JULY 30, 2009
(STAR) FILIPINO WORLD VIEW By Roberto R. Romulo - Much has been written lately about President Arroyo’s forthcoming visit to Washington D.C. where she will meet with President Obama. For better public understanding of this event, I will provide here a brief primer on presidential visits to a country, and the various permutations and protocols.

To start off, there are various grades and levels to a visit by a head of state or government to another country. A State Visit is the highest level accorded to a head of state. At this level, “guest status” is accorded him or her, as well as to a select number of accompanying officials (e.g. 1+13) specified by the host country. This means that the President and spouse plus the accompanying group are provided accommodations, transportation and some other amenities during the visit, as well as with a usually standardized official program.

Depending on the country, there are specified ceremonials. For example, in Washington, these would include a welcome ceremony on the White House Lawn, bilateral meetings with the US President and cabinet, and a black tie state dinner at the White House. In other countries, such as Spain, and other nations with monarchies, there is much more pomp and ceremony culminating in a white tie and tails state dinner.

In an Official Visit, the visiting President and spouse are accorded “guest status.” This “guest status” is also extended to a smaller number of the President’s official party.

A Working Visit usually means no “guest status” other than security and transportation for the President and predetermined number of her official party. In ASEAN countries, however, “guest status” is always accorded to the visiting head of state.

In the case of the United States, my personal experience with two Filipino Presidents leads me to conclude that presidential visits are primarily meant for the President and other members of his/her cabinet, i.e. the executive branch of government. All meetings outside the White House are traditionally with counterpart members of the executive branch. However, selected members of the legislature accompany the President when he/she meets with members of the US Congress and the Filipino community.

The meeting with the President of the United States in the Oval Office includes the cabinet, such as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of Trade and Industry, the Secretary of Defense, and the respective heads of the Senate and House of Representatives or their representatives. Recently, the Executive Secretary is also included. It is really the President’s personal selection which cabinet members are included. As a rule of thumb, that means a total of six including the President (1+5).

There has been much controversy about the limited number allowed in the Oval Office. Congressmen accompanying our President fervently believe that they have a “God-given” right to also meet the American President and, of course, to avail of a photo opportunity. Even members of the press accompanying our President have had a similar presumption. Because of the strictures of protocol and US practice and failure to accommodate these demands, I have incurred in the past the ire of our venerable legislators and pundits.

Turning now to the US visit this week of President Arroyo, I am informed that some 30 members of Congress are going to Washington “at their own expense” to accompany her. The problem with this is that it gives rise to a perception of extravagance and ostentatiousness from a developing country. This additional entourage really has no added value to the President’s delegation for a meeting in the White House. To be precise, they have no role to play. All they do is encumber our embassy staff in Washington with the burden of finding “things” for them to do so that they can justify their own travels to the press and their constituents. Dyahe!!!

Another source of controversy is the legislators’ belief, whether senator or representative, that they outrank a cabinet secretary. The protocol, first of all, is determined by the host country not our protocol people. Whether in Paris or Washington, the cabinet secretaries outrank the legislators, except the Senate President and Speaker. This misconception can generate a privilege speech or private encounter berating the chief of protocol or senior official in charge of coordinating the trip. Even after a detailed explanation, the “offended legislator” bears a grudge which could result in the non-confirmation of the protocol officer when he is slated for a higher foreign service position.

Missing Amorsolo painting of the Leyte landing

In 1947 when my father, General Carlos P. Romulo (then Permanent Representative to the United Nations), returned to the US from a Manila visit, he brought back with him three paintings by Fernando Amorsolo. Two were portraits of my mother and himself, and the third was a painting of the famous landing in Leyte of General Douglas MacArthur in October 1944 that commenced the liberation of the Philippines. The American general was accompanied by President Sergio Osmeña and others, including my father, who was then the aide de camp of General MacArthur. Through the years, those three paintings were always prominently placed in the homes we lived in, wherever my father was assigned. When he returned to Manila to assume the position of president of the University of the Philippines, the paintings were permanently placed in Kasiyahan, our Forbes Park residence.

Sometime in the early ‘80s, when former first lady Mrs. Imelda Marcos arranged to have a Filipiniana exhibit in the New York store of Bloomingdales, she borrowed the painting from my father. After several months, I vaguely remember that my father and stepmother Beth Day Romulo tried to locate it but to no avail. Almost three decades have now passed and my daughter Liana, who is in charge of CPR memorabilia, retrieved a photo of the Romulo family with the Leyte landing painting in Washington D.C. She has been trying to locate the painting by asking friends and DFA personnel in the United States if they have seen it.

Speaking for the Romulo family and myself, we would like to retrieve the painting because of its sentimental and historic value. It properly belongs with the other CPR memorabilia. The Romulo family would be most grateful to anyone who could give us information where we can find it in the United States or the Philippines.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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