Philippines: President-elect Duterte begins war of words on two fronts

MINDANAO, Philippines–Even before Davao City Mayor Rodridgo Duterte could sit down as Philippine’s 16th President on July 1, a war of words has started between the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Duterte’s camp.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and President-elect Rodrigo Duterte

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and President-elect Rodrigo Duterte

Reacting to Duterte’s apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings of journalists, Ban said it was “illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Addressing the UN Correspondents Association in New York on June 8, Ban said he was “extremely disturbed” by Duterte’s move.

Responding to Ban’s comments, the president-elect said what he meant was reporters who took bribes or engaged in other corrupt activities deserved to die.

A week earlier, he chided two UN Special Rapporteurs who called on him to express their concern over his remarks.

“Go home and get some sleep. You are overworked and sound beat. Your statement is anchored on the wrong premise,” Duterte said.

Addressing foreign correspondents at a press conference on June 2, he even used foul language at UN while reacting to its statement over his remarks on extrajudicial killings.

“F…. you UN, you can’t even solve the Middle East carnage … couldn’t even lift a finger in Africa… shut up all of you,” he said.

At UN, Ban got support from his colleague Christof Heyns who have been documenting summary executions worldwide.

Heyns described Duterte’s inflammatory remarks as “irresponsible in the extreme, and unbecoming to any leader” particularly when he cited that there was justification for killing journalists who took bribes or engaged in other corrupt activities.

In the Philippines, Duterte’s cabinet team jumped to his defense.

Perfecto Yasay, a former US-based lawyer who will take charge as Foreign Affairs Minister, told CNN that if the UN chief was so interested to pursue his concern, he should have waited to discuss it at official level with Duterte.

The former minister of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said Ban should not have issued his statement because Duterte’s words were taken out of context and also misquoted.

Incoming minister Salvador Panelo told local media that all Duterte said was some journalists are killed because of their advocacies while others are killed because they take sides and accept bribes and renege on their commitments.

Duterte’s running mate Allan Peter Cayetano described Ban’s statement as premature because the president-elect has not assumed office yet.

However, analysts were appalled by Duterte’s remarks as this might give the wrong signal to the international community.

Dr. Adrian Semorlan, Asian Sociology Professor, told Asia Times that Duterte’s statement against the UN raises serious concern as Philippines is a member of the world body.

Another analyst Armando Doronilla said in a national broadsheet that “Duterte opened a running war of words on two fronts — not only with the United Nations but also with the Philippine news media.”

It may be noted that UN agencies are running several programs in Southern Philippines, where Duterte holds his residence, to protect children’s rights, to keep them healthy and to provide them education. The UN also looks after the welfare of Internally Displaced Persons caught in armed conflicts in Mindanao.

After Duterte’s remarks that corrupt journalists deserved to die, the Philippine media threatened to boycott his press conferences.

When the Duterte camp learned about their plan, they canceled all his press conferences. Some Manila-based media professionals who flew to Davao to attend a ‘press conference’ could not even get official press statements from him.

The Catholic Church was not exempted from Duterte’s criticism.

He accused the church of hypocrisy saying he knew several priests who had sexually abused children. He said he was molested by a priest when he was a boy.

He had shocked the church hierarchy in December by making an expletive-laced tirade cursing the pope. He also made obscene remarks at bishops who had criticized his papal jibes.

“You sons of wh…., aren’t you ashamed? You ask so many favours, even from me,” he said, addressing Catholic bishops some of who had condemned him during his election campaign. “You know the most hypocritical institution? The Catholic church.”

Noel Tarrazona is an international freelance journalist and a senior analyst of wikistrat. An erstwhile, Vancouver-based journalist, he moved to the Philippines for good. He can be reached at ntarrazona@gmail.com

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