In a first, embattled Duterte to address UN General Assembly

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is set to address the world's most important diplomatic stage for the first time during his presidency on Tuesday night, September 22, as he delivers a speech at the 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). 

The speech comes a week after the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on the Duterte government to stop its violent policies and even its rhetoric. Days after Bachelet's remarks, the European Parliament warned the Philippines it could lose tariff perks over human rights abuses.

Malacañang said the speech of Duterte – who detests Western "interference" in local affairs – is set to include international criticism of his anti-drug campaign.

This is the most high-profile international speech of Duterte, a longtime Davao City mayor who is often criticized for his parochial view of global affairs – and who aligns himself more with China and Russia than with Western democracies most associated with the UN.

Chief Presidential Protocol Robert Borje made the announcement about Duterte's speech during a briefing on Monday, September 21.

Duterte – a president who still prefers to be called "Mayor" – is among heads of state that will address the UN against the backdrop of a pandemic and shifting geopolitics. 

Duterte has been slated as the 12th speaker during high-level debates that will take place from September 22 to September 26, according to Borje. The President joins a roster of 14 world leaders scheduled to speak during the first block of debates, along the United Sates, Turkey, China, Russia, the Republic of Korea, Iran, and France. 

"This will be the President's first time to address the UN General Assembly, the main deliberative board of the UN where all the 193 member-states are represented," Borje told reporters on Monday. 

While Duterte's participation in the UNGA has always been considered since the start of his term, Borje said this year's assembly is of "special significance" due to landmark commemoration of the UN's 75th anniversary and the "intensity and urgency needed to address global issues."

Why does this matter?

Duterte has often detested multilateral action in dealing with controversial policies under his administration, viewing it as "interference" in the Philippines' internal affairs. 

Despite this, Borje said, "The President recognizes the Philippines cannot do it alone and the United Nations is the world's biggest platform where one country can articulate a country's principled position on many items and many issues."

"This is why he decided to join," Borje added. 

Duterte – who is expected to deliver a virtual address as the annual assembly goes online – has had a rocky relationship with the leading international body. 

Under his administration, the Philippines was subject of a UN human rights council resolution that criticized his hallmark anti-illegal drug campaign and the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. 

Duterte has likewise lambasted the international body and launched a volley of insults against its officials and rapporteurs on several occasions. 

What to expect?

Borje said Duterte is expected to discuss "principled positions" of the Philippines on a wide range of issues that include the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, peace and security, geopolitical developments in the Asia-Pacific, as well as the rule of law, justice, and human rights.

Duterte will also talk about migrant workers and refugees, sustainable development and climate change, peacekeeping, and UN reforms. 

Asked if Duterte will raise criticisms against his controversial drug war or his administration's policy in the West Philippine Sea, Borje said these would be included in his speech but declined to give more details. 

"We will leave it to the people to judge how strong the statement will be, it is not for us to characterize the statement that the President will say," he said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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