This column on foreign policy was impelled by several items I stumbled on in my readings:
First, Bobi Tiglao’s revelation in his column that our foreign secretary Alberto del Rosario was a representative of the Salim group’s business interests in the Philippines, and second, by Manny Pangilinan’s disclosure that the First Pacific group is waiting eagerly for del Rosario to leave the government and rejoin the group. With his future already set, does Secretary del Rosario find time these days to provide leadership and direction to the conduct of our foreign relations in the world?
Additionally, this piece was triggered by a serious column on American foreign policy that suggested that it is now time for the US to review and end its various mutual defense treaties with several Asian countries, including the Philippines, because these agreements belong to a bygone time, during the Cold War. A suggestion that totally undercuts the Aquino administration’s mindset that in our current differences with China we can confidently rely on the US to come to our defense, should China’s bullying mutate into open hostilities.
These questions are of big moment because we are living in a time of rapid change in the world – and this is a time which calls for serious diplomacy and statecraft.
There was a time when Philippine diplomacy engaged some of the best minds and writers the country has produced—achievers as varied as Leon Maria Guerrero, Gen. Carlos Romulo, Salvador Lopez, Armando Manalo, Raul Manglapus and, more recently, Blas Ople. They all figured prominently in the shaping of national policy amidst the major international challenges during their time of service. There was also a time when our foreign relations was manned (by men and women alike) by a professional and dedicated foreign service, and not merely by political appointees (consisting of former generals, businessmen, politicians, and business persons who covet the title of ambassador to wear for the rest of their lives).
For people who take foreign affairs seriously, diplomacy is better called statecraft or statesmanship. In her book, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says: “Statecraft and statesmanship are interchangeable. But the former has a more practical ring to it, emphasizing activity rather than rhetoric, strategy not just diplomacy. All too often, statesmanship turns out to be political action of which we politicians approve—frequently our own.”
She goes on to discuss the major challenges toward the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new century, which included the rise of China as a new international giant.
In another book, similarly titled Statecraft, US diplomat and peace negotiator Dennis Ross discusses at length the concept of statecraft and its practice in contemporary times.
For this column, I will just quote one definition of statecraft he uses in his book: “What is statecraft? It is the use of the assets or the resources and tools (economic, military, intelligence, media) that a state has to pursue its interests and to affect the behavior of others, whether friendly or hostile. It involves making sound assessments and understanding where and on what issues the state is being challenged and can counter a threat or create a potential opportunity or take advantage of one . . .
“Statecraft is as old as conflict between communities and the desire to avoid or prevent it. Plato wrote about statecraft. Machiavelli theorized about it. And Bismarck practiced it, never losing sight of his objectives, and recognizing that his objectives should never exceed his capabilities.”
Reflecting on our recent experience with our neighbors, we should be in no doubt that China knows how to practice statecraft. On our part, we have to wonder about the state of our diplomacy because in just three and a half years under President Aquino, we managed to seriously antagonize Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, three of our most important trading partners.
Secretary del Rosario should give the subject serious thought before he rides off into the sunset.
Where does he get his thick face?
Given President Aquino’s indifference to criticism, it is fair and it is time for the media and the public to ask the president the same sarcastic question he hurled at officials of The Bureau of Customs, the Bureau of Immigration, the National Irrigation Administration and the Technical Education Science Development Authority on July 22 last year when he delivered his State of the Nation Address at the opening of the 16th Congress.
His exact words in Filipino were: “Saan po kayo kumukuha ng kapal ng mukha?” (Where do you get your thick face? or thick skin in idiomatic English.) He addressed the question to allegedly corrupt and inefficient officials who had few defenders in the public and the civil service.
Many of the officials he targeted with the remark have since left the service by either resignation or dismissal. Whether it was the strong language that did the trick, no one has said. It’s possible that Aquino got a tip on developing a thick skin, because since that time, the president has himself been caught in quite a few scraps that required considerable gumption.
The late German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer delivered perhaps the best retort to his question. He wryly declared: “A thick skin is a gift from God.”
President Aquino does not have the verbal skill and stately wisdom of Adenauer to get away with that witticism. Adenauer was past 80 when he invoked God, and he had fought the Nazis.
People who are wounding with their words are wisely counseled to be more temperate and cool because words have a way of biting you back or they can be hurled back at you.
Members of the media, after being told by the President that he will implore God to take care of them, are tempted at this point to throw his kapalmuks question at him because of the arrogance of his remarks.
When I essayed in my last column (Head of government… 14 January) an exposition of the roles, powers and responsibilities of the President, it was to underscore this basic point: with the great powers, privileges and unrivaled resources he enjoys in office, Aquino owes it to the nation to listen to reasonable criticism of his official conduct and his policies.
Even Spiderman the cartoon character recognizes the obligations of power, agreeing that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
When you have discretionary power on over a trillion pesos of public money, you should either listen to criticism or give the money up.