Amb. Cuisia’s board seats: Did he just follow del Rosario’s precedent?

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Consul Elmer Cato, press officer of the Philippine embassy in the US wrote this newspaper contesting several points of my column 21 October 2013 entitled “Aquino’s part-time ambassador to the U.S.”

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I cannot contest Cato’s claims on the achievements of Ambassador Jose Cuisia, since his letter—mimicking President Aquino—puts all the credit for the post’s achievement to his present boss, without a word of acknowledgement to his predecessors’ or other embassy officials’ work. In fact, Fil-Ams in Washington as well as foreign affairs department officials are worried that Cuisia seems to be relying too much on the deputy chief of mission in his past three years.

I congratulate Cuisia though if Cato’s boasts are accurate, and I sincerely just hope his achievements go beyond getting aging, hand-me-down US Coast Guard cutters and organizing social clubs. Still, the litmus test of effectiveness of our ambassador to the US is his success in getting the US President to visit the Philippines. We’d settle for state secretary John Kerry. Good luck.

My basis for my report that Mr. Cuisia seems to be in Manila nearly every month are the annual reports of SM Prime Holdings and Phinma, in which he is a vice chairman and board member, versions of which are submitted as notarized compliance reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission. A collage of the two reports on their board meetings accompanies this article.

Busy ambassador: Cuisia’s board meetings in two of his companies in 2012. (Source:Phinma and SM Prime annual reports.)

Busy ambassador: Cuisia’s board meetings in two of his companies in 2012. (Source:Phinma and SM Prime annual reports.)

For 2012 Cuisia was reported in the annual reports to be present in board meetings of the two companies in February 17, March 22, April 24, May 14, June 11, July 27 and 30, October 29, November 13, and December 12. That’s nine of the 12 months last year.

I am quite sure Cuisia also attends the board meetings of the seven other firms he is a director of, especially in Chevrolet’s Philippine distributor where he is the chairman.

I assumed the two firms’ annual reports were accurate. There was no qualification in the report, as there usually is in other such reports I have seen, that Cuisia was present via teleconferencing.

Cato knows full well, when he claimed that I should have checked immigration records, that these are confidential unless asked for by the authorities for a criminal investigation. I’d be grateful if Cuisia takes the trouble to get those travel records from immigration.

I suggest Cato review his foreign service manual or he’ll get the ambassador in other legal trouble.

He writes that Cuisia “takes part in these (board) meetings via video or teleconferencing from his residence during his private time…” Cato as a career diplomat should know that an ambassador — unless in very rare cases when he’s rich enough to get a summer or alternate home — doesn’t have a “private residence” in the country of his posting. Technically, the ambassador’s residence is even the “Embassy” and the building where his offices are, the “Chancellery”.

Cuisia’s “residence” in Washington is part of Philippine government premises, with all its utilities paid for out of embassy, taxpayers’ money.

Is Cato saying that Cuisia has been using the telephone services, expensive overseas tele-conferencing services even, that are paid by the Philippine government for his board meetings with SM Prime, Phinma, and seven other corporations?

But these are just details. The more important point in my column which seems to be beyond Cato’s comprehension is the anomaly—legally or ethically—that our ambassador to the most important diplomatic post continues to work in the board of nine Philippine corporations, two of which are conglomerates. He is even a member of four committees of these boards, in SM Prime in its Audit Committee.

By no stretch of logic can he claim that his involvement in these nine corporations doesn’t distract him from his work at such an important post as the US. Taxpayers are paying diplomats to be full time at their work, and not as part-time ambassadors.

The Philippine Ambassador is the President’s alter ego abroad, Cato says. True. Even if the Constitution hypothetically allowed so, how would it look if the President were a director or a board member of ABS-CBN Corp or Hacienda Luisita?

I don’t think Cato is qualified to comment on whether Cuisia or not “used his position to give the companies he is connected with any undue advantage”—unless he is the ambassador’s aide in those companies. Does Cato really believe that companies like SM Prime, Phinma, cement conglomerate Holcim, Chevrolet’s distributor in the Philippines, and a call center company doesn’t have business dealings in the US, where Cuisia is ambassador of?

