By Daniel Llanto

In his first ever address before the UN General Assembly (virtual in light of the pandemic) President Duterte has evidently made peace with the international body from which he previously threatened to withdraw Philippine membership over the incessant criticism of his government’s flagship campaign against illegal drugs.

As expected Duterte tiptoed around the West Philippine Sea issue, ignoring the calls of former officials for 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 Sec. 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.

On the eve of Duterte’s virtual address at the 75th UN General Assembly on September 21, Chief Presidential Protocol Officer Robert Borje said Duterte were set to address issues on justice and human rights, the country’s response to COVID-19, sustainable and climate change, peace keeping and UN’s role.

Topping Duterte’s address is his administration’s anti-drug campaign, the casualties of which are logged by the government’s 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 extra-judicial killing case has resulted in a conviction.

Multiple groups, both national and international, have called on the UN Human Rights Commission  (UNHC) to launch a probe into the alleged EJKs and rights violations linked to Duterte’s administration.

According to the protocol officer, Duterte would 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.

Earlier UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called on the Duterte government to stop its violent policies and rhetoric during the UN Human Rights Commission annual assembly in Geneva,  This was followed by the European Parliament’s warning to remove tariff perks over human rights abuses.

In addressing international criticism of his anti-drug campaign, Duterte is among 14 world leaders asked to speak before the UN General Assembly.  They include leaders of the US, China, Russia, Iran, France and North Korea.

Duterte was the 12th speaker during the high level debates from September 22 to September 26.

“This will be the first time the President addresses the UN General Assembly, the main deliberative board of the UN where all the 193 member-states are represented,” Borje told reporters.

Borje said Duterte’s participation in the UN General Assembly has always been considered since the start of his term. But Duterte felt the landmark commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary is an opportune time for him to address global issues.

Borje claimed that Duterte recognizes that the Philippines cannot do it alone and the UN is the world’s biggest platform where the country can articulate its principled positions on issues.

This meant that Duterte has changed his position of detesting multilateral action in dealing with policies, viewing it as interference in his country’s internal affairs.

Duterte has always viewed the international body with suspicion.  Under his administration, the Philippines was the subject of UN Human Rights Council resolutions criticizing his hallmark anti-illegal drug campaign and the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

On several occasions Duterte has lambasted the international body and launched a volley of insults against its officials and rapporteurs on many occasions.

Asked if Duterte would raise criticisms against his controversial drug war or his administration’s policy in the West Philippine Sea, Borje said these would be included in his speech but declined to give more details.

“We will leave it to the people to judge how strong the statement will be, it is not for us to characterize the statement that the President will make.” Borje said.