Since being sworn into office in May, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to cooperate with the United Nations and has ignored international human rights standards. In a recent speech, Duterte declared that the Philippines would not honor its commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement, a global climate deal. “You are trying to stifle us,” Duterte said. “That’s stupid. I will not honour that” (1). When an ambassador reminded him that the Philippines signed the deal, Duterte said, “That was not my signature. Somebody else’s, not mine” (2).
The agreement was created during the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in France last December (3). The historic UN pact, agreed to by 195 countries including the Philippines, aims to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) and strives to keep temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial levels (4). The signatories are also required to step up measures that will stop the increase of greenhouse gas emissions (5). The Philippines, under then president Benigno Aquino III, committed to reducing carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 (6). The agreement does not include consequences for countries that fail to meet their emission reduction goals.
Duterte has criticized the international climate agreement in the past. He previously accused the UN of being hypocritical for creating a pact that requires all countries to make greenhouse gas cuts, while rich countries have been the ones to release the most contaminants (7). Duterte feels that developed countries that have already benefited from industrialization are trying to dictate and stifle the growth of other nations. Although Duterte’s frustration with the hypocrisy of industrialized nations is understandable, this climate change deal is critical for nations vulnerable to extreme weather, like the Philippines.
The consequences of the Philippines’ refusal to honor the climate pact will be tremendous for both the country and the planet. Although it accounts for less than 1% of the world’s emissions, the Philippines is disproportionately affected (8). As climate change continues, storms like Typhoon Haiyan, which left over 6,000 people dead in 2013, are likely to grow more severe (9). In order for countries like the Philippines to survive the devastating impacts of climate change, global emissions must be reduced.
Last May, Duterte said industrialized nations should help developing countries comply with the Paris Agreement by providing financial assistance (10). Francis Dela Cruz, an associate for energy policy at the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, has argued that industrialized nations should provide developing countries financial and technical support so they can adapt to the impacts of climate change and build resilient economies (11). Since the Philippines is the leader of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of 50 countries that suffer the most from climate change, it is important that the country remain active in UN climate negotiations (12).
The Philippines is ranked 22nd in the 2016 edition of Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index by Ernst and Young, beating South Korea and a host of European countries based on a number of macro, energy-market, and technology-specific indicators (13). Unfortunately, the Philippines has not profited from renewable energy growth as much as other Asian countries. Now is the time for the country to capitalize on its resources and bring positive change through strategic climate and energy investments.
The Philippines’ refusal to honor the UN climate pact threatens environmental security. The agreement seeks to reverse the effects of climate change, which hurt countries like the Philippines; however, Duterte is more concerned with short-term economic progress than long-term environmental security. It is important that President Duterte reevaluates his position on the Paris climate deal, not only for the safety and future of his people, but also for the safety of the rest of the world.
In addition to not honoring commitments made to the UN, Duterte has received international criticism for his blatant disregard for human rights. Duterte won in an electoral landslide in May after pledging to fill funeral parlors with drug dealers and ambitiously promising to end the widespread drug epidemic in 6 months (14). Since May, his anti-crime initiative has left more than 400 suspected drug users or drug dealers dead and more than 4,400 have been arrested (15). "My order is shoot to kill you. I don't care about human rights. You better believe me," Duterte said on August 5 (16).
Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in widespread panic. Police have killed innocent people, using the anti-drug campaign as an excuse (17). The impoverished have been the hardest hit, with many low-income neighborhoods labeled as “free fire” zones. Government officials are not even safe (18). Duterte told Filipinos on the day of his inauguration last month, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself, as getting their parents to do it would be too painful” (19). The unprecedented killings have scared more than half a million drug users and dealers into turning themselves into the police (20).
Duterte’s campaign pledges included the reintroduction of the death penalty by hanging, as well as offering bounties for the bodies of drug dealers (21). Capital punishment by hanging, he said, should be imposed for heinous crimes, and criminals convicted of killing, along with robbery and rape, should be meted “double the hanging” (22). Duterte also vowed to ban children from walking on the streets alone late at night. If children are caught, their parents will be arrested and thrown into jail for “abandonment” (24). Police officials have said the plan to end crime is undoable, and that crime has prevailed in Davao City, where Duterte served as mayor for more than 22 years (25). As mayor of Davao, he was accused of running vigilante death squads (26). Rights groups say the squads –– made up of police, hired assassins, and ex-Communist rebels –– have killed more than 1,000 people, including children and petty criminals (27).