Cato’s main argument for his boss, is that after all, Cuisia’s involvement in the nine private firms was allowed by “expressed authorization from no less then the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for him to sit in these private sector corporations.” Can I ask for copy of such authorization? I understand though that only the President can authorize an ambassador to do so.

I had been told, contrary to what I wrote in my 21 October column that Secretary Alberto del Rosario also continued his directorships in Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co and in several other firms when he was ambassador to the US. Did Cuisia demand of del Rosario: If you could it, I can too!

Cato’s claim that I “failed to check his facts before writing” the column is false. I emailed Cuisia Friday (Washington D.C. time) to ask him to comment on the points I raised in my article, and clearly emphasized that I needed the reply for my column which will appear Monday.

I emailed these to the following addresses: washington.pe@dfa.gov.ph, washingtonpe@philippinesusa.org, and washingtonpe2010@gmail.com.

I even used the email form of the embassy’s website, which is so difficult to use, requiring you to give confidential information before you can send a message. It is even downright stupid, as it requires a US telephone address to be processed. (I used the Embassy’s own telephone number.)

Cato must have left his work for the weekend too early that he missed my emails. I do suggest though that he or his staff be issued a Blackberry or whatever so that he or his staff are alerted for any email sent to the embassy, so they won’t miss an emergency. This is SOP in most embassies, as an embassy would need to respond quickly to emergencies of Filipino nationals.

In comparison, I emailed officials of the Social Security Commission—located in Quezon City—for certain queries I posted them, and got replies the day after.

Or maybe Cuisia is too busy in his nine directorships to bother about making the Embassy’s communication system efficient?

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
www.rigobertotiglao.com and www.trigger.ph

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12 Comments

  1. Ang daming walang trabahong
    Filipino, samantalang ang mga
    kaalyado ng pork barrel king ay
    sideline lang ang pagka-amAmbasador. Sobrang abuso na
    ito ng gobyernong palpak.

  2. What a tragedy that we as a Nation, continue to allow the perpetrators of these shenanigans to continue on their merry way, contributing to the negative perception that the world has of us and our country. Filipinos, stand against these evil doers.
    Thank goodness for a small minority of brave souls like Mr Tiglao. Please do keep up your assault on the walls of their Ivory Towers, Sir.

  3. mr. tiglao,

    this is the perfect example of government run like hell as foreseen by P. quezon. its mandatory that an official in the category of ambassador should resign but since this is a government like hell what can we expect from abnoy govt.

    Meantime, mr tiglao may i request that you examine what mr. jarius bondoc wrote in his col. today re: sec. alcala and nfa admin. orlan a. calayog, if all what mr. bondoc wrote in his col is true i can say that alcala is in big trouble.

    si mr. calayog na dating staff sa congress ni alcala ay isa ng american citizen kaya siya pala nagtungo na sa american nuon pa nasa congress si alcala. illegal na pinasasahod ni alcala bilang ghost employee si calayog habang awol ito sa pwesto niya. nang umupo na sa pwesto si alcala pinabalik niya dito si calayog at ginawa munang director ng nfa bago ninumbrahan ni abnoy bilang kapalit ni banayo. binayaran din daw ng uurooting ni alcala ng 6 na buwang advance para bumalik dito at maging nfa administrator. ang nakapagtataka wala naman tamang kakayahan para humawak sa ganuong pwesto si calayog. mukhang napakarami ng kinasasangkutang anomalia si alcala, sa pdaf, dap at ngayon itong kay calayog. nakita naman nating ang kakulangan ng bigas na ipinangako ni pinoy sa unang taon palang na magiging supisyente na raw. kitang kita dito kung paano pinag laruan ni alcala ang batas na napakalaking kasalanan na dapat mapagukulan ng pansin.

  4. Consul Cato sounds like a rabidly loyal factotum of Ambassador Cuisia who will blindly defend his master happen what may. Foreign service personnel like Cato will flourish under dictatorial regimes where loyalty, and not integrity, is the sine qua non for promotion. He will shamelessly defend and praise to high heavens Ambassador Cuisia whose name has been prominently and persistently mentioned as one of two probable replacements to the incumbent Secretary del Rosario who is rumored to be definitely on the way out. Hence, Cato’s absence of compunction in directly linking Secretary del Rosario to Ambassador Cuisia’s simultaneous holding of multiple corporate positions with that of being an ambassador.

