Remarks of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. at the virtual UN Philippines celebration of the 75th anniversary of the UN.
Good afternoon! Happy United Nations Day!
Twenty-twenty is the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. It was to be a landmark year of celebrating the UN’s achievements: it had after all prevented World War III, its reason for being; like stopping World War II was that of the League of Nations. No one was holding their breath after the Korean War broke out. And let it out in resignation during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Instead we are commemorating UN Day under very different circumstances. The UN meant to bring us closer together. Covid-19 has forced us to be apart. This virtual get-together is proof of how a virus has changed the way things were.
We are again at war; the death toll has surpassed 1.1 million worldwide. But let’s not exaggerate. It’s bad; but not as bad as war by a long shot.
This time no armies and artillery; no tanks and bombers. But the enemy is not on the other side of the wire but in our midst, indeed on our clothes and in our hair. Like a neutron bomb from nature’s hell, it just takes out people, and leaves neighborhoods empty, everything else standing. It has forced families and friends to put up barriers between each other; and communities to barricade themselves.
Covid-19 restrictions have been so pervasive and prolonged that our behavior has changed in ways likely to last long after this virus has been defeated. It has made many ways of making a living impossible to do again.
A quarter of a century ago, our forebears struggled to come to terms with a trauma that gave them no choice but to rethink the way they lived. The Second World War had left nations and societies in ruin, and world leaders facing a long arduous road to reconstruction. But rather than give way to despair, 51countries decided that having survived the scourge of war, they would spare succeeding generations from suffering it themselves. Thus, on June 25, 1945 they came together to sign a document that would be the architectural plan of a peaceful, progressive and inclusive world order —the UN Charter.
General Carlos P. Romulo, head of the Philippine Delegation, declared, “LET US MAKE THIS FLOOR THE LAST BATTLEFIELD.” That was their generation’s foundational moment. Today, we stand at the cusp of our own 1945 moment.
We face a global health crisis that is killing people, spreading human suffering, and turning people’s lives upside down. Covid-19 threatens to bring a recession probably without parallel in the recent past. We risk greater instability, worsening unrest, and wider and crueler conflicts. This is much more than a health crisis.
This is the world’s most challenging crisis since World War II. But again, nothing could be as bad as that. But still, now as then we must stand our ground—this time against the lesser angels of our nature against our weaker selves, our lack of sustained resolution, our tendency to carelessness, and think only of ourselves when this is a threat we all face together aimed at all of us without distinction. Together and never at odds with each other we must face it head-on and save all our people because we cannot save just our own.
If we are to be worthy inheritors of the peace and global order gifted to us by the generation of 1945, we need a much stronger global response to the pandemic.
“We the peoples” of the Philippines are committed to work with “We the rest of the peoples of the United Nations and the UN’s Socio-economic and Peacebuilding Framework to beat the pandemic.
The Philippines and the UN have a long, proud history of working together. We were there to lay the foundations of the UN; and even more there to make it work.
In turn, the UN helped us build our country and keep it whole; the most recent being its support for the Bangsamoro Organic Law ending a nearly half a century of secessionist war that would tear it apart.
The new UN Resident Coordinator has guided us in setting up the first ever UN Joint Program on Human Rights.
We have been contributing troops to UN peacekeeping missions since the 1950s and we have kept our pledge to support global peacekeeping to this day.
We helped shape the UN’s blueprints for the future: the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework and the New Urban Agenda. In all these, we insisted that people without countries not be left behind. We stood up to fight for the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. “We the peoples of the United Nations,” includes “We, the peoples who have lost theirs or never had any nation.”
Covid-19 threatens all that. The UN has to try harder. In particular, at this time of great uncertainty, I call on the United Nations to rally its Member States to set aside self-interest and work in solidarity. Nations break ranks in the race for the first Covid-19 vaccine; the UN must stand in the breach made by disunity to ensure that the less powerful, the less rich, those who cannot be heard are reached and saved. If we fail them mankind will never be safe again. There will always be those who will remember that they were left to suffer or die alone and they will number tens of millions if not more.
At one point in his life, General Romulo spoke despairingly about the future. He said: “I do not think the world has much time. I do not think it has much time to escape the momentum toward self-destruction upon which it seems set.”
Weeping openly, he asked what it would take to “galvanize us into the necessary steps and actions to preserve the world against catastrophe.” Only a common threat that none can escape without taking everyone else along —that alone would do the trick. General Romulo, ever prescient, might have been speaking about our current troubles.
This is our 1945 moment. In forcing us apart, Covid-19 has ironically given us the chance to make a conscious decision to really come closer together and reshape our world to better effect. Let us build a future that would make the General smile. Thank you.
Image credits: AP/Jeenah Moon