Human rights organizations have criticized the UN’s silence and are calling on the international community to denounce the violence. Human Rights Watch, Stop Aids, and International HIV/Aids Alliance are among more than 300 civil society groups that have signed joint letters to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (28). The letters ask for Duterte to immediately end all his incitements to kill people suspected of dealing drugs and call upon the President to honor all international human rights obligations, including the right to life, the right to health, and the right to due process (30). Phelim Kine, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said, “International drug control agencies need to make clear to [Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte] that the surge in killings of suspected drug dealers and users is not acceptable ‘crime control’, but instead a government failure to protect people’s most fundamental human rights” (31).
Duterte was elected by democratic election, yet he is leading the country closer to a dictatorship every day. Using fear and violence to end crime has not only proven ineffective, but also dangerous and wrong. By villainizing drug addicts and dealers, he is dehumanizing them so that their slaughter is admissible by the people. His liberal use of the death penalty and desire for gruesome hangings show that he is out to fill the streets with blood. By creating a paranoid hysteria among the people, he is encouraging more violence and crime, not creating solutions. Fear mongering is leading to an inhumane society, and as Duterte has already made clear, he does not care about human rights.
Even though the Philippines is rampant with crime and citizens are fed up, this is not the right answer. As human rights organizations have already declared, criminals have a right to life, due process of law, and fair trials. Finding a solution to the drug epidemic needs to include rehabilitation for suffering drug addicts, not their death. In addition, Duterte needs to focus on a major factor in the creation of drug-related epidemics, namely poverty. Instead of turning low-income areas into war-like zones, Duterte must work on improving the quality of life for his people. Such an effort would include improving access to quality education and medical care.
Hopes that Duterte may reconsider the Paris Agreement may be an ulterior reason explaining why the UN has yet to publically criticize him. Whatever the UN’s reason, its failure to condemn these atrocities is unacceptable. Duterte has 6 more years left as president. The international community must not stand by and allow this mass violation of human rights to continue. The UN has a responsibility to speak out and protect human rights. A denouncement of Duterte’s crime control policies is overdue.
(1) "Philippines Won't Honour UN Climate Deal, Says President." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 July 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
(2) Romero, Alexis. "Duterte Says He Will Not Honor Paris Climate Deal." Philstar. N.p., 18 July 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
(4) "Philippines Won't Honour UN Climate Deal, Says President." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 July 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
(5) Romero, Alexis. "Duterte Says He Will Not Honor Paris Climate Deal." Philstar. N.p., 18 July 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
(7) "Philippines Won't Honour UN Climate Deal, Says President." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 July 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
(10) Romero, Alexis. "Duterte Says He Will Not Honor Paris Climate Deal." Philstar. N.p., 18 July 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
(11) Dela Cruz, Francis. "Philippines' Duterte Asked to Reconsider UN Climate Deal Threat." Climate Home. N.p., 19 June 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
(14) Gayle, Damien. "More than 700 People Killed in Philippines Drugs Crackdown." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 August 2016. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.
(15) Associated Press. "400 Dead in a Month in Philippines' 'shoot-to-kill' War on Drugs." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 5 Aug. 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
(17) Gayle, Damien. "More than 700 People Killed in Philippines Drugs Crackdown." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 August 2016. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.
(20) Associated Press. "400 Dead in a Month in Philippines' 'shoot-to-kill' War on Drugs." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 5 Aug. 2016. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
(21) "Duterte Vows to Bring Back Hanging and Kill Criminals in Philippines." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 17 May 2016. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.
(28) Gayle, Damien. "More than 700 People Killed in Philippines Drugs Crackdown." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 August 2016. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.
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Erin is from Chicago, a junior at USC and plans on graduating in May 2018. She is a political science major with minors in psychology and business law, currently studying abroad at the University of Cape Town.