  5. Mr. Cuisia’s personal integrity may have been the envy of Cezar’s wife, Pompeia, but isn’t the president played favorite by granting exemption to Cuisia, meaning he could do both, serve as an ambassador of the most important diplomatic post in the world and retain business dealings with private companies back home? Heard about having someone’s cake and eating it too? Isn’t divestment from private business interests a mandatory requirement in entering and serving the government to avoid conflict of interest? Yes, there aren’t any scent of conflict yet but who knows in the future? Most likely than not the private companies where he sits as a director have had dealings with the US in the past or who knows might have any in the future. This is what the government service regulations try to anticipate and avoid. Mr. Cato should not dwell too much on Cuisia’s professionalism and character that to him is above reproach, understandably that’s a gofer’s typical rejoinder. Let’s limit ourselves on the rules promulgated by the Philippine authorities such that the question is: are there rules in the government civil service that Cuisia had violated by serving in the government as Phil. Ambassador to the US, yet maintain active involvement and pecuniary interest in the different private companies he’s very much involved into? Methinks the saying what’s sauce for the goose must also be the sauce for the gander. Divestment is an ethical precept in entering the government service and Mr. Cuisia isn’t somebody special to be accorded an exception. Or he considers himself to be? If he’s truly a man of “integrity” as Cato portrays him to be then he must, nay, indeed should be the first one to set an example and comply in setting a decent and respectable example in the government service.

  6. that is why a careful research and investigation is very essential before writing and releasing any information or data for the objective of accuracy, credibility and responsible journalism…

    why to write an article first before asking and verifying from concerned officials? is this what we call responsible journalism…criticize before you scrutinize…

    the same newspaper released the authority of cuisia to accept and involve himself to private firms…and because of this somebody has to strategize control for further credibility damage

  7. May I suggest that BIR BOSS KIM verify ASAP the Tax Returns of Cuisia if he reflected his Honorarium from the various private e ntities. For sure, he has dollar accounts, but did he declare the same . Poor C J Corona! You did not declare your $ in your SALN. Up to now, Cuisia is doing the teleconferencing. Mr. Tiglao, you can monitor the scheduled board meetings and you can confirm my claims. NOYNOY ACT NOW!

  8. too much taxpayers maoney spend by these kind of people, but if ordinary citizen involve in this kind of activities be sure you are in danger or the least you put behind bar. paging bir check wheres the moneys taxpayers go mga ganid kc ang puno ganid

  9. O ano Cato, may sagot ka ba dito? Eh kasi kayo, puro kayo gimmick at pagsisinungaling – yan ang namana nyo kay Abnoy…makakapal na talaga ang mukha ninyo at parang nagtsitsinelas lang kayo kung magsinungaling! Buking na kayo! O, ngayon hinahamon kita…umuuwi ba si Cuisia sa Pilipinas to attend those important board meetings considering that he’s presence is important?
    Makapal at liars ang nasa Gobyerno natin, di mapapagkatiwalaan at kapit tuko sa puwesto! Tsk tsk tsk kaawa-awa ang nagbabayad ng taxes para araruhin lang ng mga suwapang na ito!

  10. Cuisia should have divested his interests in private companies before assuming his post as a government official pursuant to RA 6713 and he is also liable for violation of anti-graft. (3019). what if the President or the Vice President or a cabinet Secretary is also the President/CEO of PLDT, San Miguel, TV networks, etc.? is this not conflict of interest.

  11. Boy, oh, boy. PNoy’s men at the Foreign Affairs are in big trouble. Nobody knew about all these until Mr. Tiglao’s article came out yesterday that these individuals have plenty of official skeletons in their closets. The more damaging issue is that the author has materials to support his allegations. Expect the spin doctors of the administration of the King of Pork to deny, divert, lie or blame others for these illegal acts.