Setting the record straight on Iceland

"Who has the last laugh now?"


President Rodrigo Duterte made jokes at Iceland’s expense in response to that country’s move related to the investigation of human rights issues in the Philippines—but is seems that his is not the last laugh.

Speaking at the 28th anniversary celebration of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology last July 12, the President commented on the resolution proposed by Iceland and adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council on July 11, requiring UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to report on the drug war killings in the Philippines for presentation to the council.

Iceland’s authorship of the resolution caught Duterte’s ire. He said, “Hindi maintindihan nitong mga p***** i**** ‘to na may problema tayo. Iceland? Ano ang problema ng Iceland? Ice lang. That’s your problem. You have too much ice and there is no clear day or night there. Parang alas kwatro ng hapon ang araw pati gabi.

So you can understand why there is no crime, there is no policemen either and they just go about eating ice. Itong mga g***—they don’t understand the social, economic, political problems of the Philippines.”

Netizens were quick to point out that he must have confused Iceland for Greenland. It’s one of those weird naming peculiarities that trip up players of Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy, because the actual geographical features of the two countries belie their names.

Iceland has large patches of green and was once thickly forested, while 80 percent of Greenland’s surface is covered by a sheet of ice that traps a volume of the world’s water that is second only to Antarctica’s. If that sheet melted, global sea levels would rise by 7 meters.

Iceland does have a police force, a coast guard, and an intelligence service, though it has no standing army. They do have crime, but at very low rates that make them the safest country in the world. They enjoy a great degree of gender and social equality. In 2018, Iceland ranked just behind Norway to grab second spot in the Social Progress Index, which measures well-being and quality of life in 146 countries.

Anyone can Google this information in seconds.

But let’s say the President spoke off-the-cuff and made the remarks based on his stock knowledge. Actually far more egregious than his geography mistakes and global studies inaccuracies is his repudiation of Iceland’s concern for the human rights violations in the Philippines in connection with his drug war.

In that same speech at the BJMP, the President again justified the tokhang operations. “At the final tally,” he said, “we had one million six addicts, slaves to a drug called shabu. Inutil na ‘yan sila.” He spoke of the economic, social, and emotional toll on a family when a member is an addict. He admitted that the tide of inflowing drugs cannot be stemmed—“The distribution of drugs, the contamination continues today. At hindi na natin mahabol.”

He said he would welcome the UNCHR representatives who would visit the Philippines to gather data for their report. “Even if there are—the human rights are coming. Good. And I’ll tell them, how many millions are affected by drugs.”

But it was never disputed that the influx of illegal drugs continues and has even accelerated. It was never denied that something drastic needs to be done about it before we turn into a narco state. It was never challenged that there is a huge number of addicts, some of whom commit crimes and burden the law enforcement and justice systems.

What is being opposed by UNCHR and many others is the solution that Duterte and his administration have adopted, which has led to extra-judicial killings that practically amount to state-sanctioned mass murder.

We agree wholeheartedly that something needs to be done. But there has to be due process, with an aim to rehabilitate and reform addicts rather than summarily kill them.

The tokhang system is prone to abuse and is sloppily implemented. Many innocents have been slain in the line of fire, the latest being a three-year-old girl, Myca Ulpina, killed by bullets from a cop’s gun during a buy-bust operation gone horribly wrong. Senator Bato de la Rosa’s comment on baby Myca’s death? “Sh*t happens.” This is precisely why the world is aghast at the conduct of the drug war and why they want answers.

The audience at BJMP, according to the transcript of the President’s speech, laughed at his jabs at Iceland. Netizens laughed at Duterte’s factual mistakes about Iceland. What’s not funny is that the Philippines is perceived by the world to be a killing ground, a situation alarming enough for a fact-finding resolution to be authored by a country far away and adopted by the global organization that harmonizes the actions of nations.

Meanwhile, in Iceland, their citizens suck on ice cubes while they enjoy their high standard of living, ultra-low crime rate, and egalitarian society. Who has the last laugh now? 

Senator Manny Pacquiao was once a drug user, and look at him now—world champion athlete, politician, and extremely wealthy person. Give addicts the chance to turn their lives around. //FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Iceland , United Nations Human Rights Council , Bureau of Jail Management and Penology
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