In keeping with this writer’s time-honored practice of never criticizing his own government when he is outside the country or criticizing the President when he is on a state or official visit somewhere, I shall refrain from saying anything here which should be said only when President Duterte returns from his current visit to China, where we wish him all the success for himself and his party.
But since he said he would ask China to help him in his war on drugs, where the killing of now close to 4,000 drug suspects, has put him in the eye of a raging storm before the international community, I would urge him to ask President Xi Jinping to help him put an end to the speculation that a lot of the drugs processed in the Philippines are coming from China, and that the Philippines is merely a big transshipment point of manufactured drugs flooding the rest of Asia.
I would urge him in particular to try to ascertain the more disturbing report that the proliferation of dangerous drugs in the country is the result of a deliberate effort on the part of certain ideological groups to “destroy the moral fiber of young Filipinos, who are likely to grow up as American lackeys.”
Finally, I would urge him when he comes home to disprove yet another report, far more disturbing than anything I have heard, that the present war of drugs is intended to eradicate the competition to those who are in real control of the illegal drugs trade, rather than the drug menace itself.
Indeed, it would be extremely helpful if he could restate President Marcos’s request to Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou En Lai in 1975, that the Chinese Communist Party stop and desist from sending logistical and materiel aid to the CPP/NPA/NDF, which was trying to bring down the government.
But this would be too much to expect. As DU30 is now in coalition with the CPP/NPA/NDF, it is not realistic to expect him to discourage any cooperation between the Chinese communist party and the CPP/NPA/NDF. But he could probably indicate that his “independent foreign policy” would not allow the involvement of external communist parties in the country’s internal affairs.
That would be good enough.
Diplomacy and public information
How PDU30 could strengthen his capability to confront the challenges brought about by his war on drugs is probably something we could discuss. There are two powerful resources that should be fully exploited —-public information, and diplomacy—- and they have not been exploited fully until now. This is regrettable.
Long before the current diplomatic typhoon hit, I tried to alert some people in the government on the need to fully utilize these resources, but I failed to elicit any response. I thought I had seen a little of the past and could sense what was coming and I tried to raise the alert. As a diplomatic reporter and columnist for six years, the government’s principal spokesman for 10 years, a legislator who ran the floor for five Senate presidents, chaired the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for a while, and led the Philippine delegation to several international parliamentary conferences in various parts of the world for 15 years, a critic to several presidents for 30 years, I thought I had a sense of what to expect, and I tried to share it.
Not having any access to the new kid on the block, I tried to reach out through this column and some friends within DU30’s circle. I wrote about what I thought the new power-holders should learn from, but it looks like the new power-holders never read what I wrote. Then the typhoon hit. And what I had thought would happen began to unfold. We are now in the middle of it.
An international storm
Unlike super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, when various foreign governments and international organizations came down to Tacloban to volunteer aid, the President is getting the toughest beating from abroad and someone on the International Criminal Court is already threatening to try him on at least 50 cases of human rights abuses.
He has succeeded in provoking the international community with just his vulgar and offensive speech, and it looks like the solid support of 38 percent of the voters who had voted for him in the May elections has begun to shake.
The propaganda fraudsters have been quick to come up with alleged surveys showing he remains as popular as ever. The earlier claim of 91 percent approval rating has been shaved down to 84 percent. This is still high, given the battering he has received from foreign governments, international organizations, and the world press. But unless your IQ is below room temperature, you can believe it only at your own risk.
A servile press or an honest one?
No president wants or needs a bad press—-especially after only 100 days in office. So DU30 needs all the help he can get. He needs an honest press, not a servile or lickspittle one. Given the way he uses power, there is a tendency for many in the media to spew saucy panegyrics even without any provocation, just to be on his good side. This does not help at all. It distorts the truth and gives the President a false sense of his ground support.
In the early days of martial law, after Marcos normalized the operations of the mass media, there was a tendency on the part of editorial writers to praise Marcos even when there was no reason or need to do so. This greatly disturbed me as press secretary and presidential spokesman that I had to call on the editors to suspend the opinion columns until they were able to avoid inflicting “unnecessary and incompetent praise” upon their readers and the government as well.
