Monday, October 23, 2017

Roy C. Mabasa: Ma-Tet Offensive

Aug 19, 2017 @ 8:23

I honestly believe that newly-installed Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has all the good intentions in effecting changes at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) as his first order of the day, including the lateral appointment of trusted lieutenants to key positions in the department.

There’s no arguing the fact that bringing in his own lackeys no matter how inexperienced they may be in diplomatic affairs is one of his prerogatives. Doubtless, too, these appointees enjoy Cayetano’s full trust and confidence that they could be assets in his new portfolio, having worked with him when he was at the Senate and elsewhere.

There were downsides though to the structural and policy changes he initiated soon as he took over from erstwhile secretary Perfecto Yasay whose tenure came to an abrupt end when he failed to muster the approval of the powerful Commission on Appointments.

For one, career officials and old –timers in the department did not look kindly at Cayetano’s appointees, notably Sarah Lou Arriola who was named Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, and Jose Luis Montales who was designated Undersecretary for Security and Consular Concerns.

Let’s look at the credentials of these two people. Arriola, a lawyer by profession, was formerly chief of the Investigation Service of the Senate Blue Ribbon Oversight Office Management. Montales, on the other hand, was an ex-city administrator (officer-in-charge) of Taguig and a die-hard follower of the Cayetanos, particularly the foreign affairs chief’s wife, Lani, the sitting mayor of Taguig.

That being said, it’s quite clear that Arriola and Montales did not have the experience, expertise and track record, let alone training to be good diplomatic officials. That is akin to placing the ship of state in the hands of unqualified crewmen.

But what the heck, it pays to know people in high places, doesn’t it? Who needs knowledge when you have the right pull?

What Sec. Cayetano apparently did not foresee or predict was the rumblings triggered by his haphazard appointment of his loyal followers to key positions in the DFA.

The protests, passive though they may be, manifested itself in more ways than one. No one in the DFA would admit that there is truth to the rumor that the leak of the transcript of the phone chat between President Duterte and his US counterpart Donald Trump was a clever trick to embarrass both Cayetano and his boss.

The leakage quickly evolved into a security concern, viewed in light of the ongoing bloody anti-terror war in Mindanao.

Expectedly, the DFA launched a damage control drive even as an inquiry was underway to ferret out the leaker. To the two-track move, we can only say; “Abangan.”

Meanwhile, demoralization appeared to have set in across the rank and file—thanks but no thanks to Cayetano’s drastic reforms which now appear ill-advised and unwise.

By the way, the appointment of Arriola and Montales came amid reports that alleged pro-Duterte blogger, RJ Nieto, the person behind the personal political blog “Thinking Pinoy,” was being groomed as chief of the Strategic Communications Office (SCO) under Arriola’s wings.

The SCO was supposedly a separate unit from the Office of Public Diplomacy in charged with the media engagement of the DFA.

Arguably, good intentions are not enough to achieve desired results.

Without doubt, Sec. Cayetano is focused on his new job as the country’s top diplomat. But being focused doesn’t necessarily mean wearing blinders that prevent you from seeing the larger picture and rightfully appreciating the situation on the ground. Without having a totality of visibility, it might be next to impossible to make unerring decisions especially on crucial matters at hand.

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Unknown to most people, Cayetano tried to paint a glossy picture of the Philippines’ acrimonious dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea which Bejing insists was part of the entire South China Sea which they wholly claim as part of China.

What the novice DFA chief failed to appreciate was that he was talking to virtual gurus on the issue; former DFA secretaries Albert Del Rosario and Roberto Romulo, as well as former Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia.

The forum took place as part of the recently-concluded ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Manila, with Cayetano like telling his audience that the Duterte administration is on top of the situation, brandishing its strategy of being too friendly to China.

In his remarks, Cayetano seemed to be saying; “Hey guys, guess what? You were doing it all wrong; Now watch us handle things properly.”

If that isn’t the height of braggadocio, I don’t know what is.

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What the DFA chief wasn’t saying was there is a contentious reason—plausible but deniable—behind the seeming meeting of the minds between Beijing and Manila on the WPS controversy.

I have it from a reliable source that both sides were using the same publicist who obviously never had it so good his line of work. Talk about ambivalence. Trabaho lang, walang personalan.

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FACT OR FICTION. Food and wine flowed like there is no tomorrow during the just-concluded ASEAN Ministers meetings in Manila.

Media people, both local and foreign, witnessed the profligate feasts in what could be translated as a dubious attempt to impress the foreign visitors during the ten-day ministerial conference.

Site of the daily bacchanalia and food galore were the posh Conrad Hotel, which was reportedly handpicked by the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) which allegedly captured the lion’s share of the funds for the ASEAN events. This fat envelop was supposedly for all “media-related” activities whether it is related to food, accommodations, press kits and supplies, and souvenirs

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And since we are on the subject of freeloaders, we might as well include here the reports that somebody is so damn lucky for making a killing in the processing of passports.

What used to be whispers, we now can clearly hear: a consular official is supposedly charging the exorbitant amount of’ P500 per passport for applicants who to be assigned a schedule in just a flick of a finger. Well, such an arrangement, according to our reliable source, was reportedly made possible through select travel and placement agencies accredited by the DFA.

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