United Kingdom Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad advised Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella to read the full news report and not just its headline.
Writing in Filipino, the British envoy posted in his official twitter account his reaction to Abella’s criticisms of his opinion on the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
“Dapat nagbasa kayo ano ang nagsabi ako, di yun headline ng editor ng dyaryo lang [You should have read what I said, not just the headline [created by] of the newspaper’s editor],” Ahmad wrote.
Ahmad posted his reaction in response to the tweet of DWIZ about Abella’s reaction to the envoy’s opinion that under the Duterte administration, change has come in the Philippines but not in a good way.
Abella slammed Ahmad’s remarks for not understanding the “true sentiments of the common Filipino.”
“With all due respect to the British Ambassador, Mr. Asif Ahmad’s remark that ‘change has come in the Philippines but not in a good way’ does not reflect the true sentiment of the common Filipino,” Abella said in a statement.
He also urged Ahmad to look beyond “gated villages” to understand the perspective of the majority of Filipinos who, he claimed, support the President’s drug war.
“Confidence—both business and consumers—is high in the Duterte administration. One wishes diplomats were more familiar with life beyond the rarefied atmosphere of gated villages,” said Abella.
Last Monday night, in a dinner graced by Ahmad in his residence, he described Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs as “not successful” and criticized the revival of death penalty in the country.
Ahmad said the British government is concerned about the action of the Philippines which he said breaches an international agreement to pass the death penalty.
“I think there will be a severe blow. It basically says that the Philippines can walk away from international treaties. If you can walk away from an international treaty, it’s much more easy to walk away from a commercial treaty,” the British envoy told reporters.
“What I’m saying is the distractions that we see now, the noise as we call it, is almost un-Filipino. It’s not the bet we were making,” he added.
Agreeing to Abella’s statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said Ahmad’s opinion about changes in the Philippines may not be diplomatic and inaccurate.
“I'm not sure if that is a very diplomatic statement but I would take issue with that statement as being not accurate. Change has come to the Philippines for the better. I think change has come to the Philippines because we have a President that is committed to make real and meaningful change happen as it is happening today,” Yasay told reporters during this week’s press conference.
“I don’t know why he says that change is happening in a negative way. I can see a lot of positive effects of the actions we have taken to make change happen,” he added.
Yasay, however, admitted that there are “some side effects” and downside of that change but stressed that the Duterte administration is trying to “manage” it.
“Of course there are some side effects and downside of that change but these are things that we ware trying to manage. These are things that we manage in a manner that they would not overpower the positive results and benefits that we are trying to pursue,” he explained.
Some critics from the international community had said that reviving death penalty and the ongoing drug campaign is against the country’s covenant to human rights.
On top of that, a senior trade diplomat warned last year that the Philippines may lose the GSP+ due to Duterte’s bloody war on illegal drugs.
The senior trade diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Philippines could lose the GSP+ privileges, which brought total exports to the EU to €743 million during the first six months of 2015.
The source said President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against drugs which led to a spate of extrajudicial killings may lead to a withdrawal of trade preferences by the EU.
The EU-Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) allows the Philippines to export 6,274 eligible products with duty-free access to the EU market.
With the issue of death penalty, Yasay stressed that nobody from the outside should interfere in the domestic decision if the Congress will pass the bill.
“On the question of death penalty, I’m not too sure why the good ambassador has made mention about that statement. Maybe he was referring to the context of their own experience in the UK,” he said.
When asked about his reaction on Ahmad’s comment that the Philippines may breach the international treaty for reimposing the death penalty, Yasay said that the British envoy may not understand the any treaty is not above the country’s constitution,
“I'm not too sure if the good ambassador is a lawyer but as a lawyer let me say this: treaties have the same force and effect of laws. The treaty as laws cannot supervene over paramount or override the constitution of a country. We have a constitution that doesn’t prohibit the death penalty,” Yasay said.
He said that the country has a constitution that mandates Congress to make sure that if it feels appropriate at a given time to impose the death penalty, the lawmakers can do so.
He said that the Congress has yet to decide on this therefore Ahmad’s remark may appear premature.
“Right now, congress is deliberating on that issue. If congress is deliberating on that issue it has not made a final decision on it as yet. Therefore, a statement like this to my mind is really putting the cart in front of the horse, in a manner of speaking. It is premature. Let’s see and find out the true justifications, if at all it will be imposed, is going to be imposed,” he said.
In December, the subcommittee on judicial reforms under the House justice panel approved the substitute bill on House Bill No. 1 filed by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and other lawmakers.
The proposed measure seeks to revive the death penalty for individuals who are convicted of heinous crimes such as treason, murder, rape, robbery with violence, arson, plunder, and importation of illegal drugs.
President Duterte himself has introduced the revival of the death penalty as a measure to fight illegal drugs. The bill proposes executing a convicted criminal through hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection.
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