The biggest Philippine official delegation that ever flew at taxpayers’ expense left for The Hague this month to persuade the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea to arbitrate the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) territorial dispute between China and the Philippines. China rejects arbitration, so the delegation ended at the Permanent Court of Arbitration doing a monologue. After two rounds of such monologue, we have yet to hear of what happened. The only thing we have heard so far is that the Filipino Left in Utrecht has expressed support for the Aquino government’s position vis-à-vis China. Given the government’s effort to conclude its peace effort with the National Democratic Front, this was a welcome development, but it had nothing to do with the government’s business at The Hague.
The arbitration issues are complex, and the Court needs time to thoroughly digest the position of the parties. The paperwork alone is daunting, and we cannot expect an instant ruling from the Court. In an unpublished paper (The South China Sea and the Philippines’ Core Interests), former Ambassador Alberto Encomienda points out that one of the tasks of the Court will be to go over an initial submission of 4,000 pages, supplemented with another 3,000 pages, from the Philippine government. The government therefore will have to invest a lot of time and resources in it.
President B. S. Aquino 3rd is now on the homestretch. He is inclined to imitate his late mother Cory who on her last year as president rushed all those flyovers in Manila without much planning just to leave something concrete after an embarrassingly empty term of six and a half years. Against China’s insistence on a purely bilateral approach, and some people’s proposal of a two-track approach, PNoy believes international arbitration will provide a solution to the South China/West Philippine Sea question. It may no longer be useful to say the approach is wrong. Let us just watch and see what it will bring.
But sending an unbelievably oversized delegation of senior Cabinet members and subordinate officials on a mission where only three or four officials are needed to present the Philippine position invites so much ridicule for PNoy’s lack of proportion or prudence. Packing the delegation with 36 high officials and staff and splashing their photo on the front pages of the conscript press made it look like a pure junket and robbed it of any serious character. How much did the taxpayer spend on it? The conscript press has not asked, and the government is not about to disclose it either. There were simply far too many top dogs who had no reason to be there.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had to make the government’s opening statement, and had to be there, assisted by Consul General Henry Bensurto and Assistant Secretary Ed de Vega from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Solicitor General Florin Hilbay had to make the legal presentation, assisted by a legal team that includes the American lawyers Paul Reichler and Lawrence Martin of the US law firm Foley Hoag and the American and British law professors who were presumably hired at great expense. But aside from them, there was absolutely no reason for the rest of the delegation to be there.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin could have stayed home to sort out all the infected defense contracts which have been exposed in the press, and now threaten to jeopardize the country’s entire defense modernization program.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima could have chosen to miss her “crash course in international law,” as she herself put it, and instead helped to prepare the charges against those involved in the Mamasapano massacre and in the manipulation and misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), involving PNoy’s otherwise untouchable allies.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa could have stayed home to advise PNoy not to get seduced by his business cronies and foreign advisers who seemed to believe that Grace Poe Llamanzares could overcome her incurable natural-born citizenship and residence defects under the Constitution, simply by hiring some former Chief Justice to make an inane interpretation of the Constitution, or by paying off some sitting Justices, should the case ever come before the High Court, in order to qualify the otherwise constitutionally unqualified aspirant as a presidential candidate in 2016.
Presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas could have gone to Utrecht to talk to communist leaders Jose Ma. Sison and Louie Jalandoni on a separate mission, without having to be part of the unmanageably large delegation, where he had no visible role to play.
Speaker Sonny Belmonte could have either teamed up with Llamas on a separate mission to Utrecht or stayed home to give PNoy a crash course on the citizenship provisions of the Constitution, or to convince him to allow the leaders of the ruling Liberal Party to hold a convention in order to decide who among them should be the party’s presidential candidate in the May 2016 elections.
As for Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Francis Jardeleza, who are known to be serious students of the South China/West Philippine Sea question, they could have respectfully declined the invitation to join the entourage simply by invoking the “separation of powers.” They could have invoked historical precedents.
