A New York-based human rights group on Thursday criticized the Philippines for deciding not to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Human Rights Watch said it was ?shocked and disappointed? that the Philippines, a staunch advocate of democracy and human rights in Asia, would be skipping the gala on Friday in Oslo, Norway.
?The Philippines prides itself on its democratic values, which is why it is shocking to see this government turning its back on Liu Xiaobo?s non-violent struggle for free expression in China,? said Elaine Pearson, the group?s deputy director for Asia.
?By declining the invitation to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Philippines is failing to live up to its promises to promote human rights in Asia,? she charged.
The Philippines is among 19 countries that have said they would not be sending representatives to the ceremony. Others include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Vietnam.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the Philippines would not attend the ceremony but declined to state the reason.
A senior diplomat who requested anonymity said the Philippines decided not to attend the event because it ?does not want to further annoy China.? China has expressed dismay over the Philippine government?s handling of the investigation into a tour bus hostage-taking that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead in August in Manila.
Beijing and Hong Kong reacted angrily when President Benigno Aquino III rejected recommendations to file criminal charges against close allies for alleged mishandling of the hostage crisis.
Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang denied there was pressure from China on the Philippines not to attend the Nobel ceremony.
?Our ambassador is going to be attending another function, so he won?t be able to go to the peace prize awarding,? he said.
?Attendance is optional, so I don?t think that should be a big issue.? Chinese Ambassador to Manila Liu Jianchao said China did not pressure the Philippines but added, ?We appreciate the understanding of the Philippine government.? ?Every country has the right not to attend the event,? Mr. Liu said.