THE Philippine ambassador to the US, Jose Romualdez, appears to be again proving how much of an American toady he is. Sources have claimed that he has been lobbying the Marcos government to accede to the superpower’s demand that the Philippines take in thousands of Afghans who have fled their country after the Americans abandoned them to the Taliban in March 2021.
Sen. Imee Marcos on Saturday also confirmed that it was Romualdez, a second cousin of hers, who was pushing her brother President Marcos Jr. to acquiesce to the US demand.
High-ranking officials at the Foreign Affairs department have taken offense at Romualdez’s meddling, as they object strongly to the US demand. “His task is to work for Philippine interests in Washington, not to lobby Malacañang for American interests using his claimed closeness to the President,” a DFA official said.
After the US made the demand in late 2022, several interagency meetings were held in which the DFA and the national security officials disapproved of the proposal. Romualdez reportedly instead managed to get the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) to recommend to President Marcos the approval of the US request and include it in the agenda for the President’s state visit to the US. He allegedly told the DFA officials, especially Secretary Enrique Manalo, that they’d better not object as his cousin the President wants it. (For PMS to recommend a foreign-policy decision is hilarious. I was the PMS head once during President Arroyo’s term. I was never once asked to study a foreign policy issue since it has always been the DFA, which has a very competent staff, that does it.)
Romualdez, the ambassador to the US, on Saturday practically assumed the role of foreign affairs secretary by announcing that the proposal had not yet been approved by President Marcos.
Secretary Manalo has stood his ground though in not recommending it to the President, as there is unanimity among the DFA’s top officials not to do so. Romualdez had turned to Undersecretary Tess Lazaro for more support in the DFA. Still, the majority of DFA officials, including the Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs and the Office of the Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Affairs, are strongly against the US demand. They maintain that the US request carries not only a security risk but a “reputational one,” given that the Afghan applicants will have their freedom of movement restricted.
“Have we lost all dignity that our territory will be a processing center for the US immigration service, the equivalent of Texas or New Mexico in Asia?” a DFA official said, referring to the fact that these two states are where thousands of Latin American illegal immigrants are housed and processed. “There is also the fear that the US, already besieged by a flood of immigrants from Latin America and Ukraine, will later demand that the Philippines take in these Afghans on a permanent basis. Security officials, on the other hand, believe that not a few of these Afghans may actually still be with the Taliban, and there is a risk they’ll end up with the Moro terrorist groups in the south.
“Being a PR for most of his working life, Romualdez doesn’t know anything about geopolitics and foreign relations,” said another DFA official. “He should strictly stick with his job in Washington working for Philippine interests, and not as a lobbyist in Manila for US demands.”
The President’s older sister, Senator Marcos, who chairs the Senate foreign affairs committee, last Thursday filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into the plan and questioned the PMS decision to keep the results of the “technical coordination meeting” from the public.
“There’s a lack of transparency in the present case,” the senator said in a statement which however did not mention at all the role of her cousin Romualdez in the issue. “During the past year, security and espionage threats have substantially increased because of the sharp escalation in tension between rival superpowers,” she noted.
The senator said the Philippines should take a “more cautious stand” in accommodating refugees from other countries, particularly those being “brokered” by a superpower.
“This evident intent of the PMS to withhold from the public any information pertaining to the request of the US and the approval thereof by the Philippine government brings into question the real nature of such request and approval,” she said in Senate Resolution 651.
In a recent meeting between the PMS and US embassy officials, the Americans said they want to process 1,500 Afghan refugees per month and house them in New Clark City.
I was hoping that Romualdez would give an intelligent reply to my column last Wednesday (“Our ambassador to Washington can’t be a toady to the US”) that it was he who manipulated President Duterte in 2021 to rescind his earlier plan to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US by telling him this would please the Americans so much they would ship the much needed Moderna Covid-19 vaccines at that time to us immediately.
Nope, he didn’t comment on that major allegation that puts him in very bad light as America’s toady.
Instead, and indeed a feature of a vacuous mind unable to argue rationally, Romualdez resorted to an ad hominem argument that my record as ambassador to Greece was one of the worst in the diplomatic service. (Jeez, that was 13 years ago!) This is our ambassador to the world’s hegemon, to which countries send their most intelligent diplomats, and not former PR operators? Indeed, as the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates long ago put it, “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.”
He didn’t bother to ask DFA officials (including the then-Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo) who judged my record as ambassador as stellar: After 17 years that the Philippines anomalously had an embassy in Athens but Greece did not have one in Manila, I got the Greek government in six months from my arrival to set up a diplomatic mission here. That was a big boon to OFWs going to that Mediterranean country since without a Greek embassy here, they had to go to Jakarta where Greece had its embassy to get a visa, which cost them thousands of pesos for fare and lodging. I also got both the Philippine and Greek governments to recognize a school for OFWs’ children set up by a respected longtime Athens resident, Dr. Marcos Fojas. That meant that both the Greek and Philippine governments recognized their elementary schooling.
However, I did make an enemy out of less than a dozen OFWs who demanded the embassy recognize what they passed off as a school that charged substantial tuition. I wouldn’t accede to their demand since it was totally an illegal outfit that fooled the OFWs into believing that their schooling would be recognized in the Philippines, which was not the case.
Leftist Akbayan Chairman Walden Bello, who hated my having been an articulate spokesman for President Arroyo, exploited my problem with this group to ask his fellow pinko Jose Valencia to undertake a demonstration against me — as a propaganda tack that “Aquino’s boys” were incompetent.
Romualdez’s intellectual laziness led to another ad hominem argument that the Chinese embassy gave me an award “for denigrating the ruling of the arbitral panel” on the China-Philippines South China Sea dispute.
First of all, the award wasn’t given by the Chinese embassy but by the distinguished Association of Philippine-China Understanding (APCU) which was set up in 1972, or half a century ago. Its chairman emeritus (one of the founding members) is former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and its top officials include Chinese Filipino business tycoons like Cathay Land’s Jeffrey Ng, who was the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman in 2021, and steel magnate Sixto Benedicto. The award given to me was for my columns and books debunking the lies spread by “Amboys” like Romualdez which seek to drive a wedge between the Philippines and China.
I am certainly proud of that award which recognizes my contribution to enhancing the understanding of two peoples. Most wars in history were undertaken by elites after fooling their citizens (who usually are the ones who do the fighting) that other nation they’ll be invading are bad, bad people. Think of Vietnam and especially Iraq.
Intellectually lazy indeed: If Romualdez had bothered to check information on the award, he would have found that one of my co-awardees was former president Rodrigo Duterte who first appointed him ambassador to the US, even as he had absolutely no track record in diplomacy and in government. This ingrate, therefore, accuses his former boss with the same accusation he has hurled at me. The guest speaker at the award ceremony — who praised the awardees, including me — was his boss, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. “Bobi, only you discussed the pressing issue,” the President even remarked to me as he shook my hand, as I referred in my speech to the South China Sea dispute.
Quick, Mr. Romualdez, message Duterte and Marcos to tell them that you didn’t mean to insult them.
On Tuesday: Romualdez’s no-care attitude toward the US-China war over Taiwan