I explained that what the government needed was an honest reporting and analysis of government, not a fawning caricature it. The editors agreed, and they suspended the opinion columns until the dean of Filipino columnists at the time, Teodoro F. Valencia, on behalf of the columnists, promised to avoid any kind of lickspittle journalism.
Perhaps DU30 needs something like this to avoid a stampede of panegyrists trying to drown their readers in a Niagara Falls of unnecessary and incompetent praise of the President. Communications Secretary Martin Andanar could show the way by not breaking into tears whenever he reads an unpolished draft of DU30’s speech, and by never calling him the “greatest president” the country ever had.
I have no doubt that DU30 will survive this medicine.
Using the foreign service well
Secondly, DU30 should try to use the foreign service to his utmost advantage. We have a fairly strong career foreign service, with competent and brilliant men and women who are all waiting to be commissioned by the President. They should be properly utilized in the national interest. All they need is recognition and respect for the professional integrity of the service. Many presidents have failed in this. DU30 has to do better than his predecessors.
Under the Constitution, “the President shall nominate, and with the consent of the Commission of Appointments, appoint the heads of the executive departments, ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, or officers of the armed forces from the rank of colonel or naval captain, and other officers whose appointments are vested in him in this Constitution.”
Under the 1991 Foreign Service Act, all officers and employees of the Department of Foreign Affairs who have reached the age of 65 shall be “compulsorily and automatically retired” while non-career chiefs of mission who were 70 years old and above when the law was passed on Sept. 19, 1991 could continue in office until June 30, 1992, unless sooner removed by the appointing authority.
This means that after June 30, 1992, no person who is 70 years old may be legally appointed as ambassador to any post. This has not prevented previous presidents from appointing as ambassadors non-career individuals who were well past 70 though. DU30 could make the same mistake, if he does not watch out. There is no need for him to do so.
The Davide case
By far the most controversial case is that of former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., who assumed the post of Permanent Representative to the United Nations, after retiring from the Supreme Court at 70, in violation of the Foreign Service Act, and without being confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, in violation of the Constitution. This should not happen again.
In 2006, I opposed Davide’s nomination for his being overaged, while Sen. Jinggoy Estrada opposed it for other reasons. Davide was bypassed by the CA twice because of our opposition, but after the second bypass, he flew straight to New York to assume the UN post, without having been confirmed by the constitutional body.
Malacañang justified the unconstitutional breach by saying that since the UN is not a foreign country, Davide’s appointment did not need any CA confirmation. This was absolute nonsense because, to begin with, Davide was not qualified by reason of age, and the Constitution requires all “ambassadorial appointments” to be confirmed by the CA.
Will Teddyboy make it?
The UN post could become the subject of renewed controversy following DU30’s nomination of Teodoro Locsin Jr. as the Philippines’ permanent representative to the world organization. It is not known whether, following the Davide example, Locsin will no longer be made to go through the CA. But whether or not he does, he will have to confront a mounting signature campaign against his proposed posting.
Started by one Joy Quio, an online petition asking the UN to deny Locsin the UN post because of “his blatant justification of anti-Semitic lingo of the President of the Philippines,” has now collected 11,317 signatures—-3,683 short of 15,000.
Locsin’s offense is that after DU30 likened the victims of the local drug killings to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Locsin tweeted, “You may find this hard to believe but the Nazis were not al wrong, give or take killing millions of the wrong people. Keep an open mind.” He apologized to the Jews after DU30 did. But it looks like his countrymen may be less forgiving than the Jews.
Whatever happens to Locsin, DU30 will have to be more discriminating in his choice of ambassadors. While he has the power to appoint his envoys, he has to make sure that only the truly deserving are made ambassadors. Where career ambassadors are already in place, he should not replace them with non-career before their tour of duty is over. If this happened in a place like Paris or London, the diplomatic community will have a hard time understanding why.
And it should never happen that the President announces the “appointment” of an ambassador before the receiving government has been asked to receive him, and before the CA has confirmed his nomination. This is to show respect to the receiving government, and to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment in case that government rejects the nomination. The normal procedure is for the sending and the receiving governments to announce the ambassador’s appointment at the same time. These are small details, but unless one knows them one may not be prepared for the larger things.