President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s sending an emissary to attend the funeral rites of South African leader Nelson Mandela instead of going himself is a mistake. A very big mistake.
Most of the world’s leaders will be attending the event this week, including the likes of incumbent President Barack Obama along with several other past presidents of the United States.
For the United Kingdom, not only is Prime Minister David Cameron expected to attend, but Prince Charles as well.
In fact, the list of world leaders expected to head for South Africa reads like a who’s who of presidents and prime ministers. Such countries as China, Cuba, Iran, and Israel, among so many others, will be sending their top leaders, and why not?
Mandela was no ordinary leader of a people. He was a true titan in the world stage, one who set an example that few others have the capacity to emulate. Mandela showed the world that reconciliation between the worst of enemies was not only possible, but achievable. His homeland of South Africa is proof of this.
There are few personalities who can bring together the kind of gathering that Mandela’s funeral can. We can count with the fingers of one hand the number of fallen leaders whose funerals drew the top leaders of the world to attend.
In that short list are the likes of Pope John Paul II, Princess Diana of Wales, and President John F. Kennedy.
President Aquino’s spokesmen like to say that under his leadership, the Philippines has become a respected world player by virtue of the solid economic growth experienced by the country since he took over the reins of power.
In sending a representative to South Africa instead of going himself, we have to wonder if the country’s chief executive sees himself as not belonging to the top echelons of presidents and prime ministers who matter.
This is not to belittle Vice President Jejomar Binay, who will go in place of the president. This would not be the first time that the vice president has represented the president abroad, and Mr. Binay has generally done a credible job of serving as Mr. Aquino’s personal ambassador in the past. But Mr. Aquino should realize that his absence at the funeral rites of Mandela will likely raise some eyebrows.
The odd thing is that Malacañang just announced that President Aquino will be going to Tokyo very soon to attend the Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit. Surely the Philippines’ paying its respects to the great Nelson Mandela takes precedence over a mere commemorative summit.
One therefore has to wonder of there is an iota of truth to the rumors floating around that there are elements within the Armed Forces of the Philippines who are getting restive, and who may be planning some kind of action against the Aquino administration.
The president must also understand that he is missing a golden opportunity to personally thank the leaders of all the countries of the world who extended assistance to the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Arrangements for Mr. Binay to leave for South Africa may have already been made, but if Mr. Aquino can reconsider his decision to skip the funeral rites of Mr. Mandela, he should do so.
It is not yet too late to do the right thing, for the Republic of the Philippines to honor the memory of the anti-apartheid leader who made the world a better place. This it can do by sending its top leader, not just an emissary.