POSTSCRIPT / December 9, 2021 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte to defend self at US summit?

JOINING a US-organized “Summit for Democracy” that starts today, President Duterte gains an opportunity to explain incidentally to the watching world the human rights violations and official corruption allegedly committed during his watch. Will he?

The US Department of State said the virtual summit to be hosted by President Biden Dec. 9-10 will be live-streamed from its website. It will focus on three key themes that happen to be relevant to accusations leveled at Duterte:

• Defending against authoritarianism

• Addressing and fighting corruption

• Promoting respect for human rights

Malacañang said President Duterte has accepted US President Biden’s invitation to the forum where a broad and diverse gathering of leaders from governments and the private sector is expected to exchange views and make commitments to advance democracy.

Duterte has been cited in complaints filed with the International Criminal Court in The Hague for alleged crimes against humanity that include extrajudicial killings. The accusations are being investigated to see if there is a judiciable case.

Malacañang said Biden was looking forward to “welcoming Duterte and hearing his ideas on how they can foster a more democratic, equitable, inclusive and sustainable world”.

“We recognize and appreciate your partnership in working to build democratic and human rights-respecting societies that allow all citizens to thrive,” the Palace quoted Biden. “It is more important than ever for democracies to prove that we can deliver for the needs of our people.”

The Palace added, “President Duterte likewise welcomes the opportunity to share the Philippine democratic experience and commitment to democratic values and nation-building at the summit.”

Observers have been looking for signs of the two leaders’ possibly warming up to each other as Duterte suffers embarrassment over China’s encroaching into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and its slackened delivery of promised aid, grants, and investments.

The US summit has two stages. The ongoing first stage will gather the participants’ input. The second stage next year will assess the output, or what was done after all that talking. (But by that time in late 2022, Duterte may no longer be the president.)

The state department said it has been consulting experts from governments, multilateral organizations, philanthropies, civil society, and the private sector “to solicit bold, practicable ideas” on the three focus themes.

Participating leaders are encouraged to announce “specific actions and commitments to meaningful internal reforms and international initiatives that advance the summit’s goals” of countering authoritarianism, combating corruption, and promoting respect for human rights.

Civil society will be represented on panels and in townhalls based on various factors including geographic representation, political context, and subject-matter expertise.

 China says its ‘democracy’ is superior

CHINESE state media and diplomats have been ramping up criticism of American-style democracy, flaunting what they say is their superior “socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics” as applied, for instance, to COVID-19 management and social mobility.

Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng described the summit organized by the US as the “very opposite of democracy” because, according to him, it is divisive and “points fingers” at other countries. China was not invited to the US summit.

“China’s ‘whole-process people’s democracy’ is not the kind that wakes up at the time of voting and goes back to dormant afterward,” Le told foreign media at an event in Beijing on Thursday.

China has become increasingly authoritarian under President Xi Jinping, 68, who has also been general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission since 2012.

Paramount leader Xi was the first to use the term “whole-process democracy” in 2019. The concept was enshrined in law last March.

Saying that its version of democracy is superior, China describes it as consultative and more representative, with voting permitted at the very local level and public feedback collected before any law is implemented.

 Democracy under constant challenge

IN A backgrounder, the US state department noted that democracy and human rights are under threat around the world.

It said: “Democracies – whether in transition or established for decades – are confronting serious challenges from within and outside of their borders. Public distrust and the failure of governments to deliver equitable and sustainable economic and political progress have fueled political polarization and the rise of leaders who are undermining democratic norms and institutions.

“Across the globe, weak state capacity, tenuous rule of law, high inequality, and corruption continue to erode democracy.

“At the same time, authoritarian leaders are reaching across borders to undermine democracies – from targeting journalists and human rights defenders to meddling in elections – all while sowing disinformation to claim their model is better at delivering for people. Hostile actors exacerbate these trends by increasingly manipulating digital information and spreading disinformation to weaken democratic cohesion.

“As President Biden has said, we have to prove democracy still works and can improve people’s lives in tangible ways. To do that, democracies have to come together – to rejuvenate and improve our open, rights-respecting societies from within, to stand together in defending against threats from autocracies, and to show we can address the most pressing crises of our time.

“The summit will provide an opportunity to reflect, listen, and learn, as well as to plan and act, so that we can build a shared foundation for global democratic renewal.

“All democracies, including the United States, face challenges. Participating in the summit provides an opportunity for governments, civil society, and members of the private sector to make meaningful public commitments in support of democracy, human rights, and the fight against corruption at home and abroad.

“The US government will announce new actions and commitments in areas such as bolstering free and independent media, fighting corruption, defending free and fair elections, strengthening civic capacity, advancing the civic and political leadership of women, girls, and marginalized community members, and harnessing technology for democratic renewal.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 9, 2021)

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