MANILA: For the first time since he became president four years ago, the Philippines’ tough-talking leader Rodrigo Duterte will take part in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday.
The meeting will be virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“This will be the president’s first time to address the UN General Assembly,” Robert Borje, chief of presidential protocol, told a press briefing on Monday, saying that this year’s meeting was of historic significance as it marked the UN’s 75th anniversary.
Duterte is one of the speakers on the first day of the high-level general debate, which ends on Sept. 26.
He is expected to talk about the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, peace and security, human rights, and geopolitical developments in Asia-Pacific, as well as other issues.
Duterte’s participation in the event is significant, mainly because he had threatened to pull the Philippines out of the UN in the early days of his presidency after facing criticism over his bloody war on drugs. He later backtracked, saying that he was “only joking.”
The theme for this year’s UNGA session is: “The future we want, the United Nations we need: Reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism — confronting COVID-19 through effective multilateral action.”
Turkish diplomat Volkan Bozker, who is president of the 75th UNGA, will preside over the meeting. Brazil is the first speaker, followed by the US, Turkey, China, Chile, South Africa, Cuba, the Russian Federation, Jordan, South Korea, Qatar, Philippines, Iran and France.
Borje was asked what had made Duterte decide to take part. He replied that the president’s participation had always been considered since the beginning of his term.
“But of course this year takes on special significance because it’s the 75th anniversary. But more than just that, the milestone landmark … It’s the intensity and the urgency needed to address global issues. The president recognizes that the Philippines cannot do it alone, and the United Nations is the world’s biggest platform where one country can articulate a country’s principled position on many items and many issues. And this is why he decided to join the UN General Assembly high-level debate this month.”
The world can expect to hear the president articulate the country’s positions on a range of issues — including his controversial war on drugs.
“Yes,” said Borje. “That will be part of the president’s speech. He will address issues on human rights and justice.”
Duterte is also expected to raise the issue of the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea as his speech will also touch on peace and security, including terrorism.
The Philippines was one of the founding members of the UN, signing the UN Declaration in 1942.