SINCE President Duterte last weekend threatened to withdraw membership of the Philippines from the United Nations, some people have asked, Can we do that? Implicit in that question is whether a president can do it by himself when U.N. membership is by government.

It's a major shift of policy, which one supposes needs an act of Congress. The Constitution doesn't provide for U.N. membership but it adopts "the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land," an embrace of the global community the U.N. represents.

The U.N. Charter intentionally didn't provide for withdrawal of a member, purportedly to prevent the threat from being used to get concessions or avoid obligations under the charter.

To President Duterte, withdrawal would free the country from being bound to international commitments on human rights and climate change and spare it from paying its share of U.N. peacekeeping budget.

Indonesia withdrew in 1965; before the year ended, it resumed its membership. Bills in the U.S. House of Representatives, notably one in 2005, have consistently failed.

Pro-U.N. advocates fear their country would be isolated from the world. U.N. couldn't solve the world's major ills but a world without U.N. might be much worse. And its 193 member countries believe so.


We can't withdraw but we can have the country expelled by not paying our membership tab and by repeatedly violating the treaties we signed under its aegis. And they may speed up the expulsion by cursing the U.N. and its leaders more grossly and frequently.

But then maybe it was mostly verbal gymnastics. According to Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, the Philippines will stay with the U.N.

Yasay apparently believes there are things not easily shunned, the U.N. among them.