Foreign Affairs

METRO PHILIPPINES
Typography

(Noynoy didn’t say anything about foreign affairs in his SONA. Perhaps it was just as well because it is in that area where, in my view, he has been an abject failure.) Many people have said that President Noynoy Aquino waxed sentimental and was about to cry near the end of his very lengthy SONA last week.

I have a different take and just to make sure my eyes and ears were not deceiving me, I watched again the video of that portion of his speech a number of times just to be sure. It was quite clear that he was about to cough during that precise moment, when he was supposed to have fought back tears, when he said “sa lahat po ng inabot natin, ako po’y masasabi kong kuntento na ako”. Then, he let go his cough. There certainly was no welling of tears in his eyes at that time or thereafter.

As a former smoker, I know whereof I speak. I have suffered the same experience when in the middle of a sentence, I would feel the onset of a cough, an itching in the throat, suppress it till the end of the sentence, and then cough. No big deal! I am not at all insinuating anything with this observation. And so, I will just leave it at that.

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What caught my attention towards the end of his speech was when he said he was confident that when he’s gone, “many will take my place and continue what we have started”. Then, after citing a number of names, he asked, “May duda ba na dadalhin tayo ni Senate President Franklin Drilon at Speaker Belmonte sa tamang landas?” (Is there any doubt that Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Belmonte will lead us along the right path?) That sounded like a virtual endorsement of either one to replace him.

Belmonte, as far as I know, has a long record of public service untainted by graft or corruption. His long association, however, with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa as his Quezon City administrator, some say, may well put a blot on his record. Drilon, on the other hand, has proven himself time and again as an unreliable long-term political partner, the quintessential survivalist, like the proverbial bamboo that always bends with the wind. It wasn’t too long ago when he was one of the closest allies of Ms. Gloria Arroyo. His despicable behavior during the recent Senate hearing on the DAP has also not escaped the attention of the people.

And there is, of course, the fact that Noynoy is not a good judge of character, as evidenced by his choice of so many inept, incompetent and corrupt members of his official family. What is worse is that he doesn’t want to get rid of any of them. So, if indeed what he said was a virtual endorsement of Drilon and Belmonte, how much weight would I give to it? None!

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As a former foreign service officer, I was left askance when Noynoy didn’t say anything about foreign affairs. Perhaps it was just as well because it is in that area where, in my view, he has been an abject failure. That may sound like a sweeping statement, but as the country’s chief diplomat, he is responsible for the decisions he has taken on matters relating to foreign affairs, foremost among which is the appointment of unabashedly pro-US Albert “Super Amboy” del Rosario who doesn’t even speak or understand our national language.

Another is sending as envoy to Washington businessman Jose “Amboy” Cuisia, also a dyed-in-the-wool pro-US, who has deep connections with American businesses. Result? We now have the highly disadvantageous (to us) Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US. Fortunately, the agreement has already been challenged in the Supreme because it is in direct contravention of Section 25, Article XVIII of the Constitution, to wit: “Section 25.

After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.” (Underscoring ours.)

Noynoy is also now facing a couple of impeachment complaints due to EDCA. Another is the rather ambivalent approach we have towards our relations with China. One day, we say we want to talk with China. Then, the next day we do things like concluding the EDCA with the US and later, following the US line, urging Japan to amend her pacifist constitution which is anathema to China, certainly to the Philippines as well, and other countries in the region occupied and abused by the Japanese during WWII.

Is it any wonder then that foreign secretary Del Rosario said that Noynoy’s not mentioning in his SONA anything about foreign policy was a “great strategy”? Yeah, right! He also said he was glad Noynoy did not cite the South China Sea dispute as it might violate the sub judice rule. He was referring to the arbitration case we filed before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Where has he been all this time? He hasn’t heard Noynoy merrily violating that rule several times while defending the unconstitutional DAP? A Motion for Reconsideration had been filed earlier by the government before the Supreme Court.

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Our peripatetic foreign secretary went to Djerba, an island in southeastern Tunisia near the Libyan border, where he reportedly stayed for only a few hours, to “oversee” the mass evacuation of our nationals now in conflict-torn Libya. Congressman Walden Bello called Del Rosario’s trip “mock heroics”. He blamed the DFA for the present dangerous situation faced by our OFWs there, allegedly due to the department’s “slowness to act”. He added that the order for our nationals to leave Libya came a bit late. (DFA spokesman Charles Jose, however, said the advisory for Filipinos to leave Libya was issued two months ago.) On the other hand, Manila Standard Today columnist and former ambassador Andy del Rosario (he swears he is not related to the foreign secretary), said the DFA chief’s trip “makes for good pogi points but it’s something he does not have to do if a well thought out policy is worked out with the Labor Department.”

