3 years in power: Duterte tangles with his foreign foes
MANILA, Philippines — From his drug war to his profanity-filled speeches, President Rodrigo Duterte is a political personality like no other.
This became especially clear when the President managed to pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and threatened to wage war against Canada over trash.
Peace out, ICC
When legal forces outside the Philippines turned their magnifying glass on his drug war, nothing less than bold words came from the President, partnered with equally bold actions.
Before ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda could even set foot in the Philippines, the President warned that she would be arrested if she would set foot in the country to start probing his alleged human rights violations.
“Don’t try to scare me with that court, that ICC. You are crazy. You scare me with prosecution,” the President said in a speech in May.
“Even your short, black prosecutor, if she comes here to investigate — you do that and I will arrest you. I will really have you arrested, honestly,” he added, referring to Bensouda.
That was the President’s reaction after Bensouda announced in February 2018 that her office had launched a “preliminary examination” on the accusation that the chief executive had committed crimes against humanity, following a review of communications and reports documenting the alleged crimes linked to his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs.
Going a couple of years back, the President had already tinkered with the idea of pulling out from the ICC.
In November 2016, he said he might follow Russia’s move to withdraw from the ICC, which he described as “useless,” after his critics continued to threaten him with prosecution before the said court over alleged extrajudicial killings linked to his brutal drug war.
Fast forward to 2018, the President’s idea was put into action.
His appointed Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who is also the Philippines’ former permanent representative to the United Nations, served formal notice of the country’s “unilateral withdrawal” from the ICC.
The ICC was established by the Rome Statute, which recognizes that grave crimes jeopardizing global peace, security, and wellbeing and victimizing millions of people with “unimaginable atrocities” must not go unpunished.
The Philippines was the 117th country to ratify the statute in 2011.
But on March 19, 2019, the Philippines officially bid goodbye to the ICC as its withdrawal took effect after the Supreme Court failed to issue a ruling on the consolidated petitions filed by six opposition senators and the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, led by former Commission on Human Right (CHR) Chairperson Loretta Rosales.
From the drug war, the President then threatened war over waste.
In a speech last April, he aired his frustration over the tons of Canadian garbage — mislabeled as plastic recyclables — that had been illegally dumped in the Philippines several years back.
As the stench of rotting waste seemed to reach his nose, the President gave Canada an ultimatum.
“I want a boat prepared. I’ll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing out or I will set sail, doon sa Canada, ibuhos ko ‘yang basura nila doon,” he said in a briefing on April 23.
“Awayin natin ang Canada. I will declare war against them. Kaya man natin ‘yan sila. Isauli ko talaga ‘yan. Ah, tingnan mo. Ikarga mo ‘yan doon sa ano sa barko. Load it — the containers to a ship and I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to,” he further said.
Barely a week later, he warned that he would dump the garbage on Canada’s “beautiful beaches.”
A deadline was then set. The President had expected the tons of waste to be shipped back to Canada by May 15, but that did not happen even after the Canadian government repeatedly stated that it would work closely with the Philippines in making sure that the waste would be shipped back to its place of origin.
Over Canada’s failure to meet the President’s deadline, Locsin recalled Philippine envoys to Canada “to maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is ship bound there.”
It was only when the more than 60 containers of Canadian waste was loaded onto a ship on May 30 — 15 days after the original deadline — did the Philippine government’s trash row with Canada come to an end.
Ice cold treatment
An “ice-eating” nation. That’s what the President said about Iceland after it initiated a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that would open up a thorough review into the human rights situation in the Philippines, including killings linked to his brainchild—the drug war.
The President’s brutal and unrelenting crackdown on illegal drugs, which he launched as he sat into power in 2016, has long been criticized internationally as bodies — mostly of poor suspects — started piling up.
Iceland took what one human rights group said was “a critical step” in seeking accountability for the thousands of deaths under the drug war.
But this had the President fuming.
He was firm in saying that he would not “answer a Caucasian,” adding he would only face trial in a Philippine court.
The President also mocked the small Nordic island country, calling it an “ice-eating” nation with no understanding of the problems in the Philippines.
His tirades did not stop there as his rage cascaded over to the UNHRC member-states who favored the Iceland-initiated resolution. He called all of them “fools” for doing so.
“Itong mga gagong ito [These fools], they don’t understand the social, political problems of the Philippines,” he said in a speech in Quezon City on July 12.
His spokesman, Salvador Panelo, also earlier told reporters that the President was “seriously considering” cutting ties with the small Nordic island nation, which the Philippines had had diplomatic relations with since 1999.
But Locsin said the country would not cut its ties with Iceland — although he himself had branded the resolution as “politically partisan” and “one-sided” in a statement read on his behalf immediately after the UNHRC adopted the Iceland-lead resolution during its 41st regular session in Geneva, Switzerland.
“How are we to continue to upbraid a nation of women beaters & eugenicists if we cut off the conversation. No, we must continue it. Many infant lives at stake here; not to mention women beaten up in the long nights of Iceland. It is a moral duty to continue the conversation,” Locsin said on Twitter on July 16.
The President asserted, however, that it would be his prerogative whether or not the Philippines would sever diplomatic relations with Iceland, which had also earlier called out the Duterte administration for its alleged human rights violations.
Unlike the President’s war threat against Canada, the diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Iceland are still hanging by a thread.
The President is set to deliver his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22.
With another three years still left in his term, would there be other nations the President would tangle with next?
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