Aquino’s part-time ambassador to the US

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Doing research on some other topic, I stumbled on what at first I thought were outdated information. But the info turned out to be accurate—and troubling.

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The conglomerate Philippine Investment Management Inc. (Phinma) listed as one of its board members Jose Cuisia. Isn’t he our current “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States, with concurrent jurisdiction over the Virgin Islands, Grenada and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico?”

Yes he is. And not only that, our ambassador is presently active in nine other firms, which certainly aren’t just mom-and-pop outfits.

He is vice-chairman in the Philippine American Life and General Insurance Co., in which he had been CEO for a decade until its American owners, AIG, went bankrupt and had to sell out to Asian investors. He is also vice chairman of the company, which is at the core of Henry Sy’s empire, SM Prime Holdings.

He is a director of the Ayalas’ Manila Water Co., in cement conglomerate Holcim Philippines, in call-center firm Integra Business Processing Solutions, in property firm ICCP Holdings, and in Beacon Property Ventures.

I nearly fell off my seat reading this information: Cuisia is chairman of The Covenant Car Co.
Cuisia20131021
Why do I find that shocking? The Covenant Car Company is the sole importer and distributor of the US company Chevrolet’s cars in the Philippines, and I’m certain Cuisia doesn’t know much about the car business.

Its Filipino stockholders might as well have put up a neon sign at their showrooms: Trust us, our chairman is the ambassador to the US, and he sees the Chevrolet chairman often there.

With that number of directorships in major firms, Cuisia is obviously raking it in while he is our underpaid ambassador to the US. Strangely though, he seems to have become exempt from BIR rules since he became ambassador in 2010. Reported as the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s 55th biggest taxpayer in 2009 and paying P13 million in taxes, Cuisia has completely dropped out of the lists for 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Is Cuisia’s continuing employment in private firms while he is the Philippine ambassador to the US legal? If it is, is it proper?

I’m sure that The Covenant Car Co., Phinma Life, SM malls, Manila Water, and Integra Business Processing Solutions would have one way or another have business dealings in the world’s biggest economy.

Does having the Philippine Ambassador to the US as its chairman, vice-chairman or director give that company an unfair edge to its competitors? Or is Cuisia violating in principle the civil service code’s prohibition on conflict-of-interest situations of civil servants employed in private firms?

(The only other civil servant I know who is as busy as Cuisia in private firms is Social System Chairman Juan Santos, who sits in the board of Philex Mining and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. where the SSS has shares in and in seven other major corporations, including Phinma and First Philippine Holdings.)

But the really important question is not even the legality and morality of a Philippine ambassador busy in ten private companies.

The US is the most important country we have diplomatic relations with. That’s an understatement. As a nation, we’re depending on the US for our security, and after ranting at China, and bad-mouthing it as a bully, our foreign secretary right after would sheepishly glance at Uncle Sam to be assured that it will defend the country if the Chinese really gets pissed off.

The US is also where we have the biggest population of migrant Filipinos, whom we can tap as a powerful lobby group for our national interests, as American Jews have done for decades. As a nation we also have the responsibility to assist them in preserving their Filipino heritage.

Our ambassador represents both the President and the entire country in the world of nations. He can’t be often absent in that job making money in the Philippines.

But maybe his membership in these firms’ board is just titular, and his involvement is through Skype or some of kind of teleconferencing.

Nope. Cuisia is even chairman of Phinma’s compensation committee and a member of its board’s executive committee. In SM Prime, he is chairman of its Risk Management and Audit Committee, and member of its Nomination Committee.

Cuisia has religiously attended in the Philippines each and every meeting of the board of the companies he is a director of, so that he is out of his US post from three days to a week every month.

Our ambassador to the US is not within his area of jurisdiction and travels to the Philippines for several days every month. Does the foreign affairs department pay for Cuisia’s first-class fare or is it the firms he is involved in?

I was surprised over Cuisia’s continued board memberships as I had the impression that this was forbidden, either by civil regulations or by practice in the foreign affairs department.