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Peace adviser Teresita Deles was reported to have been lobbying in Norway for the nomination of Noynoy for a Nobel Peace Prize. What I didn’t know was that he had actually been nominated by the Green Party of Norway. The nomination, however, is reportedly opposed by the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EANP) and has written to Green Party leader Rasmus Hansson, member of the Norwegian parliament, to withdraw the nomination.

According to an Inquirer news report, the EANP “supports the Aquino administration’s initiatives to end hostilities in Mindanao, but reports of continuing atrocities in the country indicated that nominating Aquino would not ‘reflect the intent and the spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize’.” Well, there is no denying the fact that hostilities in Mindanao have not stopped with the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).

To begin with, it is not yet a done deal. There is also no guarantee that once the agreement is finally implemented, peace will ensue in Mindanao. Many stakeholders have been left out of the negotiations and have said they will not support the CAB. Here, I am reminded of our decision a few years ago to ignore the invitation of the Nobel Peace Prize committee to send a representative to the annual awarding ceremony.

A Chinese dissident was to be given the Prize and China didn’t like that. The impression I got was that we did not want to antagonize China because we were pleading with her at the time to spare the life of a convicted Filipino drug mule about to be executed. China had him executed anyway. In retrospect, was it the right decision or not?

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Reminders (for Noynoy): 1) Filing of charges against officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) during Arroyo’s illegitimate regime. Noynoy himself said on several occasions that there is documentary evidence to prove the venalities in the past in that agency. That was four long years ago. (Ironically, one of the biggest scandals to hit President Noynoy Aquino’s administration is the alleged corruption in the NFA and the pork barrel scam in the Department of Agriculture headed by Proceso Alcala who is still sticking like a leech to his post notwithstanding the appointment of former senator Francis “Mr. Noted” Pangilinan as his virtual replacement.

Noynoy’s first appointee to head the NFA is also reportedly about to be investigated, along with others, for alleged graft and corruption during his tenure in the agency.) 2) Investigation of reported anomalies in the GSIS during the watch of Winston Garcia and order his successor, Robert “Pretty Boy” Vergara, to file the proper charges, if warranted, against the former. Noynoy should also order Vergara to report to him on COA’s findings that: (a) He received the obscenely excessive compensation of P16.36 million in 2012 making him the highest paid government servant then.

The latest COA report also has Vergara as the highest paid for 2013 with P12.09 million; and (b) That over a year ago, at least P4.13 billion in contributions and loan payments made by 12 government offices to the GSIS had not been credited to the offices as of Dec. 31, 2011. COA also said at the time that the amount of unrecorded remittances could go much higher because only 36 agencies have so far responded out of the 186 that were sent confirmation requests by government auditors.

Of the 36, 27 confirmed “discrepancies” in their premium and loan payments ledgers when compared with those of the GSIS. There are three questions being raised when remittances, or parts thereof, of government agencies are not recorded by the GSIS on time: a) Where are these huge sums “parked” in the meantime?; b) Do they earn interest?; and c) To where (whom?) does the interest, if any, go? Pray tell, Mr. Vergara, what is the present status of these funds, including those that may have been remitted since and not yet recorded by the GSIS?

I believe it is time for COA to follow up on what Vergara has done on the above findings so that affected GSIS members would know the status of their contributions! In this connection, I would like to address this question to Mesdames Grace Pulido Tan and newly CA-confirmed Heidi Mendoza of COA: “Is GSIS head Robert “Pretty Boy” Vergara one of the sacred cows in Noynoy’s coterie whom you are afraid to investigate?”

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Today is the 102nd day of the eighth year of Jonas Burgos’ disappearance. Fourteen weeks ago, Jonas’ mother, Edita, reminded Noynoy in a letter of his promise to conduct a “dedicated and exhaustive investigation” on her son’s enforced disappearance. “Our hope was anchored on your promise to do what you could ‘on the basis of evidence’ when I personally pleaded for your help. This was almost four years ago, May 2010,” she wrote.

Mr. President, Sir?