It is forthright, not impolite, for President Rodrigo Duterte to draw a line in the sand concerning interference by any APEC leader in the Philippine government’s conduct of its war on illegal drugs during the two–day APEC leaders’ meeting in Danang, Vietnam today and tomorrow (November 9 and 12).
The warning is sensible because it spells out clearly the now well-known Philippine position and presidential sensitivity on the matter. It will help avert misunderstandings and disruptions during the top-level meetings.
As many will remember, the Asean-US meeting in Vientiane, Laos in September last year was disrupted by a major dustup between President Duterte and then US President Barack Obama. It led to a Duterte declaration of separation from the United States.
Before flying to Laos, Obama indicated to the media covering him that he planned to bring up the issue of drug-related killings in his scheduled bilateral meeting with Duterte at the sidelines of the Asean meeting.
In reply, Duterte lashed out at Obama with profanities over the US President’s intent to lecture him.
Duterte’s outburst prompted Washington to cancel the planned bilateral meeting between the two leaders.
The new Duterte warning applies not only to President Donald Trump; it serves notice on all APEC leaders as well. The Philippines will not brook any foreign interference in the anti-drug campaign; it will not entertain intrusive questions or unsolicited advice on the matter. It is beholden to no one.
We think it is better for all APEC leaders to be forewarned about Philippine foreign policy and thinking on sovereignty, than for them to be disabused with expletives about the drug epidemic in the country and the true human rights record of the country today.
For Mr. Duterte to draw the line is not to cede the argument to international human rights agitators regarding the country’s human rights situation. It is to assert that our government’s handling of the drug campaign is strictly its business as a sovereign nation. It is also to remind others that we have a constitutional government and rule of law in the Philippines.
The human rights issue has become a convenient weapon of abuse and criticism against governments and leaders that do not echo the American and European line. It has become a football, which the United Nations has also kicked around and has fallen prey to the propaganda of human rightism.
The criticism of human rightism itself has been instigated and developed by academics and intellectuals in the West. It was Margaret Thatcher who expressed profound disquiet about the tendency of human rightism to impinge on the sovereignty of nations. She bewailed what she called “human wrongs.”
Collins English dictionary defines “drawing a line in the sand” as “to put a stop to or a limit on.”
The line has been drawn. Duterte’s statement is a cautionary note that the leaders of APEC and Asean would do well to take to heart.