Will Philippines really leave UN? Foreign secretary plays down threats

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened Sunday to withdraw his country from the United Nations after the international body urged an end to extrajudicial killings of suspected drug traffickers.

Noel Celis/Pool/Reuters/File
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while delivering a speech during the 115th Police Service Anniversary at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines, on Wednesday

The Philippines will not be leaving the United Nations, despite President Rodrigo Duterte's threats to do so, said the country's foreign minister on Monday.

In a press conference one day prior, President Duterte, nicknamed "Duterte Harry" for his tough, crime-busting reputation, defended the extrajudicial killings of more than 500 drug suspects by police and vigilantes in the eight weeks since he was sworn in. 

In response to pressure from the US State Department and two UN human rights experts urging Mr. Duterte to stop the killings, the president said that "maybe we'll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations." 

Since taking office eight weeks ago, more than 4,400 drug suspects have been arrested and more than 500 killed in gun battles with police and vigilantes. Duterte has openly encouraged vigilantism, telling a crowd in June, "Shoot [a drug lord] and I'll give you a medal." As a result, nearly 600,000 people, both drug dealers and addicts, have turned themselves in to authorities for their own safety.  

The Christian Science Monitor's David Iaconangelo reported earlier this month

[T]he president has championed the rise in death toll – up from the 68 suspects killed by police from Jan. 1 through June 15 of this year – as proof of the "success" of his anti-drug campaign, saying in mid-July that "while the campaign against drugs is far from perfect, a generation of Filipinos have been saved from this scourge of society and destroyer of lives," according to AFP.

But human rights and faith groups and the families of many of those killed say that state-sponsored violence...has mainly taken its toll on poor Filipinos who are seldom given the chance to defend themselves from accusations, The New York Times wrote on Tuesday.

Though Duterte's critics are numerous, among Filipinos his trust rating in July was a historically high 91 percent.    

Speaking on Saturday just after midnight, Duterte responded to US officials by implying that their criticism of the Philippines' violence against drug suspects was hypocritical.

"Why are you Americans killing the black people there, shooting them down when they are already on the ground?" he said. "Answer that question, because even if it's just one or two or three, it is still human rights violations."

He also brought up the recent photo of Omran Dagneesh, a 5-year-old Syrian boy whose image went viral last week after an airstrike in the city of Aleppo, asking, "Why is it that United States is not doing anything? I do not read you. Anybody in that stupid body complaining about the stench there of death?" 

If the Philippines were to leave the UN, Duterte said, he would invite China and African countries to join in forming a new intergovernmental organization.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay clarified that the threats were "a statement expressing profound disappointment and frustration." 

"We are committed to the U.N. despite our numerous frustrations with this international agency," he said. 

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press. 

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