• Obama-Duterte mix-up: dopey human-rights dispute should not have happened



    First Read
    Having expounded on the “rule of law” in my previous column (“Rule of law: The principle Duterte has not trampled on,” Manila Times, September 6, 2016), I feel bound to also do the same on the subject of “human rights,” especially because the issue has driven a wedge in Philippine –American relations, and has momentarily unhinged Philippine standing in the United Nations.

    Human rights is the club that critics of the Philippine war on drugs are using to batter President Duterte, but it is unclear why the issue should weigh so heavily now on the long-standing relationship between the Philippines and the United States, and on Philippine membership in the UN.

    The facts show that the misunderstanding between presidents Obama and Duterte would not have happened had the White House not overplayed the human rights issue in announcing the planned meeting of Obama and Duterte, and had the foreign media not sensationalized the unfounded story that Duterte had called Obama a “son of a whore.”

    It could all have been avoided had the Obama White House given due regard to the lessons of history when a US president ventures to lecture the world on human rights, and reviewed the diplomatic record and literature on the issue.

    White House statements provoke reply
    The rigmarole began when the White House announced that US President Barack Obama would meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Vientiane, Laos, starting on September 6.

    When asked whether Duterte’s controversial remarks about vigilante killings, journalists and women would be on the agenda, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said: “We absolutely expect (President Obama) will raise concerns about some of the recent statements from the president of the Philippines.” Rhodes said Obama regularly brought up issues around human rights offenses with treaty allies such as the Philippines.

    Thinking perhaps that the first announcement of the meeting was too bland, White House staff issued another statement to the media. It said that President Obama will “pull no punches” in talking to Duterte.

    Another aide was quoted by the media as saying that Obama would confront Duterte about his country’s handling of drug dealers, including extrajudicial killings.

    Raise concerns? Pull no punches? Confront? At this torrent of statements, Duterte bristled, and he came out swinging with his own stinging reply.

    A careful review of what Duterte actually said (in English or Filipino) shows that he never called Obama a “son of a whore.” He spoke with vehemence, yes, but he did not curse Obama.

    And the thrust of his tirade was to affirm that the Philippines is a sovereign nation.

    What he said was this: “Who does he [Obama] think he is? I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people.”

    The mix-up impelled Obama to cancel the meeting with Duterte. A statement said that Obama was concerned whether the meeting, if it pushed through, could be productive.

    Carter’s stress on human rights in foreign policy
    Before Obama and his aides talked of human rights in US relations with other nations, there was one US president who made human rights a central goal of US foreign policy- Jimmy Carter (US President, 1977 – 1981).

    A moral ideologue, Carter insisted on applying the human rights test not only to America’s adversaries like the Soviet Union; he sought to apply it also to US allies. This angered authoritarian governments that were upbraided by the policy. But more importantly, it angered many foreign policy experts in the US, who saw the HR policy as naïve, moralistic and dangerous. They contended that strategic concerns must take precedence over human rights concerns.

    Today, Carter is chiefly remembered as a better ex- president than he was as president. He won the Nobel prize as a private citizen.

    Human rights and state sovereignty
    Human rights advocates tend to exaggerate the claims of human rights, far beyond the limits recognized when it was first introduced in international relations.

    Although president Harry Truman told the UN conference in San Francisco in 1945 that “the Charter is dedicated to the achievement and observance of human rights and freedoms,” the UN charter in Article 2, section 7, explicitly limits that dedication in this way: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the UN to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter…”

    Without explicitly citing the provision, President Duterte invokes the sovereign right of the Philippines when he protests US and UN criticism of the drug war and their itch to intervene in Philippine affairs.

    In her book, Statecraft, Margaret Thatcher writes perceptively about the issue of human rights and state sovereignty. She wrote: “the preamble of the UN Charter rousingly declared: “We the peoples of the United Nations are determined to affirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small….” But the key clauses of the Charter in actual fact describe a system which assumes that sovereign states, not any international body, exercise power within their borders; in which the legitimate scope for intervention is extremely limited…indeed this combination of far-reaching statements of principle with very limited means of giving effect to them is characteristic of international human rights discourse.

    “This does not mean that the 20th century international preoccupation with human rights has been a waste of time; it is simply that the UN conventions and documents on human rights, covering so many rights, were assumed to apply within an international order based upon sovereign states, whose own governments had the ultimate responsibility to give them effect.”

    Human rightism and strategic objectives?
    I close with this observation:

    Without saying that he did curse the US President, President Duterte has commendably expressed his regrets over statements that were misreported and distorted to become a personal attack by him against Obama.

    The two governments have agreed to reschedule an Obama- Duterte meeting to a more propitious time.

    The Philippine government issued a statement that underscored the importance of the Philippines-US relationship.

    And there is now clear recognition by both sides that our bilateral relationship is of great strategic importance to international order and Asia-Pacific security and cooperation. Human rights disputes or “human rightism” should not imperil this overarching strategic objective.



    Please follow our commenting guidelines.


    1. I thinkm all the arguements here are none sense and it shows anger and hatred to the other peoples or to the other country,honestly ,if you roles like this are no good ,and the out come and the results are chaos and more problems,creates a solutions instead part of the problems for changes,thats all!