I remember there were magnates who wanted to be ambassadors during President Arroyo’s term, but who later on declined after being told they would have to take a leave from their companies. Tycoons Jaime Zobel de Ayala and Edgardo Espiritu had to take a leave of absence from their businesses when they served as ambassadors to the United Kingdom

Cuisia’s monthly travel to the Philippines is actually quite a remarkable feat.

Ambassadors are required to get an approval not only from the foreign affairs secretary but also from the President or the Executive Secretary when he leaves his post.

Not only that. The foreign secretary has to formally issue a document appointing a chargé d’affaires, or the official in charge of the Embassy while he ambassador is away. Not only that. The embassy has to report to the State Department (or the foreign affairs ministry in other countries) that the ambassador is not in the country, and that the chargé d’affaires will temporarily represent the nation. I doubt if Cuisia bothered with these required documentation.

All these paper work only emphasizes the fact that part of an ambassador’s job description is that he can leave his post only for official reasons or in an emergency. I wonder how Cuisia justified his board meetings with Phinma, SM and the other eight companies as “attending to official matters.”

An ambassador’s job is actually a very demanding one if one takes his work seriously. Filipino organizations demand the personal presence of the ambassador in their social activities. You can dismiss these as petty events, but one can also see these as opportunities to strengthen your links to the Filipino community you also represent in that land.

The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 in effect even gave our ambassadors a new, demanding duty of protecting OFWs in their posts, a job no other country has asked of their ambassadors.

What also makes an ambassador’s work practically limitless is the fact that to pursue the country’s interests, he has to make friends with the elite of the country he is covering, and this requires unending invitations to them for lunch or dinner. These requires the patience and energies of a salesman, since a single addition to an ambassador’s stock of friends would be another source of support when the Philippines need something from that host government.

Having a part-time ambassador is even a bit of an insult to the country he is posted in, as it sends the message that it is not that important a nation that it is not a full-time job for our ambassador, who will be away a week every month. I wouldn’t be surprised if Americans think of us so poor that we have to allow our ambassador in the US to make money in private firms while he is in his post.

No wonder we aren’t getting anything really substantial from the US, other than their empty blah-blahs supporting our saber-rattling against China, no wonder our embassy can’t even lobby successfully for the US president to visit our country.

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

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29 Comments

  1. The issue is not the effectiveness of Ambassador Cuisia or how many trips he makes to Manila, which the Philippine embassy in DC would say is only 3. The simple critical issue is double dipping. Under the RA 6713, a government official cannot work in the private sector. Period. If Amb. Cuisia is holding 9 board directorships, he has to divest. If he refuses, he should leave or not take the office. If Amb. Cuisia is working for a car company in Manila, the other competing car firms there have to wonder if he is using his office to help/promote his private, commercial interests. That is conflict of interest at its most basic and frankly is similar to insider trading. It would be interesting to see how many officials in government — past or present, Arroyo or Aquino — would follow this law.

  2. Mr. Tiglao,

    You’ve raised some important concerns. HOWEVER,

    1) Have you proven yourself an impartial and responsible reporter by presenting statements from credible sources from the different concerned stakeholders prior to making any of your judgments?

    a. Have you presented any statement from the DFA Secretary or other concerned top ranking official to verify that Amb. Cuisia has broken any laws with regards the conflict of interest?

    b. Have you named any reputable sources from those clearly esteemed companies — that have confirmed Amb.Cuisia’s MONTHLY travel to the Philippines to attend the regular board meetings? Have you named any reputable sources from the Embassy in DC to confirm your claims of chronic absenteeism due to these frequent trips to the Philippines?

    c. Have you presented any statements from concerned Fil/Am groups or US government groups to confirm your claims that Amb. Cuisia has not been fulfilling his duties as Ambassador to the US? Like James III, we have not heard of any such reports.

    2. You said, “I doubt if Cuisia bothered with these required documentation.” Have you proven that you comprehensively investigate ALL your facts prior to issuing such statements and arriving at conclusions in your article?

