What the President said at the General Assembly

"He made Filipinos proud."


Let me make one thing clear: President Duterte’s speech before the UN General Assembly should make all Filipinos proud. Whatever has been said about him, no matter what our politics may be we have to applaud him for putting the country’s best interest forward as he articulated our commitments not only to the UN as an institution for global peace and development and to its ideals of cooperation and multiculturalism in an increasingly complex and interdependent world.

I cannot help but note that for the first time in years, President Duterte’s critics have come around, albeit grudgingly and with a number of caveats, to salute and praise him for articulating before the UN General Assembly his administration’s position on the arbitral ruling on the South China (West Philippine) Sea issue. That must have come as a complete surprise even to the President himself. After all, the more vocal and high-profile critics have been viciously haranguing him since Day One, deriding him as soft on China or worse, an unrepentant puppet. So with that statement, he is no longer a heel but their newfound hero? What did the President say any way and why did he deserve this kind of love fest?

In a pre-recorded statement, he said:

“...We must remain mindful of our obligations and commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and as amplified by the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Dispute. The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award. The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it. We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for — the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This – as it should – is the majesty of the law...”

Taken objectively and in its proper context (UN Charter, the 1982 Manila Declaration, UNCLOS and the 2016 arbitral award), President Duterte merely reiterated his earlier position and simply stated the reality on the ground. The UN Charter and the Manila Declaration speak of peaceful settlement of international disputes which this administration has always been harping on. He reiterated what UNCLOS and the arbitral award stated that the seas are global assets and that save for certain limits and economic rights (12 mile municipal waters, inland seas, archipelagic bounds and EEZs) and freedom of navigation, the same cannot be the sole possession of any one state but used for the benefit of humankind.

Questions of sovereignty – as are and have always been the main issue, not only in the arbitral case but among the claimants in the vast South China/West Philippine Sea – were actually set aside; they remained unresolved in that highly expensive and explosive case. Except with the peremptory statement that such claims needed to be settled peacefully between the parties and if warranted

with the active participation of the United Nations, there was really nothing earth-shaking that the Chief Executive mentioned. He was merely stating what any self-respecting head of state should be saying in the national interest: That we never abandoned our claims over the disputed areas. and will continue to do so made even more precise with the arbitral advisory.

Which is why Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin, reacting to Senator Ping Lacson’s tweet “alipin no more” (slave no more), insisted that President Duterte was never a slave to China.

Said Locsin: “He never was. He was alipin (slave) to the reality he inherited: China already in possession of our reef thanks to Obama giving it to China when our navy and the Chinese navy

had a standoff, and the US told both to stand down and leave. We left, China stayed and reclaimed it..” He should have added that it was the Noynoy Aquino administration which actually provided the means (provoked was how some experts call it) for China’s possession of an otherwise Philippine fishing ground and the eventual expansion of its possessions in the disputed area with the use of reclaimed Philippine soil just to put things in context.”

In any event, notwithstanding this surprise lovefest the President’s speech before the UN General Assembly was well worth the wait. It was as presidential as it should be as PRRD put forward before the global audience what the country stands for as we face the challenges of our time and beyond. Apart from reaffirming our commitment to the UN charter and, moving forward, its reform and enhancement as a global institution for peace and development he proceeded to articulate a most sober, responsive and responsible approach to meet the many such challenges to human existence in this day and age.

He noted that COVID-19 has brought about an unfamiliar global landscape and unleashed a

crisis without precedent. It is the biggest test the world and the United Nations faced since World War II advising that “we are at a crossroads. How we address COVID-19 will define our future.”

He then proceeded to pay tribute to all health workers and frontliners and said that our very

own workers spread all over the world are our best contribution in the global fight against COVID-19

and the benefit of their host countries. He segued to urge all countries to protect the rights and promote the welfare of all migrant workers. In addition, he commended the role of peacekeepers including our own who have labored to keep the peace in many of the conflict areas in the world. And, in a rebuke to the more developed countries specially in Europe he said that the Philippines will open its doors to all refugees regardless of race, color, religion or creed.

The President also drew the line on human rights noting that while each and every country adheres to the UN Declaration on Human Rights, her decried its “weaponization” and its use to undermine legitimate institutions of governance and the peace and stability of societies – almost the same threat posed by terrorists all over the world.

He also decried the escalating conflicts and tensions around the world which benefits no one. Noting in particular that when elephants fight (he was most probably referring to the US-China rivalry) the grass gets trampled upon he then said “..if we cannot be friends, then let’s not hate each other too much..”

Finally, he called the world’s attention on the dangers posed by climate change and the crisis which it can engender that can impede the development of many countries worldwide.

It was a well-written, well-spoken speech which should put to shame those who have been unduly worrying about President Duterte’s “brash and uncouth behavior.”

Topics: Teddyboy Locsin , Rodrigo Duterte , COVID-19 , Ping Lacson , UN General Assembly , China , UN Declaration on Human Rights
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