POSTSCRIPT / October 4, 2016 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Du30 derogating his only leverage

NEW YORK – President Rodrigo Duterte will face his Chinese counterpart this month armed only with the arbitration ruling at The Hague favoring Philippine submissions on China’s violations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It is amazing that with that UNCLOS award being his only leverage in the Oct. 19-20 negotiations in Beijing, the President has subtracted, instead of added, to the moral and political value of that ruling already in hand.

The ruling is not self-executing, especially after China served notice early on that it will not honor whatever decision is handed down. The arbitral tribunal has no “sheriff” to enforce it and the Philippines has no military might to force compliance.

One practical remedy is to call on allies and marshal world opinion to put pressure on Beijing. After all, China had committed itself to abide by the convention when it signed the treaty together with the Philippines and more than 165 other nations.

But Duterte devalued that option when he announced that he was putting aside the UNCLOS ruling so it would not get in the way of his plan to talk directly with the Chinese.

Without the UNCLOS case that the previous Aquino administration had filed and won for the Philippines — and without the help of its treaty ally the United States — Duterte would be naked, practically begging, when he faces his opposite number in Beijing.

Manila’s position had been further weakened after Duterte, with the least provocation, proceeded to antagonize various foreign governments and institutions that could have helped in pressuring China on the award.

Even his supporters were astonished when he continued attacking the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US President Barack Obama, the European Union and a host of other friends that could have helped in pressuring China.

It was as if, on his way to Beijing, Duterte was deliberately isolating himself. Instead of adverse world opinion falling on China, it now seems to be mounting against Duterte.

The latest in the global fallout from his harsh words against critics of extrajudicial killings came from Belgium. Its capital Brussels is the seat of the 28-nation European Union that Duterte had attacked for criticizing the spate of EJKs under his regime.

Brussels State Secretary for External Trade Cécile Jodogne wants to cancel the trade mission led by Princess Astrid to the Philippines in May 2017. She recommends that the mission be sent to another country.

• Afraid to cross China, but not US

IT IS intriguing that Duterte is overly careful not to displease China. When he sent former President Fidel V. Ramos to explore the possibility of direct talks, he saw to it that Beijing was told he was putting aside the UNCLOS ruling in the meantime.

When he stopped Philippine participation in joint military exercises with US forces and pressed a review of defense arrangements with the Americans, he pointed out that he would not want such activities with Washington to disturb his warming liaison with Beijing.

This apparent drift to the left puts added pressure on Duterte to bring home compensating benefits from his coming negotiations in Beijing. He has to show that his pushing away of long-time allies was worth it.

But can Duterte still hold back the political winds from across the seas merging into a killer typhoon headed for the Philippines? The last time we saw this happen, the country’s despotic leader was blown away.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay and the communication chorus in the Palace have been busy singing Duterte’s good intentions. Part of the time they also explain what the President actually meant when he blurted out some grating statements on a number of subjects.

All Philippine diplomatic outposts have been harnessed to the worldwide campaign to explain not only the arbitrary execution of thousands of drug suspects, but also controversial statements delivered by the President himself.

A recent example that has triggered a wave of condemnation was Duterte’s comparing himself with Hitler murdering some three million Jews in The Holocaust. Palace propaganda is having a tough time erasing the public relations damage of that reckless statement.

• Action has to catch up with plans

DUTERTE’S gutter language makes more difficult the work of apologists explaining that the war on illegal drugs is a “very urgent and critical domestic matter being pursued with firm adherence to human rights principles and the rule of law.”

The administration says that a number of drug-related killings were not extrajudicial executions but perpetrated by vigilante groups or by drug rings eliminating rivals. If no verified cases having been solved are submitted, the stories are likely to be lumped with such teleseryes as “Ang Probinsyano.”

Police statistics are being trotted out to show that crime volume has dropped by around 5,500 incidents since July, the first working day of the administration. The average value of confiscated illegal drugs in 48 days is reportedly P2.39 billion, equivalent to the annual budget of one major government agency.

The police report that around 600,000 drug pushers and dependents are in custody, and “will be placed under a rehabilitation program to restore their good health, build their dignity and confidence and become productive members of society.”

That is the plan. What is happening is that the detainees are still packed in crowded quarters and the promised rehab is not yet in sight. Many users meantime have slid back to their addiction.

China has promised to help build rehab centers nationwide. The US has pledged $32 million to help Duterte combat the menace, but requires that the campaign follow the law and respect human rights.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 4, 2016)

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