    Concerned stakeholders who have had the opportunity to read your article such as Mitzi Pickard, Victoria Navarro, and Charlie Mike have shared actual experiences and proof that make us believe otherwise.

    As readers, we should always be able to discern impartial and responsible reporting.

  3. As a proud Filipino American, and one who has worked with Amb. Cuisia professionally (former Asia Society DC director) and personally (FilAm community endeavors), I can vouch that the Ambassador is NOT a part-time Ambassador at all.

    Amb. Cuisia is one of the most effective, efficient and energetic Filipino public servants I’ve worked with. His commitment towards the advancement of Philippine-U.S. relations is evident through his efforts in working tirelessly with the Obama Administration/White House, Congress/Hill, State Dept., Defense Dept., USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, etc. on integral issues re: Philippines-US relations. Moreover, Amb. Cuisia also realizes the pivotal part that the Filipino American community and younger generations can play in bridging ties between the two nations–as well as assist with the development, progress and stability of the Philippines.

    In the mere 2 1/2 years that Ambassador Cuisia has served as the highest-ranking Philippine official in the U.S., he has hit the ground running hard and effectively elevated the profile of the Philippines in Wash DC and the U.S. Ambassador Cuisia is one of the most efficient, FULL-TIME emissaries and consummate diplomats I’ve ever worked with. Mabuhay si Ambassador Cuisia!

    Along with displaying his acumen in diplomacy, business/trade and political savviness, Amb. Cuisia has also demonstrated he is a devoted husband, father and grandfather and servant of the Lord. Overall, I regard him as one of the best–if not the best–Ambassador we’ve ever had (in my 25 years of active participation in the community and as an avid observer of Philippine-U.S. relations). The Philippines and the Filipinos/FilAm community have a lot to be proud of with our Ambassador in Wash DC. branches of the U.S. government.

  4. We hope that comments from readers trying to present views different from Mr. Tiglao’s are also posted. We have been told by members of the Filipino Community here in the United States that they have sent their comments to the Manila Times in support of Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. Unfortunately, we could see none posted here. Should we assume those posts got caught up in traffic?

  5. Luis Mario R. Jose on

    He has a house in Dasmarinas Village at Gladiola Street. He had this rented to an
    Arab Ambassador and he receives a Dollar payment. He has 2 houses at the Ayala Alabang in Muntinlupa, a condo at the Ayala Legaspi Tower a condo in New York.
    He rents a house in San Lorenzo Village to be seen as a low profile guy……This guy
    was careless in trying to sell A.I.M. to an American Investor who has not given any kind of Financial Records and is disrepute. He was diswayed by one of the Board of Director of A.I.M.

  6. Cuisia must go. There are so many other qualified individuals for this job. Pres. PNoy, pls. dont let this issue add to your many other problems. There are so much more vital problems needing resolution, dont let this matter get in the way. Good luck to you Mr. president

  7. Initial response to Mt. Tiglao’s article on Ambassador Cuisia

    Mr Tiglao
    I was taken aback by your article on Ambassador Cuisia. My ( and my colleagues’) experience and encounters with the Ambassador are exactly the opposite of what you wrote. Ambassador Cuisia has been very supportive of The Philippine Nurses Association of America ( PNAA) in particular our position statements on issues affecting the reputation and image of Filipino nurses, unethical international recruitment of nurses, curriculum of select nursing schools in the Philippines that do not comply with the state Boards of Nursing. He has made himself, the embassy and its staff always available to our organization even for simple events as the memorial services of 5 nurses who perished in the limousine fire and nurse who was shot to death in Tennessee.
    Ambassador Cuisia has been very insightful of our direction as an organization and has given us leads to continue to increase our membership and our visibility nationally.
    These have been very meaningful to members of PNAA.
    His report card rating as Philippine Ambassador to the US from PNAA is Triple A!
    A more formal letter is forthcoming.
    Sincerely yours,
    Victoria B. Navarro
    President 2012-2014
    The Philippine Nurses Association of America

  8. I salute Mr. Tiglao. He should also investigate a similar situation at DTI where a Special Trade Representative assigned to Osaka, Japan is, in effect, a part time “Special Trade Representative” as he is absent from post about 25 days a month, ostensibly to carry out various tasks on the behalf of the Secretary of Trade and leaving the reins of office to his local hire.

