Contrary to the reports of a servile mainstream press, President Aquino’s trip to the World Economic Forum 2013 (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland was a dud, with even the most important invest-in-the-Philippines aspect of his trip—a meeting with Volkswagen officials purportedly to announce a major investment in the Philippines—unceremoniously cancelled.
Aquino’ performance in the sole WEF session he was invited to participate in—a panel discussion on “Resilience in Diversity” by five Asean leaders—was mediocre, and he was totally outclassed in that session by the articulate Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
It wasn’t’ cheap for taxpayers though: the P49 million Malacañang claimed as the cost of the trip actually excluded the fees —$160,000 for Aquino’s Cabinet members who were there—the WEF charges for participants.
Aquino’s official delegation of 63 was one of the biggest in Davos, dwarfing the lean entourages—especially customary at
Davos—of UK’s David Cameron, Russia’s Dimitry Medvedev and Germany’s Angela Merkel.
However, of the 63 nine were Cabinet officials, the protocol officer, and inexplicably, National Competitiveness vice chairman for the private sector Guillermo Luz. Most of Aquino’s “Official Delegation” consisted of his personal staff. Average cost for one personnel joining the President in an official trip to Europe has been computed at $50,000.
Aquino was probably the only head of state who brought with him not just one of his Palace cooks but two, Jeovy de Guzman and Alexis John Cortes, bolstering reports that the President is finicky about the food he eats. One member of the official delegation had the designation “Food Tester,” while another’s work was solely as a “Photo Transmitter.” (This is reported in the government’s website, gov.ph).
Imagining he would be Cameron or Merkel addressing the 2,000 Davos participants, two of his delegation were teleprompter technicians. However, he got to use a teleprompter only at his departure speech – before mostly Philippine embassy staff.
Aquino brought with him three speech writers, apparently for each of the three WEF sessions the Palace announced 22 January he would be addressing: “Informal Gathering of World Economic Leaders : Defining the Imperatives for 2013,” “Global Physical Infrastructure,” and “Resilience in Diversity.”
The first two sessions are complete fictions in Palace press-release writers’ minds. There was a session on anti-corruption,
“Turning Transparency into Growth,” but Aquino wasn’t invited there.
There was indeed the “Resilience in Diversity” session on the WEF’s last day. Aquino was just one of five panelists that included the Malaysian Prime Minister, Myanmar’s vice president, Lao’s deputy prime minister, and Thailand’s deputy prime minister.
This session actually was the only official WEF activity attended by Aquino. Yet Aquino’s propagandists have practically said
nothing about how he did in that session. Neither have they released the video of this session.
Why? Because Aquino performed very poorly, displaying his mediocrity when among his Asean peers.
Aquino, a source claimed, managed to mumble only a few sentences, with Malaysia’s Razak – who had been in two other sessions, one in which he was the sole speaker—dominating the session. Worse, in one of the few statements he made at the discussion, Aquino appeared to be the sole American lackey in Asean, saying that he welcomed America’s “pivot” towards Asia and Asean in recent years. He claimed that the Philippines regards this as one way of “checking and balancing China’s influence in the region.”
The other panelists rushed to criticize Aquino’s antagonism towards China and pointed out that Asean countries shouldn’t favor one super-power over another. Much of the sessions’ time was consumed by the panelists’ explanation that Asean countries must be friends with every country. Obviously criticizing Aquino’s anti-China stance, one panelist noted that both China and the US are key markets for Asean.
Palace propagandists as well as mainstream media have been repeating the claim that Aquino was the keynote speaker in the WEF activity “Partnering Against Corruption Initiative.”
There was no such session or activity in Davos 2013 called “Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI). That term is the
name about two dozen CEOs of global European companies gave to the meetings they agreed in 2004 to regularly convene to share and document experiences in dealing with corporate corruption. Because they met in the Davos meeting in 2004 and are regular WEF participants, they were allowed to carry the Forum’s trademark in the group’s reports.
But there was no PACI meeting in Davos last week—it would have been certainly foolish of them to hold one with 68 WEF sessions scheduled. So, to portray Aquino’s trip as a busy one, his officials begged the PACI secretariat to call for a formal meeting for Aquino to deliver a speech on corruption.
It obliged, not by calling a meeting but by holding a brief welcoming reception. It was attended more by PACI’S secretariat, rather than PACI members. And to make it worth their while, the PACI secretariat invited to the reception the Mongolian president, Peru’s prime minister, and a member of India’s parliament, who all gave impromptu remarks. Aquino, however, took out of his pocket a speech, and read it hurriedly at the reception where his delegation outnumbered the PACI people.
What the servile press had billed as a major event in Aquino’s schedule was his meeting with top Volkswagen officials. His media handlers planned to spin this as his success in re-igniting European companies interest in the country, despite the fact that European firms haven’t been too happy with him for unilaterally canceling their contracts in the Philippines, one involving the construction of bridges and the other, the dredging of Laguna Bay.
Actually, Volkswagen’s entry into the Philippines was already decided in October, by way of its agreement for the Ayala subsidiary to distribute its cars in the country. The two Ayala brothers Jaime Augusto and Fernando, who convinced Volkswagen to meet with the President, were even in Davos to make sure the meeting pushed through.
For some reason, the Volkswagen officials unceremoniously cancelled the meeting. Secretary Ricky Carandang made a bit of an implausible explanation: the Germans missed their flight.
With the Volkswagen meeting they had promised Aquino cancelled, the Ayalas had to scramble to get people to meet with the President. They succeeded in getting Credit Suisse International vice chairman David Milford to organize a quick coffee meet with Aquino at the bank’s special pavilion. The short meeting was billed as a “Roundtable Meeting with Global Business Executives,” although it involved solely Aquino hurriedly reading a prepared speech.
Aquino’s propagandists couldn’t name even a single “global business executive” other than the Credit Suisse vice chairman. The reality is that most of the dozen people who went to that “roundtable” were Credit Suisse staff.
Aquino’s Davos trip wasn’t a total waste of time though. He got to break bread with the Ayalas, who hosted a dinner on his last night in Davos. He got to have a free-wheeling press conference with the Malacañang press corps, in which he derided the senators for quarreling and urged them get back to work. He got to receive a check for 9,050 Swiss francs (P391,000) from the OFWs in Switzerland as their donation to help typhoon Pablo’s victims.
Strategic Communications Secretary Carandang should be given credit for a tactical move he did in Davos. He tracked down Microsoft founder Bill Gates en route from his session at the Congress Center (the official venue) so Aquino would “bump into him.” Cabinet secretary Rene Almendras, his accomplice, quickly asked the two to pose for a photo. Voila, a major newspaper nearly fills its front page with that photo of the President with one of the world’s richest man. Pathetic.
“Never mind,” Aquino must have thought, “I’ll have my Davos in Manila.”
“PHL to host WEF 2014,” according to a headline of the Manila Bulletin. Don’t reserve and send participation fees just yet though.