    2. Look on the internet at ” the stupidity of filipinos “. Now who needs who most, the US or the Philippines. If you dont want a lecture on stupidity then think before you speak, thats what a president should do & then idiots like you blame everyone else & not your own president. Imagine if they stopped ofw’s from working there ( they wont, but they could ). The Philippines on the world scene is a small cog, the US is the engine, if the small cog breaks its replaced, if the engine goes its a very big expensive problem. But i guess you still wont understand this so again i refer to my opening line.

    3. As far as human rights and due process are concerned the spottiest record belongs to the Americans in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Guantanamo, not to mention that they invented waterboarding in this country during the Philippine-American war. Human rights, due process, rule of law, democracy etc are shibboleths these Americans have invented to use as tools for subversion in countries like China, Russia, Cuba and all the others they consider their adversaries so why are they using it against us if they consider us a friend and ally like Israel, Saudi Arabia to whom they never lecture on these shibboleths? These Americans are always on the side of the enemies of the Republic. They are fully supportive of the MILF’s secessionist ambitions in Mindanao, overly protective of the human rights of the NPA, and now are siding with the drug traffickers. Is it their secret agenda to make us a failed state like the countries they have destroyed since 9-11? Its good that the flare-up between Obama and Duterte happened as it gave airing to the double game the Americans are constantly playing with our country. May the country, and the world finally wake up to the evil ways of this empire appropriately called The Great Satan. “The difficulty in fighting evil lies in its inherent ability to make itself look good.”- Anonymous

      • I am pleased that our president is not an american lapdog, not ‘shocked and awed’ by the tall man from the white house. Their arrogance and contempt to announce to the whole that the POTUS will lecture our president when they meet deserve the response from our president, shoving right into their face ‘that the Philippines is not a vassal state of USA and that he is accountable only to his country’. You don’t treat your friends with arrogance and contempt.

      • Waterboarding has been used since the 14th century. That would make it many years since the Americas were discovered.

    4. Now its the media fault like yours who twisted the fact? Well why in the first place Du30 over reacted on the issue of human right. He should verify first the agenda of the meeting.

    5. It was the statement “pull no punches ” that provoked the ire of the President I am glad that the President responded in the best way that this US spokesman will understand. The statement “pull no punches” is very undiplomatic so they deserved the same kind of language. from Digomg.

      This is one bright shining moment in Philippine diplomacy. We got the attention of the world leaders.

      The President is no pushover. I love you Mr. President. Keep it up.

      • Oskee so you think calling someone a son of a whore is the same as saying pull no punches. Wow are you dumb or what. You are at a job interview & this job pays $2,000,000 per year. The ceo is interviewing you & he says he will pull no punches with the questions he will ask you & things you have done or said in your past or are still doing or saying. Your response is, well ceo you are a son of a whore. Yes im sure you would get that job.
        What an idiot you are

    6. What actually torpedoed and prejudiced the Obama-Duterte meeting is the most presumptuous attitude and arrogance of the US leader. He thought like Hillary Clinton, that he had the moral ascendancy to lecture off another head of state on how to run his country. Obama could not leave well enough alone. He just had to intervene. And this is not right. Even among close friends one does go about intruding into your friend’s personal behavior unless your advice or intervention are sought. This is a basic tenet in human relations to preserve mutual respect. One cannot play the role of being the conscience of your friend. In fact, even the late Cory Aquino trumpeted that she does not like unsolicited advice. What more if the advice sounds like a telling off or lecturing.

      Besides, if Obama really is concerned about human rights, then he should have lectured the Abnoy that it is a violation of human rights to incarcerate a former president without any conviction, simply because she was a political opponent? Pres. Duterte was right. The US has a long string of human rights violations right in its door steps and yet how come Obama does not do anything about them. Shouldn’t he first clean his own backyard.

      This incident, witnessed by the whole world, conveyed the strong message that the Filipinos finally have a PRESIDENT, they can be proud of, who stands tall among the mightiest in the land.

      • i acompletely agee with you guadalupe. can you imagine those alalays of obama warning du30 that their boss would castigate him when they meet?? they expect du30 or any leader of small nations that they thought to be under their thumb to just obey whatever potus says. those alalays of obama think that they are potus themselves. besides the side meetings’ agenda should not have been discussed and left between the 2 leaders.

      • Totally agree with you.. This is the first time, I felt proud for having a president who stand by his people….

      • So you see someone severly beating a child & someone tells you its ok he is the childs father so you should not say anything. I would & i have every right to. Duerte should have let obama have is say & he could have responded, who knows, if duerte said it in the right way he may even get obama round to his way of thinking. But hey thats to easy isnt it & at the worst duerte could end up saying well ive listened to you & i will give it some thought. He doesnt have to act on it just think about it. Plus i wonder what every filipino would say if obama had called duerte a son of a whore.

    7. The americans look down the Filipinos as the lowest kind of human beings. they though that Pres Du30 will swallow his pride and beg for the bilateral meeting. Now, it should be the other way, since the Philippines is a very important part of their pivot to asia policy. Unlike the previous one who gave the whole Philippines just to have a photo ops with him.

      • The Americans treat us better than the Chinese. We can’t even fish in Scarborough. Why don’t Duterte call them sons of a whore? No guts?

    8. The “human rights” situation in the Philippines is best evaluated by the President of the Philippines himself who gets all the reports on the subject; and, the Filipinos in general, who have been suffering so much because of the unabated drug and crime problems of the country. If not for the drastic moves of the President, the country will readily be down the drain not long from now. Right on, Mr.President!