By Alex P. Vidal
“All countries, big or small, strong or weak, are equal members of the United Nations.”
—Nong Duc Manh
I NEVER realized I would one day wink at New York City’s United Nations (UN) headquarters literally.
The “United Nations” I knew was a popular street in Ermita, Manila where we personally witnessed one morning sometime in November 1991 a rookie cop named Francis thrown a few meters away after being hit by a speeding car coming from the Taft Avenue.
Francis, 26, was the policeman driver assigned by then Manila Western Police District (WPD) chief, General Ernesto “Totoy” Diokno, to drive us visiting Iloilo journalists.
While Francis grimaced in pain in the middle of the street and we quickly moved to check him, our colleague, the late Vicente “Danny Baby” Foz Jr. of dyRP Radyo Tagring shouted, “Dali e-shooti nio camera si Francis (hurry, take a photograph of Francis).”
Broadcaster Arsenio “Kamlon” Ang of dyRI Radyo Agong ribbed him: “Ka gago sa imo, bal an mo na gid nga naga haplak na si Francis sa tunga dalan mga shooting-shooting pa sa utok mo (Francis is already sprawled out on the street and you still thought of taking a photograph?).
To make the long story short, we rushed Francis to the nearby Manila Doctors Hospital also located on United Nations in Ermita. He survived.
Going back to the real United Nations. When Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali became the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations on January 1, 1992, for a five-year term, I saw anew on television that tall and magnificent UN headquarters located in Midtown Manhattan, New York City.
Designed by a board of architects led by Wallace Harrison and built by the architectural firm Harrison & Abramovitz, with final projects developed by Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier, the complex, a modern architecture, is a sight to behold and built at a cost of $65 million on September 14, 1948.
One day, I will visit this place, I told myself then.
Not only did I visit the place seven years ago, the UN headquarters on East 42nd Street also became my “neighbor” in the workplace since last year, or after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every Monday morning, I winked at the imposing 155.3 meters (510 feet) long structure on the East side of the Turtle Bay as I passed by on my way to the Grand Central before taking the subway train to the Queens.
I can’t count how many “selfies” I made in that historic structure lined by Members States’ flags and connects the Conference Building with the General Assembly Building. It’s a gigantic but amazing structure.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, I paused for a while outside the UN headquarters one morning in March.
Thinking Vladimir Putin’s flag wasn’t there, out of curiosity I checked and saw the flags of both Ukraine and Russia in different places.
Of course I saw the colorful and stunning Philippine flag middle on the right side.
It’s so inspiring and delightful to see our Philippine flag flying high among the awesome Members States’ flags.
I learned that the Russian Federation succeeded to the Soviet Union’s seat, including its permanent membership on the Security Council in the United Nations after the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, which originally co-founded the UN in 1945, thus it’s still scandalously in the powerful Security Council despite its refusal to halt the carnage in Ukraine.
At the 77th UN General Assembly that unwrapped on September 13, 2022 under the theme, “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges,” I noticed the vicinity once again teeming with activities as dignitaries and diplomats from around the world, including Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., in town for the mammoth gathering of the main policy-making organ of the Organization. Comprising all Member States, the UN General Assembly provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter of the United Nations.
The theme stems from the recognition that the world is at a critical moment in the history of the United Nations due to complex and interconnected crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, humanitarian challenges of unprecedented nature, a tipping point in climate change as well as growing concerns about threats to the global economy.
The General Assembly therefore “finds it necessary” to find and focus on joint solutions to these crises and build a more sustainable and resilient world for all and for the generations to come.
Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, addressed the general debate of the 77th Session of the General Assembly of the UN on September 20, 2022. The UNGA77 will last until September 26 2022.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)