MAY 22, 2009 (STAR) By Pia Lee-Brago - For failing to take a crucial photo, an ambassador has lost his job.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Willy Gaa reportedly missed three opportunities to take a photo of President Arroyo with US President Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast (NPB) in Washington last February, and received a tongue-lashing from the Chief Executive.

Foreign Affairs officials, who asked not to be identified, said the President had instructed Gaa to grab any opportunity during the NPB to shoot photos of her with Obama.

Arroyo had flown all the way from the Middle East to attend the NPB in hopes of seeing and meeting Obama.

The officials said the President was very upset that Gaa could not be found when Obama passed by three times and greeted her.

“The President designated Ambassador Gaa as photographer during the NPB in Washington. But when President Obama passed Mrs. Arroyo three times wala si Ambassador Gaa,” an official related.

The officials said Arroyo was very angry because of the missed photo opportunity for what should have been the “photo of the moment” when Obama stopped to shake hands with her.

After the NPB, the officials said members of the Arroyo delegation saw the President very angry when she called Gaa and ordered him to ride with her in the presidential car.

“Pagkatapos ng (After the) big event they saw each other. The people there saw and heard the President call Amb. Gaa. She told Gaa to join her in the car. Sabay sara ng kotse (The doors slammed). It was dramatic,” another official said.

Officials said although Gaa may be returning home, he can still remain as ambassador to the United States for a while because no replacement has been designated.

Sources said Consul General Marciano Paynor Jr. of the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco is being considered to replace Gaa.

Paynor, a former chief presidential protocol officer, accompanied the President on her various trips abroad and is very close to Mrs. Arroyo.

Paynor was chairman of the Philippine National Organizing Committee when the country was supposed to host the 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Cebu in December 2006.

He announced the Philippine government’s decision to postpone the summit supposedly because of a coming typhoon, but some diplomats claimed that the postponement of the meeting of ASEAN heads of states was an embarrassment to the country.

Paynor, who made the announcement at the Cebu International Convention Center, described the decision to postpone the summit as “agonizing” and “most painful.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo took the responsibility of recommending the postponement of the leaders’ summit but emphasized that he was not the one who gave the approval.

Romulo said he recommended the postponement of the ASEAN Summit because of the weather disturbance and not the political “storm” and travel advisories of at least six countries that warned of possible terrorist attack in Cebu.

The ASEAN members and the international community expressed doubts on the country’s political stability since the postponement happened when the “political” storm hit the government because of the protest of various groups opposing the plan to amend the Constitution.

DFA, Palace deny Gaa recall By Marvin Sy Updated May 22, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) denied yesterday that Philippine Ambassador to Washington Willy Gaa has been recalled.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Anthony Golez said that there is no recall order for Gaa and that he still enjoys the trust and confidence of the President.

President Arroyo was supposedly furious with Gaa for failing to take a photo of her shaking hands with President Obama when she visited Washington last February for the National Prayer Breakfast (NPB).

Gaa was reportedly tasked to take photos during the event, which would have been the first face-to-face encounter between the two world leaders.

The President was said to have been very angry that Gaa could not be found when Obama supposedly passed by her on three occasions and even greeted her.

Golez emphasized that Gaa is an ambassador and not a photographer, so he was not expected to take snapshots of the President during her visit to the US capital last February.

He said though that he was not aware of Gaa’s status, whether his stint is about to end or not.

“I don’t know about their problems as a career officer. The DFA should be in a better position to explain this because they have the career records of the ambassadors,” Golez said.

DFA spokesman J. Eduardo Malaya said there is no recall order for Gaa.

“He remains at post in Washington. Ambassador Gaa is a highly competent and very senior career officer. He has the trust and confidence of President Arroyo,” Malaya said.

After the NPB, officials said members of the Arroyo delegation saw the President very angry when she called Gaa and ordered him to ride with her in the presidential car.

Officials said although Gaa has completed his tour of duty and is already due home, he can remain as ambassador to the US while his successor is not yet named.

Gaa said there was never any opportunity to take a photograph of President Arroyo with President Obama at the NPB because they never crossed paths.

He was commenting on a STAR report from Manila that he had been sacked for failing to take photos of Arroyo with Obama during the NPB.

Arroyo made an unscheduled visit to Washington on her way home from the Middle East to attend the breakfast in hopes of seeing and meeting Obama. The NPB is an annual event attended by top US government officials and foreign leaders invited to the event.

A “Kodak moment” never presented itself, Gaa said, referring to that rare, one-time moment that would have made a great photo.

The envoy said Obama entered the stage for the prayer meeting from the rear and exited the same way.

“Obama did not go to the floor to meet guests. He did not greet anybody in the audience. He only shook hands with organizers of the prayer meeting who were seated on the stage,” Gaa said.

Referring to the report, which quoted unnamed Foreign Affairs officials as saying Arroyo gave him a tongue-lashing in the presidential car after the NPB, Gaa said, “How would they know what we talked about, as we were the only two passengers in the car?”

Gaa said he has not been fired nor has he received a recall order, and implied that people envious of his position are setting him up for a fall.

He said he is scheduled to visit Manila in July for at least one week for the annual Ambassadors/Consuls General and Tourism Directors of the Philippines meeting.

A career diplomat, Gaa was posted to Washington in July 2006. He previously served as ambassador to China (2003-2006), Australia (2002-2003) and Libya (1992-1997).

In a press statement issued by the embassy later on Wednesday, Gaa dismissed as “totally untrue and baseless” allegations made in the STAR article.

“I serve at the pleasure of the President and I am prepared to be relieved at any time the President feels she no longer has any confidence in me and my ability to effectively carry out my duties and responsibility as Philippine ambassador to the United States.

“However, I am bothered with the article’s malicious and false characterization of the President as someone who would fire her representative to a close ally of the Philippines over a missed photo opportunity. This is not fair to the President and I strongly feel that this must be made to clear to everyone,” he said.

Gaa said President Arroyo did not come to Washington for the purpose of securing a photo with Obama.

“In fact, the President came in response to my recommendation for her to pass by Washington to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, and meet with key congressional leaders on the Filipino veterans issue, business leaders and officials of the Millennium Challenge Corporation,” he added. With Pia Lee-Brago, Jose Katigbak

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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