At UN, Marcos calls for ‘united effort’ to contain climate change

Imran Vittachi
At UN, Marcos calls for ‘united effort’ to contain climate change Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, Sept. 20, 2022.
Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in his debut speech on the international stage at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, called for a “united effort” among the world’s nations to confront climate change and other challenges such as inequality and injustice.

In an address that lasted about 21 minutes, the new leader of the Philippines and son of a former Filipino president, touched on issues ranging from global warming to inequalities between rich and poor countries, as well as emerging technologies that are rapidly changing humanity.

“We are confronted by tectonic shifts that will inform the ebb and flow of the coming century,” Marcos said as he became the first Philippine leader in eight years to speak in person at the General Assembly Hall in New York.

“Climate change is the greatest threat affecting our nations and peoples. There is no other problem so global in nature that it requires a united effort, one led by the United Nations,” he said.

He called on the members of the world body to come together to correct a historical injustice reflected in climate change, and for industrialized countries to cut carbon emissions and do their part in meeting their obligations under international agreements on climate change.

“Those who are least responsible suffer the most. The Philippines is a net carbon sink, absorbing more carbon dioxide than we emit. And yet, we are the 4th most vulnerable country to climate change,” said Marcos, who wore a white embroidered traditional Filipino barong shirt buttoned up to the collar with a Philippine flag pinned to the lapel.

But the namesake son of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos (pictured), who in his time had addressed the same world body, said little about human rights. Given his family’s history, the issue has shadowed him since before he was elected president in a landslide in May.

“We need to reaffirm the wisdom of the founders of our United Nations. This means transcending our differences and committing to ending war, upholding justice, respecting human rights, and maintaining international peace and security,” he said.

When the younger Marcos gave his speech, it was Wednesday morning in Manila on the day that marked the 50th anniversary of when his father signed a presidential proclamation that imposed martial law nationwide. During 14 years of martial law, activists have documented thousands of cases of deaths and enforced disappearances.

Marcos also made no mention of the rule of law on the domestic front or efforts by the U.N.’s International Criminal Court to investigate alleged abuses and thousands of officer-involved killings committed by his immediate predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, in the Philippine war on drugs. Earlier this month, the Marcos administration said it was seeking to block an ICC investigation into Duterte.

Ferdinand E. Marcos, president of the Philippines (left), is greeted by United Nations Secretary-General U Thant upon his arrival at the U.N. in New York, where Marcos addressed the General Assembly, Sept. 21, 1966. [U.N. Photo/Yutaka Nagata]

However, Marcos alluded to his country’s international legal battles with China over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. At the same time, he implied that his administration would take no sides in a geopolitical rivalry between Beijing and Washington.

“Amidst challenging global tides, an important ballast stabilizes our common vessel,” the Philippine president said. “That is, our open, inclusive, and rules-based international order that is governed by international law and informed by the principles of equity and justice. As I have underscored, the Philippines shall continue to be a friend to all, and enemy of none.”

He had used the same catch phrase – “a friend to all, and enemy of none” – in his first State of the Nation speech to the Philippine Congress within a month of taking office.

In front of the United Nations on Tuesday, Marcos also talked about geopolitics but without naming China, the United States, or other powers.

“Widening geopolitical polarities and sharpening strategic competitions are transforming the international political landscape. A profound lack of trust is putting enormous strains on our multilateral system,” he said.

“In Asia, our hard-won peace and stability is under threat by increasing strategic and ideological tensions.”

Marcos, 65, was also making his first trip to the United States since he took office in late June.

During a speech at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, he declared that ties between the Philippines and the United States would become stronger under his administration.

President Duterte, his predecessor, had pivoted Manila away from traditional ally Washington and closer to Beijing during his six years in office despite tensions over the South China Sea.

“It is very clear to me …. that I cannot see the Philippines in the future without having the United States as a partner,” Marcos said at the stock exchange.

Jojo Riñoza in Manila contributed to this report.


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