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Philippines denies back flip on Nobel ceremony

MANILA, December 10, 2010 (AFP) – The Philippines on Friday denied reports it would send an envoy to the Nobel peace prize ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, but insisted its commitment to human rights remained strong.

Confusion arose after the Nobel Institute’s director Geir Lundestad said the Philippines had reversed its stance on skipping Friday’s ceremony in Norway.

But Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said the Philippines’ ambassador to Norway was on a consular mission and could not return in time to join the ceremony.

“We are not sending any representative because we have 10,000 Filipinos in Copenhagen and the ambassador has to be there,” Romulo said on the sidelines of a ceremony marking International Human Rights Day.

The Philippine government has insisted publicly it would not be represented at the ceremony because of a scheduling conflict for its ambassador to Norway.

But multiple top-level officials have admitted to reporters that the Philippines had decided to skip the event because it wanted to appease China.

China reacted furiously to the decision by the Nobel Committee to award this year’s honor to Liu, who was jailed for 11 years last December on subversion charges after calling for reform of one-party communist rule.

It repeatedly warned governments around the world that ties would be harmed if they attended the ceremony.

The decision to stay away from the Nobel ceremony came as the Philippines was struggling to mend diplomatic ties with Beijing after a botched rescue of a hijacked bus that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead in August.

Rights groups blasted the Philippines for the decision, with the Human Rights Watch saying it was “shocked and disappointed” at the move.

Romulo on Friday insisted the Philippines, one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies, remained a steadfast advocate of human rights.

“Our record is very clear on that,” he said.

Foreign department spokesman Eduardo Malaya added that the government had led calls in the region for the release of Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a Nobel laureate.

“The commitment of the Philippines to the dignity of every human person and the full respect for human rights is clear and well established,” he said in a statement.

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