POSTSCRIPT / March 11, 2018 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Duterte-UN row sinks to the gutter

THE PRE-TRIAL skirmishes between the Duterte administration and United Nations human rights watchdogs have sunk to a new low, with the UN human rights chief practically calling President Rodrigo Duterte a mental case.

President Duterte is being hauled to the International Criminal Court for alleged violations of human rights, mainly in connection with the killing of thousands (4,000 to 8,000 depending on who is counting) of suspected drug dealers and users.

The feisty President resists, saying in effect “Come and get me!” as he insists that the ICC has no jurisdiction over him – despite the Philippines’ being a signatory to the Rome Statute that created in 1998 the world tribunal to try persons committing certain core bodies of crimes.

The ICC can prosecute individuals (not states or organizations) for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression committed after July 1, 2002, when the Rome treaty came into effect.

Talking with Manila’s envoys in the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, UN human rights chief Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein referred to reports of Duterte cursing and threatening to slap Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Callamard and ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda have been insulted by presidential spokesman Harry Roque and Duterte, who described Callamard as “undernourished” and Bensouda “black” — descriptions that women and rights groups said were insulting and uncalled for.

Zeid, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, took up the cudgels for Callamard, telling reporters: “This is absolutely disgraceful that the president of a country could speak in this way, using the foulest of language against a rapporteur that is highly respected.”

Citing Duterte administration actions against UN representatives, including filing terrorism charges against one expert, Zeid said: “It makes one believe that the President of the Philippines needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation.”

He warned about worsening repression in the Philippines, mounting harassments and what he described as Duterte’s “authoritarian” style.

In his annual report Wednesday to the UNHRC in Geneva where he took up the human rights situation in the Philippines, among other countries, he deplored Duterte’s order for the police not to cooperate with UN investigators “when it comes to human rights, or whoever rapporteur it is.”

Zeid’s criticism of Duterte resonated among critics and human rights groups in Manila questioning his state of mental health and his fitness to continue in office.

Duterte, a former fiscal (prosecutor), previously proclaimed that he was ready to defend himself before the ICC provided the prosecutor presenting his case would be open to his cross-examination.

Now, he sounds like he is looking for a way to avoid a trial. The ICC case, prompted by reports of his alleged involvement in, or responsibility for, extrajudicial killing of Filipinos linked to the drug problem, is on the stage of preliminary examination.

In a speech in Pampanga this week, Duterte kept firing away: “Go ahead, you investigate me. But I assure you, you will never have jurisdiction over my person.

Pag tumatanggap pa lang ng subpoena sasabihin ko sa kanila (the moment I receive subpoena, I’ll tell them), ‘Determine first if you have jurisdiction over my person and the criminal acts that I allegedly committed.’” He then threw insults at Callamard and Besouda:

Maghabol nila, eh, pero pagka ngayon magkasalubong kami, ah lalo ‘yung mga abogado nila, ‘yung itim pati ‘yung isa ’yung payat, si Callamard, undernourished, walang kain.” (They can pursue it, but if we meet now, especially their lawyers, the black one and the other one who is skinny, does not eat….)

• China clarifies Phl loan collateral

CHINA clarified on Friday reports that its massive loans to the Philippines require natural resources as collateral and could lead the borrower-country to a “debt trap.” Still being awaited is Malacañang’s disclosure of the loan terms. See:

In a presscon, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reacted to an article in a Chinese newspaper that reported a Chinese scholar’s views on the loans that have raised questions in Manila. The full Q&A transcript:

Q: Recently, the English version of the Global Times cited a Chinese scholar’s view that China is willing to provide assistance as the Philippine government proposed a large-scale investment plan to develop its economy. The loans provided by China are usually accompanied by repayment agreements, which will use certain natural resources as collateral. Could you confirm that? And the Philippine media said that China provides loans with terms that require the Philippines to compromise on the South China Sea issue. What’s your comment on this?

A: In principle, we do not make specific comments on the viewpoints of think thanks, media, experts or scholars.

However, we have noted that the Philippine side has already made remarks on this, so I assume a response from our side is also due. I would like to say that the view of the relevant scholar only represents himself, not the official stance of the Chinese government.

Since the turnaround of China-Philippines relations in 2016, China has been actively helping the Philippines develop its economy and improve people’s livelihood, and we have given our full support to President Rodrigo Duterte’s large-scale infrastructure program “Build, Build, Build”. The Chinese government and financial institutions have also provided financing support to the Philippines, including preferential buyer’s credits, and assisted the Philippines in issuing the panda bonds, which effectively ensured the implementation of relevant projects.

By convention, parts of China’s concessional loans require the borrowers to use certain sovereign credit as collateral, which is an international practice. China has never asked and will never ask relevant countries to use natural resources as collateral in loan agreements. In this vein, our assistance and support to the Philippines are provided with no strings attached.

To properly resolve the South China Sea issue is the basis and important guarantee for the sound and steady development of China-Philippines relations, but China will not link the South China Sea issue with bilateral economic and trade cooperation projects. China stands ready to work with the Philippines to follow through on the consensus between the two leaderships and stay committed to properly resolving differences through dialogue and consultation, ensuring the sound and steady development of bilateral relations and jointly upholding regional peace and stability. (End of transcript)

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 11, 2018)

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