By bypassing the foreign affairs secretary in the crucial foreign-policy episode confronting the Republic, its territorial claims against the People’s Republic of China, President Aquino has debased the Department of Foreign Affairs, adding to the growing list of institutions he has damaged.
To salvage his dignity, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario has no choice but to resign his post, unless of course he relishes it so much. How can he delude himself and remain at his post, when Mr. Aquino, together with his secret special envoy Antonio Trillanes and one-time special envoy Mar Roxas, had practically broadcast to the planet that he had been merely this administration’s equivalent of a PR officer?
Other than Mr. Aquino himself stepping down, the only way to repair the damage done to the DFA is for the President to replace Del Rosario with somebody whom he can really fully trust and demonstrate that confidence with complete certainty to the community of nations.
How can Del Rosario do his job as foreign affairs secretary—theoretically the President’s alter ego in facing the world—when foreign governments would now be always wondering if this official, and not a secret or a special envoy, really were the Philippine President’s representative?
Mr. Aquino ignored Del Rosario as chief foreign-policy officer not once, but twice. Forget the misnomer “back channel” for the megalomaniac Trillanes. He was authorized by Mr. Aquino as his special, if secret, envoy to negotiate with the Chinese regarding our territorial claims. There is no question that he was Mr. Aquino’s special envoy as both he and the Palace spokesperson said he was successful in his talks with the Chinese.
And then, quite amazingly, even with the Trillanes boo-boo, Mr. Aquino again bypassed Del Rosario by designating his losing vice-presidential candidate Roxas as special envoy to meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. The awkwardness of his role was not lost on Roxas when he smiled sarcastically to say in a televised press conference: “But I am the secretary of the interior.” Roxas said his mission was to deliver Mr. Aquino’s message to Xi. What was the message? That the Philippines maintains its claims over Panatag Shoal. Mr. Aquino didn’t trust Del Rosario to deliver that message?
I cannot imagine how Del Rosario can face again, say, Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing, to whom at a meeting in July he pompously declared in reference to our Panatag Shoal claim, “What is ours is ours.” Ma—also the deputy executive secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—probably had a hard time suppressing her laughter as she most probably had been briefed that Mr. Aquino’s special envoy Trillanes had informed Chinese officials that “nobody cares about the shoal” in the Philippines.
I cannot imagine how Del Rosario can face his counterparts in Asean, when at a meeting in July he practically scolded them, especially the Cambodian foreign affairs minister, that they were reneging on their responsibility to support the Philippine move for a multilateral approach to its members’ territorial disputes with China. It turns out now that by sending Trillanes to China as his special envoy, Mr. Aquino believed in the bilateral approach, that the problem could be resolved by China and the Philippines alone.
The foreign affairs secretaryship has historically been the premier position in the Cabinet, so much so that it is considered the preferred post of a winning president’s running mate. Thus, Vice Presidents Elpidio Quirino, Carlos Garcia, Emmanuel Pelaez, Salvador Laurel, and Teofisto Guingona were all foreign affairs secretaries. If not vice presidents, most foreign affairs secretaries were intellectual giants like Claro M. Recto, Narciso Ramos, and Blas Ople. The DFA is also considered the government’s premier department, with the key officers being ambassadors, each of whom share only with the President the distinction of being addressed as “Your Excellency.”
Mr. Aquino has made it the laughing stock of the bureaucracy, with its head called a traitor and incompetent in talks with a foreign power by a former coup plotter representing the President.
So what’s new, after all? Mr. Aquino in his 27 months in power has managed to damage key institutions of the Republic, among them:
• The Congress, which he got to remove a chief justice on a non-impeachable offense, just to take out somebody appointed by his predecessor.
• The Office of the Ombudsman, whose head distorted bank data to falsely portray a former chief justice as having enormous, stolen wealth.
• The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Anti-Money Laundering Council, which ignored the theft by legislators of a former chief justice’s confidential bank accounts.
• The Supreme Court, to which Mr. Aquino appointed as chief an inexperienced lawyer with questionable qualifications, since she had demonstrated a remarkable willingness to comply with his wishes.
• The Bureau of Internal Revenue, which for the first time in our history, has been deployed to go after the administration’s perceived enemies.
• The Department of the Interior and Local Government and the National Police Commission, whose former head and chair was reduced to a figurehead with no control over the crucial Philippine National Police, and which brazenly will be used as the platform for Roxas’ ambition to be president in 2016.
• The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, whom he ordered to issue implementing orders that contradicted the Mining Law and threatens to sabotage the mining industry in the Philippines.
Include in the list the mainstream media, which he has made into the amen corner of the Cult of the Yellow Ribbon.