We wish to refer to Mr. Rigoberto Tiglao’s column in the 21 October 2013 issue of The Manila Times, where he shared with your readers what he claimed to be “accurate—and troubling” information about Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. and his role as our envoy to the United States.
In the spirit of fair play and responsible journalism, the Embassy of the Philippines here in Washington, D.C. would like to request your publication to allow us to clarify the points raised by Mr. Tiglao in his column entitled ‘Aquino’s part-time ambassador to the US.”
First, Mr. Tiglao’s assertion that Ambassador Cuisia has been spending most of his time in Manila to attend to his responsibilities as a member of the board of several corporations there is completely false. He could not possibly be in the Philippines for a week every month as he has been spending most of his time here in Washington, D.C. overseeing our relations with the US and other countries and territories that are under our jurisdiction.
Contrary to what Mr. Tiglao said, Ambassador Cuisia made only three trips to the Philippines in 2011, three in 2012 and four in 2013 since his assumption as the country’s top diplomat in the US two and a half years ago. All the trips were for short durations and can be verified with the Bureau of Immigration.
Three of the four trips Ambassador Cusia made this year were official in nature and were in connections with the annual meeting of the US-Philippines Society and the visit of a high-level US investment mission in January; the 8th Ambassadors, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour and the Annual Consultations with US Heads of Posts at the Department of Foreign Affairs in July; and the planned visits of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry just two weeks ago.
In April, the Ambassador went on leave to attend to personal matters in Manila. He took a few days off his official visit in January to fly to Sydney to see his ailing brother. The government did not spend a single centavo for these personal trips. All his travels had prior approval from the Department and followed the required procedures, including the appointment of a Charge d’ Affaires to assume his responsibilities during his absence.
As far as his corporate responsibilities are concerned, you may wish to know that Ambassador Cuisia does not have to be physically present in Manila to be able to participate in board meetings there. He takes part in these meetings via video or teleconferencing from his residence during his private time, before or after office hours.
Second, Mr. Tiglao’s concerns over possible conflict of interest resulting from Ambassador Cuisia’s continued involvement as a member of the board of such prestigious companies as Philamlife, Phinma, SM Prime Holdings, Manila Water Company and Covenant Car Company are exaggerated.
Ambassador Cuisia had expressed authorization from no less than the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for him to sit in these private sector corporations, which is a requirement of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Ambassador Cuisia could not be in violation of any law because there is none that prevents a presidential appointee like him from retaining his connections to the private sector. There could be no conflict of interest as none of the corporations Ambassador Cusia is involved in have dealings with the Embassy nor does the Embassy regulate, supervise or license any of these companies.
The Ambassador has always observed the highest standards of professionalism and integrity as the country’s envoy and has never used his position to give the companies he is connected with any undue advantage. Ambassador Cuisia’s private sector connections have also never prejudiced the performance of his official duties. The Ambassador, who is the alter ego of the President in the US, remains faithful to his oath to defend and uphold the national and public interest, at all times.
You may also wish to note that whatever income Ambassador Cuisia derives from his involvement in these companies are clearly reflected in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth that government officials have to submit on an annual basis. He also continues to pay his taxes as evidence by the Income Tax Returns filed annually with the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Third, Mr. Tiglao’s contention that the Embassy in Washington, D.C. has no achievements to speak of is utterly baseless and unfair not only to Ambassador Cuisia but to all of us here in the Embassy who have been working hard to promote and protect the interest of our country and our people.
You may wish to know that the Embassy has been recognized for attaining the No. 1 position in economic diplomacy among Philippine Foreign Service posts abroad. This was the result of the proactive efforts of the Embassy and the attached services from the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and Employment and Trade and Industry under the leadership of Ambassador Cuisia.
Through our collective efforts, the Embassy was also able to secure an additional funding of $30 million for the Partnership for Growth; address issues related to the downgrade by the US Federal Aviation Administration of the country’s Aviation Safety Classification from Category 1 to Category 2; monitor the implementation of the Millennium Challenge Account Philippine Compact; ensure Philippine eligibility for the 2nd Round of Debt Conversion under the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998; and coordinate the signing of the Philippines-US Agreement on Scientific and Technical Cooperation.
In Addition, the Ambassador continues to actively promote the Philippines in his economic diplomacy efforts across the US. He spearheaded the Philippine Investment Roadshow that had visited key American cities. He also ensured a successful Philippine participation in the Memphis in May International Festival.
In defense and security matters, the ambassador helped secure the turnover to the Philippine Navy of two Hamilton-class cutters; the increase in US foreign military financing for the Philippines from $11.97 million in 2011 to $27 million in 2012 to the proposed $50 million for 2014; the selection of the Philippines as one the first recipients of the Global Security Contingency Fund to help the address transnational and other emergent threats.
Since his assumption, Ambassador Cuisia has met with some 175 members of Congress to push various initiatives involving the Philippines, especially issues involving Filipino World War II veterans and trade cooperation to create jobs in the country. His visits to Capitol Hill have resulted in the issuance of Senate Resolution 481 that called for increased cooperation and enhanced bilateral security ties between the Philippines and the US and Senate Resolution 167 that reaffirms the strong support of the United States for the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific.
Ambassador Cusia has also actively been involved with issues involving the Filipino Community not only in Washington D.C. but all across the US and aims to meet with as many organizations and individuals as he could, even during weekends. He also sees to it that Filipino nationals in distress are immediately assisted and in some instances, personally attends to these cases. He was in New Orleans a few days after an explosion in an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico to make sure that the families of the three Filipinos who died and the three others who were seriously injured were taken care of.
Ambassador Cusia is one of the moving figures behind the US-Philippines Society that was organized to raise the profile of the Philippines in the US. He and Mrs. Maria Victoria J. Cusia also conceived the successful Filipino Youth Leaders Program, which is now on its second year of reconnecting Filipino-American youth with the Philippines.
For the information of Mr. Tiglao, Ambassador Cusia helped secure the visit of President Barack Obama to the Philippines this month and the US advance team had actually visited Manila to make the necessary arrangements. As most of us know, that visit, along with the visit to the three ASEAN countries, unfortunately had to be cancelled at the last minute because of the recent shutdown of the US federal government.
We find it lamentable that a former journalist like Mr. Tiglao failed to check his facts before writing a piece that is obviously intended to besmirch the reputation of Ambassador Cuisia and put doubts on the competence of the officers and staff of our Embassy here in Washington, D.C. The least that The Manila Times could do is to give us the opportunity to share our side with your readers.
ELMER G. CATO
First Secretary & Consul
Press & Information Section\Embassy of the Philippines\Washington, D.C.