Saul of Tarsus was first struck by lightning, thrown off his horse and lost his sight on the road to Damascus before he heard the Lord’s voice, asking—“Saul, why are you persecuting me?” This was how he became Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles.
Nothing half as eventful happened to President Duterte when, according to him, he heard God’s voice on his flight back to Manila from Japan, saying, “If you don’t stop (cursing), I will bring down the plane now.” DU30 obviously had fun telling this story. He apparently wanted to test his audience’s gullibility. That’s the first thing that came to my mind upon reading the story.
Pardon my skepticism. As a boy, I used to listen to an old fellow who wove all sorts of stories. One day his wife walked in and told us “not to listen to all the man’s tall tales.” He got back at her saying she was such a fool to presume the boys believed any of his stories, which he himself did not. It would have been more plausible, I thought, if DU30 had claimed that God had asked him to stop the summary killings, which were far more chilling than his cursing, and that he had promised to do so.
Did God have to speak to Digong?
Time alone will tell how this alleged “locution,” (this is the proper term for a “private revelation received internally or heard rather than seen,”) would shape his personal conduct or his presidency. If DU30 finally stops cursing those who criticize him, because he wants to be true to his alleged promise to God, then we should probably grant that, perhaps, God had, indeed, spoken to him. We should then look to his transformation, just like Saul’s transformation from the persecutor of Christians into Christ’s loyal apostle.
But claims of this sort, especially from self-proclaimed soothsayers and seers, tend to leave me cold. I have no problem believing that God spoke to Saul to stop his cruel persecution of his followers, and to the Pharaoh, through Moses, to end the oppression of his people, but I cannot bring myself to believe that a President needs God to tell him to stop talking like a thug and begin talking like a mature and civilized gentleman.
Even from my poor rustic island-province background, I think it is a simple case of proper breeding and good manners. You start with good parents, a modest home, a good primary education, and you are on your way. Robert Fulghum says it best in his widely quoted work, “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” “Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice, and even the little seed inside the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.” The list continues. But if you did not learn any of the basic wisdom in it at kinder, it may be too late to learn that now.
I am more inclined to believe that DU30’s three-day exposure to Japan’s formal and polite society smoothed off some of his rough edges, and his conversations with the highly urbane and gentle Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed him that power should be exercised without brutality; that one does not have to wear it like an unsheathed sword in order to impress anybody. An intensely pro-American leader whose Japanese nationalism shines through his manners and government policies, Abe must have inspired his guest to walk back a little from his rabidly anti-American stance, which he put on in full display during his four-day visit to China earlier.
Mending ties with the US
In Tokyo, DU30 did not curse US President Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon or the European Union. And nobody considered it a major failing of the visit. To the contrary, many noticed, with approval, that he had begun exploring the possibility of repairing his damaged ties with the US on the eve of the US presidential elections. He announced the naming of the public relations man Babe Romualdez as a “special envoy” to Washington, and he was reported to be open to a possible meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Summt in Peru next month, to repair the breach created by his public cursing of Obama in Davao, and Obama canceling their proposed meeting on the sidelines of the Asean summit in Vientiane last September.
Romualdez’s “appointment” as “special envoy” is highly inappropriate, because two months ago DU30 “appointed” retired Ambassador Marciano Paynor as the Philippine ambassador to Washington, D.C. This was not the same as his appointment of former President Fidel V. Ramos as “special envoy” to China before his state visit there. In Beijing, the post of Chief of Mission remains vacant until now; the Embassy is run by the Deputy Chief of Mission as Charge d’Affaires. Even so, Ramos was left out of DU30’s entourage during his state visit and has not been allowed to go to Beijing.
How could DU30 have a special envoy and an ambassador to Washington the same time? Where does the work of one end, and the work of the other begin? Which one should the US government recognize as the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Republic of the Philippines? This is a completely unnecessary confusion, emanating from the President himself. DU30 announced Paynor’s “appointment” as ambassador to the US just as he announced the “appointment” of Chito Sta. Romana as ambassador to China, and Teodoro Locsin Jr. as Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and a few others, without first submitting the nominee’s name to the receiving government and to the Commission on Appointments.
These are two separate indispensable procedures, which were both breached.
