Sun, 04 Dec 2022

THREE HIGH-LEVEL meetings gathered Southeast Asian and world leaders last week: the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on November 10 to 13; the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on the 15th and 16th; and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) from the 16th to 19th in Bangkok, Thailand.

Media reported on the attendance of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the ASEAN Summit and the APEC. En route to the ASEAN Summit, Marcos told reporters about his plan to discuss the West Philippine Sea with Chinese President Xi Jinping and to push for the long-overdue ASEAN Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. However, as reported by the Manila Bulletin, it was Premier Li Kequiang who represented China, and as Marcos later told the media, there was no progress achieved on these issues.

Marcos did meet with Xi on the sidelines of the APEC on November 17. Media cited Marcos' statement that he and Xi "spoke a little bit about regional issues," but the meeting mostly touched on plans for Marcos' state visit to China next year. Reports also cited a statement issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, which said "the two leaders agreed that maritime issues do not define the totality of Philippines-China relations."

Media did not touch on the concern of most Filipinos about whether this administration can establish a framework that departs from the policy of accommodation set by Rodrigo Duterte with China.

Elsewhere in the world, in two global meetings, high officials discussed two separate concerns: the 41st Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group in Geneva, Switzerland and the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Both conferences started in the first week of November and ended on November 18. The Philippines sent delegations to both, headed by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla in Geneva and Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia Loyzaga in Sharm El Sheikh.

Both the UPR and COP27 are highly relevant to Filipinos given the current situation in the Philippines.

The review of the human rights situation happens only every 4.5 years for each country; the last for the Philippines was in 2017. VERA Files produced an explainer of the UPR mechanism, noting how closely the UPR-evaluated governments committed to uphold and improve the national situation with respect to human rights.

On the climate front, severe tropical cyclones have caused massive destruction to life and property as flooding and landslides hit the the Bangsamoro region only days before the COP27 commenced, with earlier tropical cyclones causing heavy damage to regional communities and agricultural crops.

Unfortunately, no Philippines-based reporter was onsite to cover the UPR or the COP27. Coverage relied mostly on wire reports, although some reporters did call on sources who got in touch with Filipino observers who provided valuable insights about developments in the two meetings, connecting these to national concerns.

UPR in Geneva

TV, print and online news all carried Remulla's opening statement in Geneva on November 14 claiming the country's commitment to human rights. He cited as example the swift investigation of the murder of broadcaster Percy Lapid. Along with this self-congratulatory evaluation, Remulla also denied red tagging as policy, as well as the "culture of impunity" as a condition in the country.

But reports by Inquirer.net and Philstar.com noted that some member-states of the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) were not convinced by Remulla's claims; at least 12 urged resolving extrajudicial killings, while at least 24 called for the necessary steps to address crimes against human rights defenders. A number of country representatives recommended urgent actions: the speedy resolution of drug war cases, safety for human rights defenders and the Philippines' rejoining the International Criminal Court.

ANC and Rappler were set apart by their interviews with representatives of the Philippine UPR Working Group in Geneva to discuss the human rights issues, such as red-tagging, which Remulla blatantly disregarded or downplayed in his opening statement.

Online media reported that the Philippines on November 17 had accepted 200 recommendations out of the 289 made by the UNHRC. Remulla said the government will respond to the other 89 "in due course" with no further comment.

COP27 in Egypt

In the aftermath of Severe Tropical Storm Paeng in late October, CMFR noted the efforts of the Philippine media to discuss climate change. But when the COP27 began in early November, there was hardly any coverage on television, print and online. The public did not hear anything from government officials who joined the delegation.

On the second, also the last week, of COP27, two key officials left Egypt, leaving the delegation without real leadership. Rappler reported that Sec. Loyzaga and Robert Borje, executive director of the Climate Change Commission (CCC) had to fly back to Manila for the Senate budget hearings for their respective offices. Philippine Ambassador to Egypt Ezzedin Tago took over as head of the delegation. Rappler reported the reservations expressed by civil society groups attending the meeting who said Tago did not have any experience in climate negotiations.

CNN Philippines reported that during the budget deliberations, Senators Imee Marcos and Loren Legarda complained about the supposedly excessive number of trips of the CCC this year. They claimed that travel was the CCC's only accomplishment in its 13 years of existence. But the report did not get CCC's side on the matter.

ANC followed up on the issue but did not ask CCC to respond directly. On November 17, Mike Navallo interviewed Lea Guerrero, country director of Greenpeace Philippines, who said CCC has to travel here and abroad in order to determine the local areas needing attention as well as to amplify the country's concerns on the international stage. Guerrero added that the CCC as an attached agency to the Office of the President has received "peanuts" for its funding - and that such criticism from the senators is actually "undeserved."

While little else was heard from the official delegation, the following reports featured more civil society groups which reiterated calls for concrete action particularly from developed nations to compensate for the burden of climate change on developing countries:

CMFR cheered news accounts that focused on the perspective of indigenous peoples and the importance of their inclusion in climate change discussions.

Gaea Katreena Cabico of Philstar.com expanded on the climate discussions in the G20 Summit. Cabico was in Bali to cover the summit, but she included in her stories valuable insights from civil society sources who were not in Sharm El Sheikh or Bali. Cabico pointed out how climate and disaster aid from developed countries have not fully compensated developing nations for "loss and damage."

In a separate report, she cited the sustainability think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology and Development, which observed that financial support from G20 nations is bolstering only the fossil fuel and liquefied natural gas industries, delaying further efforts to transition to cleaner energy sources. Cabico also noted that while the G20 declaration this year renewed the commitment to maintain global warming below the 1.5 degree threshold, green groups were disappointed that there was still no call for a total phaseout of fossil fuels.

At press time, news from COP27 reported a "historic" agreement to provide a fund to compensate for the losses of and damage to less developed countries, a turning point which journalists should follow up with sustained attention.

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