hilippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his speech during the 121st Philippine Navy Anniversary at Sangley point, Cavite province, Philippines. Image Credit: AP

Manila: The presidential palace in the Philippines has confirmed that President Rodrigo Duterte is considering cutting ties with Iceland for pushing for a probe into the Philippines war on drugs before the UN Human Rights Council.

“The President said last night that he is seriously mulling severing diplomatic ties with Iceland,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a televised palace press briefing on Tuesday, repeating a statement he made on Monday evening.

Iceland has been critical of Duterte’s perceived bloody campaign against drugs and had sponsored a resolution last July 11 before the 41st regular session of the UNHCR in Geneva, Switzerland, calling on the Philippines to cooperate with the UN rights body on its investigation into the reported deaths.

Various groups claimed that Duterte’s war on drugs has led to the deaths of around 20,000 people, although police disputed this, saying the figure was only around 6,000.

Panelo said Duterte is clueless about why Iceland has been eager to pursue the probe.

“The president is wondering why Iceland is taking that position. This was the second time; it took that same stance last time on a similar move to initiate a probe. Maybe some activists are feeding Iceland with the wrong information on what is really happening in the country,” Panelo said.

Organisations such as the Karapatan, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) were pushing for investigations into Duterte’s drug war.

Panelo downplayed the impact of a possible severing of Philippine-Iceland ties, noting that it would barely affect the estimated 2,000 Filipinos there. He said diplomatic relations between the two countries hardly exist and trade ties were largely centred on importation of fish and geothermal energy.

“The resolution likewise demonstrates how the Western powers are scornful of our sovereign exercise of protecting our people from the scourge of prohibited drugs that threaten to destroy the fabric of our society. Their intrusive abuse is patent and condemnable,” Panelo said.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr confirmed that diplomatic ties between Reykjavik and Manila have been minimal.

“No embassy in Iceland. Nor does Iceland have an embassy here,” he said.

Iceland took the slot provided to the US after it withdrew from the UNHRC.

At the same time, Locsin clarified that the Philippines it is not backing out from its membership in the UNHRC.

“[The] UNHRC vote is a small and harmless matter; we’re staying in UNHRC as a pedagogical duty to teach Europeans moral manners. We’re not severing diplomatic relations with any country,” Locsin said.