MANILA, Philippines – U2 lead singer Bono had what he called a "soft message" to President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been criticized at home and abroad for human rights violations especially in his bloody drug war: "You can't compromise on human rights."
Bono, in Manila for U2's first-ever Philippine concert slated on Wednesday, December 11, made the statement in response to questions at a press conference after the launch of a national-scale drone blood delivery system in the country where Zipline, where he is a board member, was involved.
"My impression of the Philippines is [that it has] very caring, very sophisticated people. I understand that when progress is made, sometimes people make what they think are compromises for that progress," said Bono, an AI member.
"And I would just say, you can't compromise on human rights. That's my soft message to President Duterte," the human rights advocate added.
Bono was not the first outspoken musician to speak out against Duterte's drug war.
In 2016, American singer James Taylor canceled his planned Manila concert to protest extrajudicial killings in the country.
Duterte's drug war has killed over 6,000 alleged dealers and users who fought back during arrests, but watchdogs say the actual toll is at least 4 times higher.
International Criminal Court prosecutors have launched a preliminary probe of the killing, and the UN's top rights body voted in favor an in-depth review.
During the press conference, Bono cited the importance of protecting a free press and its key role in sustaining democracy in a country like the Philippines.
This was in response to a journalist's question on AI's concern about human rights abuses in the Philippines under Duterte. The same reporter, who recalled how the Beatles snubbed the Marcoses when the rock icons had a concert in Manila in 1966, also asked him if he had any plan to meet with Duterte.
"President Duterte is very popular, he doesn’t need me on his side, and as it happens I have a very deep conviction about journalism," Bono said in reply, answering both questions in one line.
He then stressed the importance of journalism in a democracy.
"I probably would have been a journalist if I wasn’t a singer and so the safety of journalists is very important, and I think a democracy requires a free press," Bono said.
"I find some journalists to be a total pain in the arse but I am really glad they are there," he added.
The Philippines was also ranked as the worst offender in media impunity in Southeast Asia because of its high number of media killings.
There had also been government attacks on media, as Duterte had threatened to shut down news organizations that criticized his administration. Among these were the threats to block the renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise, and the filing of tax evasion charges against the family that owns the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Rappler also faced the brunt of these threats. As of July 2019, there are at least 9 court cases lodged against Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa as well as Rappler's directors and a former researcher. (LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018)
Many, especially U2 fans, anticipate the group to make a statement on human rights during their one-night concert at the Philippine Arena on Wednesday. – With a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com