PHILIPPINE Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia Jr. should quit his posts in private businesses because having positions in private companies does not sit well with his function as the country’s representative to the United States which is a “full-time” job, a lawmaker said on Wednesday.
“He should not be allowed to hold positions in the government and the private sector simultaneously,” said Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, chairman of the Senate committee on civil service and government reorganization.
Trillanes, who is also a member of the committee on foreign relations, explained that while lawmakers have no authority to sanction officials like Cuisia, the issue can be brought to the attention of the executive branch for action.
The lawmaker said that Cuisia, contrary to claims by Foreign Affairs department officials, may have committed certain violations for holding high positions in several private firms besides his role as envoy.
“There might be a conflict of interest between those positions he is holding if indeed the report is accurate,” Trillanes told The Manila Times.
He said that either Cuisia should let go of his position as ambassador or renounce his private connections. He added that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. can be asked to look into it and come up with the decision.
For his part, an international law expert said it would be more prudent for ambassadors not to pursue their commercial interests.
Harry Roque, an activist lawyer and a professor at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, said that since ambassadors enjoy the privileges of their posting, it is better if they will focus on their duties as envoys.
“You are enjoying complete immunity and yet, you are pursuing a business? Because of the immunity, it is better if they don’t have any business at all,” he told the Times.
Also, as a policy maker, an ambassadorship is a full-time employment, Roque added.
In his October 21 column, former ambassador and Times’ Editorial Board chairman Rigoberto Tiglao questioned Cuisia’s retention of memberships in major companies in the Philippines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Philippine Embassy in Washington, on the other hand, denied these assertions and said that Cuisia had the “expressed authority” from Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to attend to these positions while performing his duties as an envoy.
As a political appointee of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Cuisia may enjoy these privileges, a source earlier told the Times. It is unclear, however, if the Foreign Affairs chief also enjoy the same privilege of granting exemption for holding a commercial position and a diplomatic one.
The source added that career ambassadors are not allowed this arrangement.
But Roque, citing the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, said there is no actual distinction between a political appointee and a career ambassador since they are provided with the same privileges in their postings.
The convention, however, seems to allow ambassadors to practice other professions outside their posting as reflected in its article 31 (1c) which stated that ambassadors may lose their complete immunity when there is “an action relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving State outside his official functions.”
The convention was ratified by the Philippines on November 15, 1965. It forms the legal basis of diplomatic immunity, which exempt envoys from civil and criminal cases.
The convention’s provision is in contrast to certain rules under the Foreign Services Act, which according to the Times source, does not allow ambassadors to pursue commercial interests while they are posted because it may create conflict of interest.