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TO THE POINT: Is President Duterte Just a Politician?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 18 March) — President Rodrigo Roa Duterte was mad at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – so mad that he declared the immediate withdrawal of the Philippines from the ICC on March 14, citing “international bias against him.”

Today, March 16, the letter of withdrawal was formally submitted to the office of the UN Secretary General.

He was mad that the ICC is investigating the complaints filed against him for extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in connection with his anti-drug war and the UNHRC wants to investigate the much-publicized human rights violations, also on the same ground. He has accused both United Nations agencies of disrespecting Philippine sovereignty.

While immediate withdrawal would not stop the ICC investigation – in fact, it would not take effect until after a year – the President’s decision shows how far and deep the breach has gone.

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Duterte’s temper hit past the boiling point and exploded when last March 9 international and Philippine media published the wire service report that the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, had condemned the Duterte government for categorizing as terrorist UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a Filipina, for allegedly being a senior member of the Maoist rebel group – one of 600 others.

Of President Duterte, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a Jordan prince, said, as quoted in the English paper, The Guardian: “He needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric examination. This kind of comment is unacceptable. These attacks cannot go unanswered; the UN Human Rights Council must take a position.”

“By these attacks” is obviously referring to past repeated lambasting, intimidation and vilification of Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard and the UNHRC. It might also refer to “attacks” against the ICC and its prosecutor conducting the preliminary investigation Fatou Besouda, who was ridiculed as “black”, being an African.

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The suggestion for Mr. Duterte to have a “psychiatric evaluation” alludes to “mental disorder.” This was too much for the President, his close aides and his government to take.  For a week now, the defense for the President and his government and the government counter-attacks have dominated the media headlines.

Curses and invectives were thrown at Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein; crucified, his remark was considered “crude and inappropriate”.

On the contrary, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque justified the President’s statement that “the United Nations envoys have to be fed to crocodiles as an appropriate response to Al Hussein’s inappropriate remark”.

INQUIRER.net, March 12, quoted Mr. Roque:

“Well, because the UN officials should, as a matter of course, respect sitting heads of state, because after all the UN is composed of an international organization [sic] and is composed of sovereign state [sic]. And the sovereign states of course are represented by their respective leaders.

“No, there’s a world of difference between a UN official using crude language against a sitting head of state and the President using any kind of language that he wants on a private individual.

“Especially in this instance, when the person using the crude language is himself without a democratic mandate.”

In another report, Mr. Roque distinguished Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein as a diplomat; President Duterte as head of state and a politician.

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Mr. Roque’s emphasis on “world of difference” is central to President Duterte’s tumultuous relation with his national and international critics. We agree that alluding to Mr. Duterte as having mental disorder is “crude and inappropriate”. But we disagree that the insults, indecent language, threats, et cetera, cast on the UNHRC an ICC are not as crude and inappropriate – if not more. A pot calling another pot black is not white.

Mr. Roque means at Mr. Duterte, as head of state and politician elected president by 16 million voters, is not bound by the code of decency. There’s nothing wrong about his making women the subject of his indecent jokes – if jokes indeed, they are. Perfectly alright are his patented invectives and gutter language against world leaders crossing his path.

He had it coming. He insulted US President Barack Obama in 2016 during the first ASEAN meeting he attended.  Mr. Obama had their scheduled meeting called off – laying aside, to keep his dignity, the proverbial “eye” and “tooth”. But for Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, coming from one of the ancient biblical nations, it was “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.

Philstar.com, March 14, observed: “Duterte’s complaint of bias against him also flies in the face of his own critical, and oftentimes, crude statements against world leaders, including former President Barack Obama.”

Politicians are not of the gutter; in their speech, they are also bound by the code of decency.  Granting they were not, Presidents are — besides being bound by diplomatic protocol. Upon this, President Duterte and his spokesman, Mr. Roque, must seriously ponder.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Patriicio P. Diaz was editor in chief of the Mindanao Cross in Cotabato City and later the Mindanao Kris. He is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his ‘commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator, and Peace Advocate.’ You may e-mail your comments to patponcediaz@yahoo.com)

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