Groups deplore Biden’s invite to Duterte to attend Summit for Democracy; Ressa, Coronel to speak at a media panel

by Ricky Rillera

Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

NEW YORK – President Joe Biden will deliver his opening remarks on Thursday, Dec. 9 at 8:00 a.m. EST on the first of a two-day virtual Summit for Democracy. The Summit, announced in August, brings together a diverse group representing governments, civil society, and the private sector.

According to the White House, the Summit “will galvanize commitments and initiatives across three principal themes: defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights.”

Deciding who should be on the list of invitees has created tensions even before the event starts. The Biden administration dropped China and Russia because they considered them part of the “autocracies camp.” Moreover, countries accused of human rights abuses or vote rigging seemed contradictory.

For example, Pakistan and the Philippines are in, while EU member Hungary’s nationalist government is out. While they invited Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, they shunned the leader of NATO member Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) has called the Summit “a showcase for populist autocrats and human rights violators.”

In a statement, the ICHRP condemned President Biden’s invitation to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to attend the Summit. According to ICHRP Chairperson Peter Murphy, Biden’s remark that “he looks forward to welcoming Duterte and hearing his ideas on how we can foster a more democratic, equitable, inclusive and sustainable world” is a sick joke. Murphy added, “Duterte’s reign of terror and mass murder, which have provoked an ICC investigation of crimes against humanity, would seem to disqualify him from providing advice on anything except fascist populism, repression and human rights violations.”

The ICHRP also said that Biden “would be well served to review the meticulous documentation of the crimes of the Duterte regime undertaken by Investigate PH and the UN Human Rights Council. These bodies have exposed Duterte’s bloody “War on Drugs” resulting in the extrajudicial killings of tens of thousands.”

Meanwhile, in a letter to President Biden, Loida Nicolas-Lewis, National Chair of U.S. Filipinos for Good Governance (USFGG), protested in the “strongest possible terms” the invitation to the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to attend the Summit.

“Inviting governments with serious human rights problems like the Philippines – which your State Department has consistently warned about – makes this whole Summit questionable. By the State Department’s own reports, the Duterte administration is responsible for “unlawful or arbitrary killings,” Nicolas-Lewis wrote. “The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is conducting an investigation into President Duterte’s drug war with himself as a suspect. Since becoming president in 2016, he has overseen the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, and has extended the orders to kill until 2022.”

To correct this “blunder,” Nicolas-Lewis urged President Biden “to invite to the summit the Philippine Vice-President Leonor “Leni” Robredo, the leader of the democratic opposition.” Robredo is running for president in the 2022 elections.

Scheduled to deliver her remarks before the panel on Media Freedom and Sustainability on Dec. 9 is 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler. Sheila Coronel, Director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, Columbia University, will speak as a panel member.

According to the schedule, “This panel will highlight the importance of media safety, freedom, and sustainability in the health and vitality of democratic societies.  Panelists will discuss how the international community can do to more to protect journalists as well as how to reduce the vulnerability of independent media to closure or economic and political capture.”

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