Basic lessons in diplomacy
It is a matter of elementary courtesy that the consent of the receiving state (agrément in French) is secured before an ambassadorial appointment is announced. The announcement is best made simultaneously by the sending and receiving governments to avoid a situation where an appointment announced without the agrément of the receiving government and the concurrence of the Commission on Appointments may ultimately be rejected by the receiving government or the CA. This is elementary, Dr. Watson.
But DU30 appears to have adopted the practice of announcing ambassadorial appointments to specific posts, without first securing the agrément of the receiving state or the confirmation of the CA. And Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. seems too inept to advise the President not to be contemptuous of basic diplomatic and constitutional practice.
Not only has Paynor’s name not been submitted to the US government or to the CA; it is also reported that DU30 may have changed his mind about his “appointment,” and intends to ask Paynor to chair the preparations for the Philippines’ hosting of the APEC summit next year.
Paynor, who had served as ambassador to Israel and Cyprus and consul-general in Los Angeles and San Francisco, used to be the chief of protocol under Presidents Ramos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He was involved in the APEC summit in Subic in 1996 and in Pasay City in 2015, and appears to be the only one with sufficient experience to run this particular conference.
For his part, Romualdez is the author of a column in the Philippine Star, and also known to do public relations work for the US Embassy in Manila. He is known more as a “media mechanic,” and although he has done well for the US government in the local media, it is another matter whether or not he would be as effective working for the Philippine government in the US. Two uncles of Babe Romualdez had served as Philippine ambassador to the US during the Marcos years—Eduardo Z. Romualdez, who used to be Secretary of Finance, and Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, who was Governor of Leyte, and also served as ambassador to China and Saudi Arabia.
The obvious effort to find someone with some connection to the US establishment is the clearest indication that despite his inflammatory anti-American rhetoric, DU30 is trying to find an opportunity to mend ties with the US under the new President who would be elected on November 8 and inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017. Whoever he or she turns out to be, DU30’s problem will not simply be with the new administration, but first of all with the Filipino-American community which used to be intensely pro-DU30, but which has turned around since he started lambasting the US.
What happens if it’s Hillary?
In a Clinton presidency, an active Fil-American group of close Clinton supporters, led by the Bicolana billionaire and New York socialite Loida Nicolas Lewis, will not mind making sure that Vice President Leni Robredo, a fellow Sorsogena, gets noticed by the first woman President of the US. Some American analysts already see Hillary as another Golda Meir, the first woman prime minister of Israel; she would be much tougher to crack than either Bill Clinton or Obama.
In a Trump presidency, which bookmakers are not completely writing off at this point, given the lessons of the Truman-Dewey polling experience, and recently the Brexit, where most pollsters failed to correctly predict the results, and the latest FBI exposé on Clinton’s emails, DU30 could find many things in common with Trump. But this will not take care of his problem with the more than 3 million Filipino-Americans, many of whom have been turned off by his rabid anti-American rhetoric.
The repair of Philippine-American relations will be a major undertaking for the DU30 government. This would require not only the end of his cursing and extrajudicial killings, but above all, the return of the rule of law, the stability of international agreements with the Philippine government, and the strengthening of institutions. DU30 cannot hope to do this alone. He will need the active support of a competent Cabinet, particularly in the area of defense and national security and foreign affairs. He will need men and women with sufficient gravitas and experience to do the daily task associated with this effort.
For defense and national security, the President would be well served if he could find someone with the qualities of Juan Ponce Enrile during his prime, before he led the 1986 EDSA revolt. For foreign affairs, he needs someone who has sufficient experience in diplomacy and statecraft, preferably one who has dealt previously with the Clintons if Hillary becomes the President, and who may be able to speak to Trump, if he becomes the President. For this position, someone like former President and currently Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Gloria Macpagal Arroyo would probably do a good job, if she is interested.
IN MEMORIAM. As the nation remembers and pays homage to its dead, we join our readers in praying for all those who have gone before us, especially those who are unremembered, whose lives, as T. S. Eliot said, are unwelcome, whose death unmentioned in the Times. I want to ask special prayers for Rodolfo Lerios, 79, who was recently called to the Lord after many years of faithful service bringing to readers homes and offices their daily copy of The Manila Times. Thank you very much.