MANILA - A Philippine senator who is a staunch defender of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on illegal drugs has been named the country's foreign secretary.
Duterte told reporters Wednesday before flying to Cambodia to attend the World Economic Forum on ASEAN that he had appointed Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano to the position.
Cayetano, 46, a lawyer and former member of the House of Representatives who was first elected to the Senate 10 years ago, lost a race for vice president last year when he ran as Duterte's running mate. He then returned to his unfinished term at the Senate but continued his impassioned defense of Duterte.
On Monday, he stood up for Duterte against international criticism at the U.N. human rights review in Geneva. He accused the Philippine media and the president's critics of spreading "alternative facts" that have been repeated by Western media regarding the thousands of suspected drug dealers and addicts killed in the "war on drugs."
Detained Sen. Leila De Lima, a Duterte critic who had launched an investigation into the alleged extrajudicial killings, said that the audience at the U.N. Human Rights Council cannot be fooled like "paid trolls in cyberspace" and the Philippine delegation cannot "pull off a magic trick" to hide Duterte's record of human rights abuses.
"Cayetano's performance was a master-class in innovative defense of the indefensible," said Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Asia Phelim Kine "But it can't negate data that shows the drug war has killed more than 7,000 people since July, mostly poor urban Filipinos."
Cayetano replaces Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, a career diplomat who temporarily occupied the post after Duterte's first appointee, Perfecto Yasay, was rejected by Congress after his flip-flopping statements that he was once a U.S. citizen.