MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. told the United Nations on Saturday President Duterte had an “unprecedented” mandate and the world should not interfere in his crackdown on crime.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Yasay said Duterte was “determined to free the Philippines from corrupt and other stagnating practices,” including the manufacture, distribution and use of illicit drugs.
“Our actions, however, have grabbed both the national headlines and international attention for all the wrong reasons,” Yasay said, urging “everyone to allow us to deal with our domestic challenges in order to achieve our national goals without undue interference.”
Duterte won by a landslide in the May 9 elections after vowing to wipe out drugs and crime. Police said this week that in the past 11 weeks, nearly 3,000 people had been killed in Duterte’s war on drugs, a figure adjusted from the 3,800 they cited last week.
The killings have drawn widespread international criticism, including from the UN, triggering angry responses from Duterte.
On Thursday, Duterte hurled insults anew at UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon and the European Union, then invited them to come to investigate his crackdown.
Yasay said Duterte had won “an unprecedented and resounding electoral mandate” and now enjoyed a 92 percent approval rating. As such, the President had to deliver on a “sacred” call for change.
“To him, this trust is sacrosanct,” Yasay said. “It cannot be breached, under no circumstance must it be compromised.”
Duterte’s defiance of high-profile organizations and his insults directed at anyone – from United States President Barack Obama to Pope Francis – have amused many Filipinos, but worried foreign governments – not the least the US, which sees Manila as a vital partner in Asia in the face of a rising China.
Some analysts predict Duterte will seek to diversify foreign relations beyond Washington, including seeking better ties with erstwhile maritime foe China.
Yasay said core values enshrined in the Constitution included the mandate “to pursue an independent foreign policy, to promote the national interest.”
He explained that the Philippine government’s campaign to rid the country of criminality, lawlessness and disorder, including the all-out war against illicit drugs, would also remain strictly in accordance with the Constitution, the international norms and human rights treaties and covenants the Philippines was a party to.
Two UN-appointed human rights experts expressed concern last month about measures instituted in the Philippines to crack down on drug offenders.
The UN also lambasted Duterte for a “striking lack of understanding of human rights” and the killing of thousands of Filipinos allegedly involved in drug dealing.
But Yasay said Duterte had declared that the rule of law and respect for due process should prevail at all times.
“We have not and will never empower our law enforcement agents to shoot to kill any individual suspected of drug crimes. And yet, under our established rules of engagement, our police have the right to defend themselves when their lives are threatened,” Yasay said.
“Extrajudicial killings have no place in our society and in our criminal justice system,” he added.
Due to corruption in high and low places, Yasay stated that the Philippines for far too long had not been able to fully address the worsening crime situation and the prevalence of illegal drugs.
“Our people recognize the peril these evils pose to our development and our democracy,” he said.
Corruption, he said, had become the breeding ground for the illegal drug trade, which seriously threatened the country’s peace and order and impeded sustainable development.
“It has torn apart many of our communities, destroyed our families and snuffed out the hopes and dreams of our people – young and old – for a bright future,” Yasay said.
At the same time, Yasay said Manila would remain “a responsible partner of the international community,” committed to the rule of law – including an international court ruling this year in favor of the Philippines and against China over competing claims in the South China Sea.
In spite of Duterte’s criticisms of the world body, Yasay said the UN had demonstrated “continuing resilience and relevance” and added an apparent reference to the US alliance: “Our domestic concerns compel us to partner with like-minded countries in the areas of maritime security, counterterrorism, disaster response and transnational crime.”
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague handed down a decision in July upholding the primacy of international law as the cornerstone for a rules-based regional and international order.
“The arbitral award, which is final and binding on all parties, is a clearly established fact and is now part of international jurisprudence in the maritime domain,” Yasay said.
“We must not overlook the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, maintaining freedom of navigation, the full and effective implementation of the Declaration (on) Conduct (of Parties in the South China Sea or DOC) and the adoption of an effective code of conduct (COC),” he said.
Turning to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Yasay said the Philippines continued to enhance the delivery and quality of basic social services to its people, based on a human approach to development and governance.
The Philippines is among 22 pioneer countries that volunteered at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) to share its initiatives in the first year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As one of the most disaster-prone and vulnerable countries to the adverse effects of climate change, Yasay reiterated a call for climate justice and the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities in the implementation of obligations under the Paris Agreement.
Duterte said in July that his government would not honor commitments made under the Paris climate change deal, agreed upon by 195 countries, including the Philippines, last December, that aimed to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius and strive to keep temperatures at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Duterte believes the deal is blocking the progress of developing countries like the Philippines.
The President also claimed that industrialized countries were “dictating the destiny” of developing ones by requiring them to cut carbon emissions.
The Philippines accounts for less than one percent of the world’s emissions and has not ratified the deal.
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