PALACE REJECTS JAPANESE ENVOY'S APOLOGY

Malacanang, June 1, 2003 By Marichu Villanueva and Aurea Calica, (Star) Malacañang rejected yesterday the personal apologies made by Japanese Ambassador Kojiro Takano, and proceeded to file a diplomatic protest against him.

The government is waiting for a response from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A ranking foreign affairs official, however, suggested that Takano simply pack his bags, "buy a ticket and go back (to Japan)."

Takano is not yet off the hook even after he formally tendered his official apology to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for his controversial comments on the prevailing peace and order situation in the Philippines, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

"Because of the gravity of what he did, the DFA deemed it proper to still file a diplomatic protest," Bunye said. "This is our official action, although the Japanese ambassador has already asked for pardon."

Bunye did not say if the Philippines’ diplomatic protest also demanded the recall of Takano as a persona non grata. He likened the Japanese ambassador’s comments to a guest badmouthing the owner of the house.

"We will just await the action of the Japanese government on our diplomatic protest because this diplomatic protest is really the last resort, so to speak," he said.

"We are resorting to this because what the Japanese ambassador did was really something not nice," he added.

What was "not nice," according to Bunye, is Takano "publicly airing such criticisms that were not passed through appropriate channels. It is really very undiplomatic for a diplomat to say such a thing."

Upon President Arroyo’s order, acting DFA Secretary Franklin Ebdalin summoned Takano to his office last Friday, giving the Japanese ambassador a tongue-lashing for his comments before a foreign correspondents’ forum in Makati City last Thursday.

Takano incurred the President’s ire after he complained of "sleepless nights" due to the general concern of Japanese citizens about their safety in the country.

He also criticized the Philippine government’s conflicting policies and budget deficit, which he said discouraged Japanese investors from coming to the Philippines.

"Perhaps, (since) he claimed not to have gotten enough sleep, the Japanese ambassador might have been disoriented. That’s why he saw only the negative and not the positive aspects of what we have been doing here to reduce our problems on peace and order," Bunye said.

While the President chastised Takano for publicly airing his criticisms, she emphasized that Japan still helps the Philippines in its bid to improve the national economy and maintain peace and order. She acknowledged that in the past, Japan has been the country’s No. 1 source of official development assistance.

Despite Takano’s diplomatic faux pas, Bunye said the President will still proceed with her scheduled visit to Japan next week. This is her fourth visit to Japan since she was sworn into office in January 2001. Her most recent trip was a state visit in December last year.

While the President might be hurting from Takano’s criticisms, Bunye said she acknowledged the need to take such criticisms as a "challenge" for the Philippine government "to do better" in its anti-crime campaign and to implement structural reforms to better attract investors to the country, especially those from Japan.

"If there were really shortcomings in our agencies in charge of peace and order and our agencies tasked to put the proper business environment, they should do the appropriate actions," he said.

Bunye noted that the United States and other countries have expressed their satisfaction on the improvements made by the Arroyo administration to the Philippine economy and the peace and order situation.

"The No. 1 proof of this is the growth of our gross national product and our gross domestic product, and these were the results of implementation of correct policies," he said.

Bunye said that in the meantime, Palace staff are busy preparing the speeches and talking points for Mrs. Arroyo’s state visit to Korea from June 2 to 4. She will then proceed to Japan for her working visit and meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

"The common denominator of these two trips was security and how to improve the economy, as well as the protection of our overseas Filipino workers in those two countries," he said.

Bunye added that in Tokyo, the President will speak before an economic roundtable conference along with two other Asian leaders, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

‘Say sayonara

On the other hand, a ranking DFA official urged Takano to go home.

"As diplomats, we can always ask our governments to recall us if we are no longer comfortable in our assignments," the official said.

The official added that if Takano is "saying he could not sleep well here and that’s been the case for a year now, why is he still alive? Why is he still here?"

Takano should be sensitive enough to know that he could no longer work amiably with Philippine officials after what he did, and thus he should have the initiative to leave on his own, the DFA official said.

"He might also be recalled by his government. But we are still trying to find out why a Japanese ambassador suddenly became too outspoken. It’s very unusual for him to do that, especially for a career diplomat like him," the official said.

Other speculations have spread on why Takano made his adverse commentaries on the Philippines.

Some sources said he may have wanted to catch the ire of the Philippine government so there would be a reason for him to leave or be recalled.

Information from Tokyo revealed that Takano was accused of granting projects in the Philippines without proper bidding.

This scandal, supposedly involving Takano, came out in Japanese tabloids but the details of the articles were not readily available as of yesterday.

It is not known whether Takano would be investigated by the Japanese parliament, but the allegations against him include favoring his friends in the construction business to undertake projects here, particularly the construction of hospitals.

Other diplomatic sources said he might be under instruction to attack the Philippines in order to justify the cutting of official development assistance to the country.

Some said he was pressured by the Japanese business community to express their sentiments against the Philippines’ business system and policies.

But Ebdalin told The STAR that Takano, as a seasoned diplomat, could have had more tact.

For starters, Takano could have sent an official communication to the DFA to air the grievances of the Japanese and their business community.

"His statements are sweeping and more of generalizations. It’s as if the Philippine government has not done anything right," Ebdalin said.

Since Takano has apologized for his remarks, Ebdalin said the government would have to assess all other considerations before taking any action against him.

"You cannot just declare a diplomat persona non grata. He was very sorry when we summoned him," he said.

Ebdalin said the government is aware of these problems but a lot of things had been done to address them in order to lure investors and tourists.

Takano apologized for his candor in describing the Philippines as dangerous and frightening, but did not retract his statements.

"He further stated that (it was) his personal opinion and he said he had no intention of inflicting damage and harm to the country," Ebdalin said.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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