Duterte to talk 'drug war,' West Philippine Sea at UN General Assembly — Palace
Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - September 21, 2020 - 4:45pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is set to address the United Nations General Assembly for the first time on Tuesday, Malacañang confirmed. 

Duterte's participation in the the high-level general debate of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly or UNGA was announced by Chief of Presidential Protocol for Foreign Affairs Robert Borje during a virtual briefing on Monday. 

"This will be the president's first time to address the UN General Assembly, the main deliberative board of the UN, where all 193 member states are represented," he said. 

Borje also listed the following topics to be discussed by the president in his speech: 

  • the response to COVID-19
  • peace and security, including terrorism and geopolitical developments in the Asia Pacific
  • sustainable development and climate change
  • the rule of law
  • justice and human rights, including the situation of migrant workers and refugees
  • peacekeeping and the United Nations

According to the protocol officer, Duterte will also touch on issues relating to the West Philippine Sea and his campaign against illegal drugs. The bloody 'war on drugs' has been criticized in the Philippines and abroad but the government points out that "drug personalities" killed had violently resisted arrest.

It has also stressed that the campaign has broad support in the Philippines.

Duterte is set to speak on the first day of the general debate and will be the 12th of the 14 speakers lined up for the morning session, Borje further said.

He added that the high-level discussions begin at 9 a.m. New York time or 9 p.m. in the Philippines.

In addition to marking 75 years since UN's establishment, this year's general assembly is also made historic by virtue of the fact that it marks the first time the event will be held virtually as necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Territorial disputes with China

In a joint statement released last month, former top public officials urged Duterte to assert the country's arbitral win in the South China Sea before world leaders at the UN. 

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said gaining support from the UN's member states in enforcing the ruling was the will of the Filipino people. 

RELATED: Government urged to elevate arbitration ruling to UN General Assembly | Carpio joins Del Rosario, Morales in ICC complaint vs China

When asked whether Duterte would strongly assert the country's arbitral win in the West Philippine Sea, Borje said it would be up to the public to make such a judgement. 

"We will leave it to the people to judge how strong the statement. Its not for us to characterize the statement the president will say," the protocol officer said. 

Duterte's 'war on drugs'

"The president recognizes that the Philippines cannot do it alone and the United Nations is the world's biggest platform where one country can articulate [its principle positions] on many items and on many issues," Borje said, citing what he called the intense and urgent need to address global issues. 

Despite this, Duterte previously threatened to withdraw membership from the UN over the international body's criticism of his government's flagship campaign against illegal drugs. 

"He will address issues on justice and human rights, as i said earlier," Borje further confirmed, when asked whether the chief executive would discuss his administration's anti-drug campaign, the casualties of which are logged by the government's unitary report at 5,810. 

Contrary to government figures, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has logged over 8,600 people who have died in Duterte’s “drug war,” while multiple rights groups in the Philippines place their estimates as high as 30,000.

Despite this, only one extrajudicial killing case has resulted in a conviction.

Multiple groups, both national and international, have called on the UNHCR to launch a probe into the alleged EJKs and rights violations linked to Duterte's administration. 

Looming revocation of EU tarriff perks

Recently, the European Parliament condemned what it called the rapidly detoriarating state of human rights and press freedom in the Philippines, further calling on the current administration to address a range of serious issues through a resolution which was adopted with 626 votes in favor and seven against. 

READ: EU Parliament condemns ‘rapidly deteriorating’ state of human rights, press freedom in Philippines 

In a bid to incentivize Duterte to take action, the parliament also recommended revoking the Philippines' Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status, which provides tariff perks for Filipino goods.

In response, presidential spokesman Harry Roque  said the EU parliament could "go ahead" with its push to revoke the country's tariff perks, even as he acknowledged that such a move would likely affect the country's economy. 

READ: European Parliament revoking Philippines tariff perks? Go ahead, says Palace

When pressed on this issue Monday, Borje said the matter should be discussed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry. 

"As we have said before, the Philippines is a country that partners with other countries and other blocks but its also important to respect the principles of sovereignty and non-interference. That's very basic in international law," he added.

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