  9. This is a trend in the Aquino administration where civil servants are posted abroad on the basis of loyalty and not competency to represent the country’s interests. An analogy of the case exists at DTI where a Special Trade Representative – Romulo Manlapig – assigned to Osaka, Japan, without the permission of the Ambassador to Japan and the Consul General to Osaka, comes home to Manila or travels to other foreign countries, on official time twice a month. He is at post at most 7 days a month, leaving the reins of office to a local hire, ostensibly to carry out diversified tasks on behalf of the Secretary of Trade.To date, he has had about 25 department orders this year and in the last 3 department orders, he was given the entitlement to claim UNDP rates in his travel to Manila. In effect, he is not only earning double compensation but being clothed with illegal authority to claim UNDP rates. Clearly, he too violates the provisions of the Foreign Service Act which also governs the Foreign Trade Service Corps of DTI, with the sanction of DTI management. What is worse is that he is not carrying out his assigned tasks in Osaka and this is being sanctioned by DTI management who, in the first place, assigned him there!

    • A similar situation exists at DTI where a Commercial Counsellor assigned to Osaka Japan is often absent at post, traveling to Manila twice a month and leaving the reins of office to a local hire. He gets his per diems in the Philippines and in his last 3 department orders, he was able to secure UNDP rates in his travels to the country, entitling him to dollar-denominated per diems. Clearly, he gets additional income on top of his salaries and allowances at Post where he is supposed to stay, to carry out his assigned tasks and responsibilities.

  10. maybe he has a private jet like the chairman of nissan and renault and jetsetting half of the globe every day. in the am he is in japan and in the pm he is in france..
    i do hope president Pnoy has seen this arrangement and would take action immediately..

  11. I work in a foreign embassy here in DC and I know for a fact that Ambassador Cuisia is among the most active members of the diplomatic corps here.

    I do not think this is true.

  12. In fairness to Amb. Cuisa, I havent really heard any complaints at all with regards to the Embassy and how it is currently being run. While Tiglao is posing as foing “investigative” work, he asked so many questions that he could have answered if he really wanted to seek the truth. Instead, he asks them in a manner that already puts the man in a bad light. The presemce of the Ambassador is highly important. But check your facts thoroughly first Mr. Tiglao. Is he an absentee Ambassador really? Maybe if you did more research youll find out that theres really no story to tell and he is doing a good job all this time. Or maybe thats what youre afraid of thats why you stopped investigating.

  13. So what else is new in this administration? Nothing surprises me anymore. There”s lot more Cuisas’ in there. And because of their double masters, the welfare of the Filipinos are being sacrificed. At least nobody is accusing the Ambassador as one of the “tulisans” but in a way, by using his government position, he is stealing what is due to the people; his full time services as a government employee.

  14. so, what is the point mr tiglao? be straight forward…if you yourself can’t even prove that it is legal or proper…how can you prove that he is not doing his job both in his positions in the private and government…remember…anybody can do work as many as he wants even while at home or anywhere in the world…that’s the wonder of technology and you know that very well…however, for delicadeza (even if it is legal or proper if we may consider) he should not commit himself holding other job/s (specifically in private company/ies) aside from being a public servant…as mentioned in the bible…”no one can serve 2 masters” and to quote also “conflict of interest”

    • the law is RA 6713 on divestment and RA 3019 on anti graft law. Please read these laws.

  15. Ching Serrano Burke on

    It will be to the best interest of the country and the Filipinos that this matter be pursued properly. And if found true, the Foreign Secretary and the President? must replace him at once. I suppose we already have enough of issues like this.

