MANILA: Philippine newspapers on Saturday attacked the government of President Benigno Aquino, accusing it of kowtowing to China by staying away from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
The Philippines' absence at the ceremony honouring jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was criticised as an example of Aquino failing to live up to his government's public pronouncements on the importance of human rights.
“The absence of the Philippines at the (Nobel prize) gathering is a low point for a champion of human rights and democracy in Asia,” the Philippine Star newspaper said in its editorial.
The Manila Times newspaper said that Aquino had made a “painful sacrifice” of the country's human rights image to cosy up to China for economic and security reasons.
“By this act, which pleases the Chinese embassy… the Aquino administration has entered the elite stratum of very special friends of (China) of which the foremost are North Korea and Burma (Myanmar),” its editorial said.
Aquino said on Saturday that the Philippine ambassador to Norway did not attend the event because the envoy had a scheduling conflict, meeting Filipinos in Denmark.
“Our ambassador attended to the 10,000 members of the Filipino community in Denmark. Our (Norway) ambassador is a non-resident ambassador for Denmark (also),” he told reporters.
Nobel winner Liu was jailed for 11 years in December 2009 for subversion after co-authoring Charter 08, a petition urging political reform in China.
In the run-up to Friday's ceremony in the Norwegian capital Oslo, Beijing had warned countries they would face “consequences” if they sent a representative.
Countries that turned down invitations to the ceremony included Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
In his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, veteran journalist Juan Mercado called on the foreign secretary to resign over the matter.
He also dismissed attempts by the government to explain the Philippine absence from the ceremony by saying the ambassador to Norway had a “scheduling conflict.”
Political scientist Alex Magno, in his column in the Star, said the other countries which had boycotted the Nobel ceremony were “tin-can regimes ruled by tyrants” but the Philippines was supposed to be a supporter of democracy.
“This is an anomaly. This is a gross international embarrassment. This is a diplomatic faux pas,” he added.
Channel News Asia