MANILA, September 22 – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday made his first address at the United Nations General Assembly since assuming office in 2016, emphasizing bold and significant changes the body should do to address the problems amid the global crisis.
In his roughly 20-minute recorded speech before the 75th Session, the Philippine leader said all countries must be ready for the new global normal, and it cannot be business as usual for the UN, while the world is in the race in finding a safe and effective vaccine.
“We are at a crossroads,” Duterte said. “How we address COVID-19 will define our future,” he further explained.
“For the Philippines, this means putting up all of the peoples of our united nations at the core of this response,” the President said.
He also articulated that the country is now grieving with all of the families all over the world who lost their loved ones due to this horrible virus, and recognized the efforts of all the frontliners “who put their lives on the line even in countries not their own.”
But Duterte emphasized when the world finds the vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld, as “it should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy.”
While sitting on the hot seat on the issue on territorial claims, President Duterte affirmed his stand on the rising geopolitical stress.
“Escalating tensions benefit no one. New flashpoints heighten fears and tend to tear peoples apart,” he said.
“When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled flat,” Duterte said.
Given the size and military might of the contenders, he said the country “can only imagine and be aghast at the terrible toll on human life and property that shall be inflicted if the “word war” deteriorates into a real war of nuclear weapons and missiles.”
“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 Disputes,” he said.
“The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Arbitral Award,” Duterte explained.
“The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” he said.
“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” the Philippine leader emphasized despite criticisms for his “defeatist” stance on the West Philippine Sea, particularly for deferring to China in exchange for economic benefits.
On the controversial “war on drugs,” Duterte said that the country would continue to protect the human rights of people, especially from the scourge of illegal drugs, criminality, and terrorism.
“To move forward, open dialogue and constructive engagement with the United Nations is the key,” he said.
“But these must be done in full respect of the principles of objectivity, noninterference, non-selectivity and genuine dialogue. These are the fundamental bases for productive international cooperation on human rights,” Duterte emphasized.
The President also expressed the country’s position on other issues such as sustainable development and climate change, the situation of migrant workers and refugees, peacekeeping, and UN reforms.
“Let us empower UN – reform it – to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Duterte said.
“After all, we are the United Nations,” he ended.
Duterte’s speech was the 12th to be broadcast during the high-level debates when all leaders of the UN’s 193 member-states deliver remarks.
This year’s General Assembly is of historic significance as it marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations, and the first time that the High-Level General Debate and other high-level meetings were done virtually, in view of the restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (By: VIC GALINATO)