A high official of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) recalls that in 1983, after the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., then President Ferdinand Marcos promptly asked then Chief Justice Enrique Fernando to head a commission to inquire into the assassination. Marcos apparently envisioned something similar to the Warren commission in the US that investigated the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Fernando quickly agreed, but Justice Claudio Teehankee Jr. and another associate justice reminded the Chief Justice that a Justice of the Supreme Court could only perform the official duties of a Supreme Court Justice, and may have to resign if he were to take on other extraneous duties. Fernando had to beg off because of this.
Even deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte should have stayed home and stuck to her routine duties in Malacañang. She had nothing to do at The Hague, which could not have been done better by Bensurto, De Vega or anyone actively assisting Hilbay. If the traveling press had any access to the proceedings, there would have been no need for a presidential spokesperson to give any story from the court a Malacañang spin.
But why such a mammoth delegation? Was it to provide the Philippine presentors with a built-in audience? This sounds a bit facetious, but not in the context of our recent experience. Not too long ago, PNoy went to the World Economic Summit at Davos, reportedly to be a plenary speaker. When he got there, however, he found out he had no such billing; he ended speaking to an empty small room away from the plenary hall. It was only his own entourage that saved the nation’s honor, by providing him with a ready-made audience.
However, the most astounding explanation for this mammoth delegation is that PNoy wanted to regain his “approval rating.” It was a desperate effort to arrest his popularity decline. His paid propaganda pollsters could no longer arrange any believable change in his low popularity rating. It has been one hell of a downhill drive — from the massive misuse and manipulation of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional, to the Yolanda disaster in Tacloban, which exposed Malacanang’s heartlessness and gross incompetence, to PNoy’s “stand-down order” to the military that led to the massacre of 44 Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, to the irrational effort to railroad the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law creating an exclusive Islamic enclave for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to the ongoing efforts to cook the next elections in favor of the administration.
The Cecile B. de Mille-type production was not meant for the Chinese nor for the arbitral court at The Hague but for the local audience. It was meant to improve PNoy’s propaganda rating. The ratings game is now PNoy’s only game, and he wants the entire nation to play it with him. He commissions a propaganda fraudster to tell him what he wants to hear, and as soon as he hears it, he believes what he hears, and he expects everyone else to believe it as well.
In the last few days, one propaganda fraudster announced that PNoy’s approval rating had bounced back, and PNoy was the first one to believe it, even though he has done nothing to undo or reverse or do penance for the many crimes and follies that had caused his fall in the people’s popular esteem.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling outlawing lump sums in the General Appropriations Act and directing the Executive to prosecute all those involved in the manipulation and misuse of the multi-billion-peso PDAF and DAP, PNoy has merely reincarnated all the prohibited lump sums in the current GAA, giving himself, according to Greco Belgica, the winning lead petitioner in the PDAF and the DAP cases, something like P1.3 trillion to play around with. Neither has PNoy ordered the filing of charges against anyone involved in the manipulation and misuse of the DAP and PDAF.
Despite his numerous impeachable offenses involving culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes and betrayal of public trust, he has remained unimpeached just because he has personally corrupted and taken effective control of the members of Congress, who alone have the power to impeach and remove the President.
Despite the fact that he was in direct command of Operation Exodus and had given the order that led to the death of the SAF commandos, PNoy was never touched by the Philippine National Police, and the two Houses of Congress in their inquiries. The people’s anger has not abated, so how could PNoy’s approval rating ever bounce back?
Using the mammoth delegation to The Hague to claim that PNoy has decided to fight the Chinese can only deceive the naïve. If PNoy is serious about stopping China’s reclamation activities, for instance, he could have clamped down by now on the illegal extraction and carting away of shiploads of black sand from the coastal provinces of Luzon to the Chinese reclamation projects in the disputed territory. But he has not done this. He has simply decided to play the surveys.
He has even succeeded in making himself believe that because of her allegedly high rating in the propaganda surveys, Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares may be considered a possible presidential candidate even though she is disqualified under the Constitution because she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen and lacks the 10-year residence requirement as such citizen, immediately receding the election