Actions urged to follow Duterte’s speech at UN
AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - September 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Going by the publicized reactions – both commending and criticizing – President Duterte’s first speech delivered online before the United Nations General Assembly last Wednesday, positive actions must follow his statements on two controversial issues besieging his administration.

The two issues are: 1) that the 2016 arbitral award won by the Philippines over China in the maritime dispute over the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea is “now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon” and 2) that “open dialogue and constructive engagement in the UN is the key… to move forward” on the issues on human rights violations attributed to the state security forces.

On the arbitral award, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio both expressed approval, and made their respective suggestions for further actions. The two, who led the Philippine team in challenging China’s claim over almost all of the SCS/WPS, suggested that the government work hard to gather international support to enforce the award.

Carpio called on the government to implement the President’s policy statement “on all fronts.” In a column piece last Thursday, he specifically advised that, at the resumption of the ASEAN negotiations with China on the Code of Conduct (COC) aimed at managing the SCS/WPS maritime dispute, the Philippines “must never waver in demanding that the arbitral ruling be included in the COC.”

“Clearly,” he wrote, “China’s objective is to reverse the arbitral ruling through the COC,” thus it refuses any mention of it in the document. If China succeeds in deleting any mention of the ruling, it “can trumpet before the world that since its position prevailed in the COC, then the arbitral ruling is not in accordance with international law and the UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas],” he added.

For his part, Del Rosario urged the government to “work earnestly to get the support of more countries” so that the matter could be raised “more emphatically next year” in the UN General Assembly.

In his speech, Duterte had welcomed “the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award.” However, his spokesperson Harry Roque was quick in rudely trying to denigrate Del Rosario’s qualifications, telling the latter not to dictate on the President what he ought to do. He also misinterpreted the former DFA chief’s suggestion as a call to subject the arbitral award to voting in the General Assembly, in which he claimed the Philippines may lose “because countries will vote for political and economic reasons.”

Five Catholic prelates have weighed in on the issue: Bishops Broderick Pabillo of Manila, Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches, Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos City (Negros Occidental), Ruperto Santos of Bataan and Arturo Bastes (retired) of Sorsogon.

“We are grateful and hope (President Duterte) will remain firm with his speech, and much more to translate it into action,” said Santos. Duterte’s declaration indicates that he has “finally realized that he is wrong to bow to China,” noted Bastes, while Aminaza and Bacani said they were glad that Duterte had finally found the courage to speak against China.

Pabillo capped the bishops’ reactions with this remark: “I hope this is now [the President’s] stand and later not say that it is a joke. [He] is so unreliable in his speeches.”

On the human rights issue, Duterte avoided acknowledging any human rights violations by his administration. He also defended the recently enacted Anti-Terrorism Act, the junking of which by the Supreme Court is being called for by almost 40 petitions, on the ground that it violates the people’s civil and political rights, among others.

He vowed that the Philippines would continue to protect the human rights of its people, “especially from the scourge of illegal drugs, criminality, and terrorism.”  He riled against what he called “interest groups [that] have weaponized human rights; some well-meaning, others ill-intentioned,” which he said “attempt to discredit the functioning institutions and mechanisms of a democratic country and a popularly elected government…”

He didn’t mention any group. But over the years, Duterte has attacked human rights advocacy groups as “enemies of the state,” also church leaders, priests, pastors and nuns. He even berated the Commission on Human Rights (a constitutional body) for criticizing certain policies or pronouncements of his government. He talked (confusedly or maliciously) of “detractors pass(ing) themselves off as human rights advocates while preying on the most vulnerable humans: even using children as soldiers or human shields in [armed] encounters.”

Various national and international groups have supported the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in calling on the UN Human Rights Council to continue monitoring and reporting on the Philippine human rights situation and to pursue accountability.

To achieve these objectives – and enable an “open dialogue and constructive engagement in the UN” which, as Duterte said, is “key to moving forward” – the challenge before his government is to allow UN special rapporteurs to visit the country, so they can look into the actual situation on the ground. He has arbitrarily barred such visits since 2017.

Again, last Thursday, Duterte’s mouthpiece, Roque, haughtily and derisively replied to such calls. He said:

“There’s no need to allow into the country so-called experts with very fixed biases against the Philippines already. The fact that we are not allowing them is a sovereign prerogative recognized by the UN system. There’s nothing the UN can do if we do not allow rapporteurs into our country.”

Such an arrogant and unfair stance encourages both the AFP and the PNP – which Duterte calls the backbone of his administration – to make bold but untruthful statements.

AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo recently claimed, “In many instances in the past, we have been solid; we have been emphatic about our position against human rights violations – that the AFP has no record of any (HRVs) then and now.”

The new PNP chief Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan asserted also recently that there have not been extrajudicial executions involving the police forces.

Who do they think they’re fooling?

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

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