  16. This is very much good example of kapit sa patalim and taking advantage of being Aquinos close family relationship, during his mom days, he has been a loyal that’s why his taking advantaged of a son, which terms ends on 2016. as Erap is saying Weder weder lang yan, and as Arroyo son is saying Kami naman, and as Janet Napoles sayings its my PDAP Term. Daang Matuwid Kurba kurba na until 2016. Delicadeza, no way to Philippines Politics, Let us now go back to drawing board of Uniting the Filipino and save our Country from a vast of opportunistic politicians and corrupt ineptitude attitude thus the common tao is suffering. We stick to be united, 2 million votes, lets get rid of the this Daang kurba kurba now. Before its too late.

  17. CUISIA MUST SHOW HIS TOTAL HONORARIA OF
    ALL HIS ATTENDANCE FROM BOARD MEETINGS
    AND BARE HIS INCOME TAX PAYMENTS. DID HE INCLUDE
    THEM IN HIS TAX RETURNS? CJ CORONA WAS IMPEACHED
    DUE TO HIS FAILURE TO DECLARE ON HIS SALN HIS DOLLAR DEPOSITS. HE DID NOT STEAL OR PART OF NAPOLES’ SCAM, UNLIKE THE TONGRESSMEN & SENATONGS. FOR SURE, CUISIA
    HAS SIZABLE DOLLAR ACCOUNTS. ARE THEY DECLARED? JUST ASKING. GOOD JOB, MR. TIGLAO!

    • If you do that in the US government, either you retain/keep what you earn on the side and give up your government pay or vice versa. Even doing a civic duty like earning a fee for being a member of a jury (panel) in a court of law, being a government employee you are required to surrender the jury fee paid to you or give up your government pay while being paid as a juror. So Cuisia should do the same. I bet, he won’t give up the private remuneration because government wages are peanuts compared to what he is earning from the side.

  18. What is the big deal about a Filipino businessman working part time as US ambassador. That is an insignificant issue in relation to the loss of billions of money
    entrusted to a private individual by almost all the members of the Philippine congress. If you are in the Philippines, one must learn to take these things in stride. Look at your president, he is always smiling. Does he know something you people do not know?
    And haven’t you noticed? The Philippines is being hit by natural disasters one after the other. And in spite of all all these, President Aquino keeps on smiling. So relax, smile.

    • There is something wrong with your logic. It is akin to saying there is nothing wrong from stealing if it is only for a few thousands, a few million pesos if compared to the stolen billions by the tulisan senators, congressmen and government officials occupying high positions.

  19. If he is not yet satisfied, name him Secretary General of the UN, President of the Commonwealth etc.

  20. Very good investigative article from Mr. Tiglao. It is important that such type of anomalies and illegalities ,as in this case – the issue on why in the world do we have a “part-time Philippine Ambassador to the US” – be exposed. Something fishy must be going on with such type of an arrangement. We need a new US Ambassador who will be full-time and will truly do the work of an Ambassador for the greater good of the Philippines especially at such a critical time as this.

    Hopefully too – somebody please confirm the news circulating among the Filipinos in the USA that the foreign exchange reserves of the Philippines (US$80 Billion) is being played around with by the PNoy Administration – not sure whether true or not.

  21. Mr. Tiglao, we already know who Mr. Cusia is. He is an Aquino loyalist extraordinary and will be that until death, I suppose. Clearly, Cusia’s appointment is an accommodation from PNoy’s administration if only to show the members of the Makati Business Club, his and his family’s appreciation for all the blind support by the MBC for any and all Aquino’s running for office in this country. I also suspect that this illegal accommodation was at Cusia’s request to be in New York at any time, date, week and month so he can be close to the specialists who can treat his Parkinson’s decease which he is suffering for quite some time already. Lots of folks today, including columnists, opinion writers, bloggers, the social netrwork have been talking about delicadeza. I think in the Philippines today, the word is gone forever especially if one works in government.