FRANCISCO TATAD: THE PRESIDENT IN BRITAIN
 

LONDON, JUNE 11, 2012 (STANDARD) by Francisco S. Tatad - If President Benigno Aquino III had come to London with the express intention of being absolutely discreet, his first official visit here may be considered to have been a smashing success.

There was not the slightest ripple of it in the British press. No one could accuse him of having inflicted himself on the British public.

His scheduled meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, lunch with Minister Jeremy Browne and the Lord Mayor of London Alderman David Wooton at an appropriate venue, lunch with Prince Andrew at Buckingham Palace, and meetings with private British investors, in the company of his eight Cabinet secretaries and 15 Filipino business executives, went fairly unnoticed.

Many Filipinos had heard of his visit but had no way of confirming it.

Aquino came when all of Britannia was so deeply immersed in paying homage to their Queen for the past 60 years, when BBC commentators and newspaper editorialists fawned and gushed over their monarch like the conscript media of a developing country dripping with saccharine over its own political favorite.

They regretted Prince Philip’s sudden confinement for a bladder infection, which caused his absence from the royal concert on Monday evening, the Queen’s thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s, her open carriage-ride down The Mall, and the royal family standing at the balcony of Buckingham Palace and waving to the crowds.

Amid Britain’s own crisis, which has prompted the Chancellor of the Exchequer to draw up plans to use the money of small savers to boost the country’s growth prospects, several investment agreements worth over $1 billion were said to have been signed between some big British firms like Rolls Royce, Shell and Nestle and their Filipino partners.

These were obviously the result of prior negotiations between the parties involved, and not the instant product of the President’s lightning visit.

What may have happened is that the Filipino businessmen had asked the President to witness the signing of their business agreements, and the President gamely obliged. But the visit itself did not achieve anything substantial at government-to-government level.

Therefore, whoever advised the President to visit London at this time did not serve his best interests.

But who will claim that great achievement? I do not want to suggest that the Foreign Office was responsible, but it should have advised the President to visit a foreign country officially only when he is assured of being adequately well received. He owes it to his position and to the people he had earlier described as his “bosses.”

It is safe to assume the Philippine embassy at the Court of St. James’s did not fail to inform Manila that London would be too busy to receive any President for official conversations during the Queen’s diamond jubilee, and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario should have persuaded the President to do it at a more auspicious date. But not even our simplest diplomatic problems are always easy to manage.

One saw this in full color at the 7th World Meeting of Families with the Holy Father in Milan last week, which was an official Vatican event.

There, the Philippine Catholic hierarchy was represented by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Dagupan-Lingayen, who is a member of the Pontifical Council of the Family, Bishop Gabriel Reyes of Antipolo, who heads the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and Frank and Gerry Padilla, the lay couple from Couples for Christ who sit on the Pontifical Council with Archbishop Villegas. Bishop Gilbert Garcera of Daet came as one of the speakers at the pastoral and theological congress, and a number of priests and laymen and women flew in from the Philippines for the congress.

But while South Korea’s ambassador to the Holy See Thomas Hong-Soon Han and his wife stayed for the duration of the congress, our own embassy at the Vatican failed to honor the all-important event.

I briefly chanced upon Ambassador Merci Tuason at the premises of La Scalla Theatre after the Beethoven concert for the Pope, but at no time during the week-long congress did I notice any official embassy presence. The fact that the ambassador of a non-Catholic country found it necessary to attend makes one wonder whether our ambassador to the Holy See has not quite grasped what her job is all about.

The Holy See is the most learned and erudite listening post in the world, bar none.

It presides over the moral governance of at least a billion Catholics. Its pronouncements on faith and morals form part of Church teaching, which the embassies at the Vatican have a duty to study, analyze and report to their respective governments.

That duty becomes even more acute if the ambassador comes from a country dominated by Catholics. But for years now, many of our ambassadors to the Vatican had had little or no preparation for the job.

Some were not even legally qualified anymore to be named ambassador for reason of age, under the Foreign Service Act. Hardly anybody notices this until an unnecessary embarrassment arises.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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