Roque: Callamard welcome to ‘swim in Pasig River’

Camille Elemia
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque says the Philippine government will extend the invitation to UN expert Agnes Callamard if she ever visits the Philippines as a tourist

PALACE SPOKESMAN. Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque extends an 'invitation' to UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard. File Presidential Photo

You’re not welcome to probe us but you’re welcome to “swim in the Pasig River.”

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, once known as a human rights advocate, made the statement in a news briefing in Zamboanga del Norte on Saturday, March 3, when he was asked whether UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard would be allowed to enter the country if she ever decides to make a trip to the Philippines. 

“’Pag pumasok siya, eh aanyayahin po namin siya lumangoy sa malamig na tubig ng Pasig River (If she arrives, we will invite her to swim in the cold water of Pasig River),” was Roque’s quick response.

The Pasig River, which runs alongside Malacañang, is among the most polluted rivers in Metro Manila.

Roque said there is no ban against Callamard, as the latter could still enter the country as a tourist, but added that Callamard should not conduct investigations on the government’s drug war under the guise of a tourist.

He noted that Callamard had visited the country without an invitation from the government. The UN expert went on an “academic visit” to the Philippines in May last year upon an invitation to a forum on drug policies, where she was among the speakers.

Hind po, nakapasok na nga yan ng Pilipinas na di in-invite eh. Pero welcome po siya dahil afterall, we welcome all tourists. ‘Wag niya palalabasin nag-imbestiga siya, dahil ang pagpasok sa Pilipinas ay ‘di katumbas ng pag-iimbestiga. So kung siya po ay papasok, sabihin niya siya’y nagkaobserbasyon bilang turista,” he said.

(She won’t be blocked. In fact, she already entered the Philippines even without an invitation. But she is welcome because after all, we welcome al tourists. But she should not make it appear that she investigated [the killings] because her entry does not mean she is allowed to do that. If she’s going to the country, she should say she will observe as a tourist.)

Roque again slammed Callamard for being “biased.”

“Bakit ka nga ba makikipagtulungan eh ilan na lang kinakailangan niya para masuportahan ang kanyang konklusyon Why would you cooperate when she just needs a few more details to support her conclusion?)?” Roque said.

Roque earlier said he would recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte a different UN special rapporteur to investigate the killings in the administration’s drug war.

Callamard drew the ire of Duterte after she and another UN expert called on the Philippine government to stop drug-related killings in August 2016, just two months into Duterte’s presidency.

The Philippine government had invited her to an official visit, but it was tied to conditions that, Callamard noted, “did not comply with the rules and methods of work of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.” –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email