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Burning the United Nations

I will burn down the United Nations if you want,” President Duterte is reported to have said in an August 2016 press conference where he addressed international criticism over extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs.

In recent days, Mr. Duterte has threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the United Nations. He has earlier threatened to break diplomatic relations with Iceland, following the passage of the UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for a report on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

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If the idea is to become more cantankerous in his winding down years, the United Nations would serve Mr. Duterte as a convenient target. The President can wage a war of words on the United Nations, and unlike China, which Mr. Duterte fears can rain missiles on the country, the United Nations will certainly do nothing of the sort.

But the international community will certainly deepen its disdain for the Duterte administration. Not only does refusal to come under investigation smack of guilt, but it also repudiates what the Philippines has stood for in the international community since 1945.

In fact, the Philippines figures in the lore of the United Nations as a country that takes on states like the former Soviet Union for their violation of human rights. There is the story of Lorenzo Sumulong who, as head of the Philippine delegation to the UN General Assembly (UNGA), enraged Premier Nikita Khrushchev when he declared that “the peoples of Eastern Europe and elsewhere … have been deprived of the free exercise of their civil and political rights and which have been swallowed, so to speak, by the Soviet Union.” When Sumulong was allowed by the UNGA president to continue despite the protest of Khrushchev, the latter took to banging his table with his shoe. The New York Times reported the incident with a photo of Khrushchev and the shoe on Khrushchev’s desk.

But now, of course, the shoe is on the other foot. Mr. Duterte is now the outlandish villain in the story. But the villainy is not so much against the United Nations, but against the Filipino people. The United Nations System has been a good friend of the Philippines. The Philippines was a charter member of the United Nations. In fact, the Philippines joined the United Nations in October 1945 even before it gained independence, one of only three states to do so, alongside Ukraine and Byelorussia.

One of the memorable narratives of the Philippines as a young democratizing country has been that of our being an active, supportive member of the community of nations. Filipinos like Carlos Romulo and Salvador Lopez have contributed more than our share in making the United Nations the sustainable international organization it has become. We have paid our dues so that suffering much pain and damage like in World War II would never happen again. We claimed our right to the United Nations as our own guarantee against any future global conflagration.

As a disaster-prone country, the Philippines has benefited from UN assistance. The flow of UN projects and initiatives into the Philippines has been tremendous over the years. Filipinos in the UN bureaucracy are oversubscribed. The United Nations is the arena for the Filipinos’ innate display of our cosmopolitanism.

The United Nations, from a larger, long-term perspective, is the instrument designed to protect the Philippines from predators like China. The design of the United Nations is to protect those who are too small and too weak to protect themselves. One wonders whether all this talk of withdrawing the Philippines from the United Nations is a godsend opportunity for Mr. Duterte to disarm the Philippines so China can overpower it much more completely and savagely. It is like a father holding down his daughter so the rapist may gain greater control and satisfaction.

Like a battered wife, those who support Mr. Duterte cannot see beyond their immediate fear and pain, thinking only of their selfish solace, and not the wider and long-term welfare of the Filipino nation.

Today, in his State of the Nation Address, our Hitler do-alike promises to lecture us on the essence of international law. This will be like Satan saying Mass for the faithful in the Manila Cathedral.

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TAGS: drug war killings, human-rights violations, Iceland resolution, On The Move, Rodrigo Duterte, Segundo Eclar Romero, sona2019special, UN Human Rights Council
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