Who’s afraid of the UN?

Sun.Star Cebu - - OPINION -

The big­gest snub in the con­cluded meet­ings of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) wasn’t the Bri­tish Broad­cast­ing Corp.’s fail­ure (or re­fusal) to in­ter­view a blog­ger known to sup­port most of Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s agenda. That was just a mi­nor mis­un­der­stand­ing that can be reme­died.

The big­ger snub that gained less at­ten­tion than it should have was cour­tesy of the host coun­try it­self. But who did we, with our wel­learned rep­u­ta­tion for hos­pi­tal­ity and friend­li­ness, brush off? On Mon­day night, when ASEAN lead­ers met with the United Na­tions (UN), Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte ab­sented him­self from the pro­ceed­ings and, in­stead, sent For­eign Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Alan Peter Cayetano.

Now, un­like Pres­i­dent Duterte, the for­eign af­fairs sec­re­tary has spo­ken to the UN be­fore about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cam­paign against il­le­gal drugs. As re­cently as Septem­ber, Cayetano, in a speech to the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly, de­fended the cam­paign against il­le­gal drugs as “a nec­es­sary in­stru­ment to pre­serve and pro­tect the hu­man rights of all Filipinos.”

There was very lit­tle the Pres­i­dent could tell the UN that its of­fi­cials hadn’t heard be­fore. Ex­cept per­haps this im­por­tant de­tail: de­spite all the ques­tions raised about the so-called “war on drugs,” pub­lic sup­port for it from Filipinos re­mains high. Just a few days be­fore Cayetano’s speech at the UN, in fact, the US-based Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­ported that when it polled some 1,000 adult Filipinos from Feb. 26 to May 8, 2017, about 78 per­cent said they “ap­proved of Pres­i­dent Duterte’s han­dling of il­le­gal drugs.” At least 62 per­cent of the same group be­lieved that gov­ern­ment “is mak­ing progress in the cam­paign against il­le­gal drugs.”

Had he at­tended Mon­day’s meet­ing, Pres­i­dent Duterte would have had the op­por­tu­nity to de­fend, be­fore an au­di­ence that in­cluded UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res him­self, his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pri­or­i­ties, as well as raise an ap­peal for ASEAN’s hu­man rights record to be as­sessed on the re­gion’s own terms. The for­eign af­fairs depart­ment’s ex­pla­na­tion—that Pres­i­dent Duterte’s bi­lat­eral meet­ings with Ja­pan, South Korea, In­dia, and Rus­sia had kept him from that evening’s event—fails to per­suade. Af­ter the years of hard work that went into gain­ing our seat at the ta­ble, why should avoid­able sched­ul­ing con­flicts keep us away from it?

“Talk­ing about hu­man rights has to be done in an hon­est and frank way, but it has to be done,” Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau re­marked on Tues­day, in a press brief­ing. “We have to talk about the high ex­pec­ta­tions we must have to pro­tect life, to up­hold the rule of law and hu­man rights, know­ing that there is al­ways more work to do.” Pres­i­den­tial ad­vis­ers, take note: that’s how it’s done.

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