, Andanar spoke at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and “defended” the government from allegations of curtailing press freedom and violating human rights.

Upon his return, Andanar was asked in a March 2 radio interview about the body’s response to his speech. Claiming that UN senior officials present responded “well” and with applause, Andanar said:

“[A]bout two days ago ay naglabas po ng statement ang [UN] na sinasabi po ni Secretary General Guterres na pinapaalalahanan niya ang [UN] na huwag magpagamit at kailangan maging alisto sa mga organisasyon na ginagamit ‘yung human rights pero may ibang hidden agenda. Ayun, nag-release ng statement si SecGen Guterres.

(The UN came out with a statement [where] Secretary General Guterres reminded the UN not to fall prey, and to be on alert for organizations who may be using [the] human rights [cause] but are actually forwarding a hidden agenda. Guterres actually released a statement.)”

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Interview with [PCOO] Secretary Martin Andanar by Henry Uri and Missy Hista (DZRH – Coffeebreak), March 2, 2020

The secretary claimed this was a “result” of the Philippine government’s efforts to engage UN officials in dialogue.


Neither the UN nor Guterres issued a statement in response to Andanar’s Feb. 26 speech. The latest statement from Guterres that came close to Andanar’s claim was dated Feb. 24, or two days before the PCOO chief spoke at the UNHRC, but there was no mention of so-called organizations making use of the UN to forward a “hidden agenda” in the guise of human rights.

What the UN official actually said in his remarks was:

“Human rights are the birth right of every person and in the interests of every country. They ensure stability. They build solidarity. They promote inclusion and growth. They must never be a vehicle for double standards or a means to pursue hidden agendas.”

Source: United Nations, Basic Freedoms Under Assault, Secretary-General Tells Human Rights Council, Launching Call to Revive Respect for Dignity, Equality amid Rising Tensions, Feb. 24, 2020

Guterres reminded the council that human rights are “central” to what the UN does, and that they serve as the “answer” to the “tensions and tests” faced by the world today.

He also said, while sovereignty remains a “bedrock of international relations,” it “cannot be a pretext for violating human rights”:

“We must overcome the false dichotomy between human rights and national sovereignty. Human rights and national sovereignty go hand-in-hand. The promotion of human rights strengthens States and societies, thereby reinforcing sovereignty.”

The Duterte administration has used national sovereignty as an argument against accusations of human rights violations from international entities, like the UN, since the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.

In August 2016, after Duterte threatened to leave the UN — following the statement of UN special rapporteurs “urging” the country to “stop unlawful killings” of drug suspects — then Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said:

“[H]e (Duterte) was just…reiterating the national sovereignty (of the country)…he was basically stating the fact that the Philippines is a sovereign nation and should not be meddled with.”

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Press Conference of PCO Secretary Martin ANdanar, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, DILG Secretary Ismael “Mike” Sueno and Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, Aug. 22, 2016

On June 8, 2019, Duterte’s current spokesperson Salvador Panelo called the statement of 11 UN special rapporteurs for a probe on the Philippine government’s drug war an “outrageous interference on Philippine sovereignty.”

Panelo reiterated the same argument on July 5, 2019, a day after Iceland filed with the UNHRC the draft resolution that called on the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to prepare a “comprehensive written report” on the human rights situation in the country:

“Any attempt…by any foreign country to interfere with how this Government maintains its peace and order, not only is an affront to their intellect but an interference with the country’s sovereignty as well.”

Source: Office of the Presidential Spokesperson official Facebook page, On the call for a UN investigation, July 5, 2019

Saying foreign governments had been fed “false news” about Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign, the spokesman added:

“[W]e ask some state-members of the UN to be more circumspect in evaluating reports concerning the domestic affairs of other countries in order that they may demonstrate respect to the latter’s sovereignty and independence.”


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