MANILA, JUNE 4, 2011
 (TRIBUNE) By Aytch S. de la Cruz - The Palace claimed yesterday that it had hurdled legal obstacles on the government’s operation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) and that it can now do “anything it wants” on the disputed terminal despite an imminent appeal from the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco) consortium of the Pasay City regional trial court (RTC) ruling on the issue of just compensation.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said the government is now reviewing its steps to proceed with the rehabilitation programs for NAIA-3 to make it fully operational in line with President Aquino’s directives.

Ochoa told reporters that under the expropriation proceedings, the government can now do anything it wants on NAIA-3 as a result of the recent court ruling.

“No more issue on justification or the expropriation. The point there is we can do anything now. We can proceed in rehabilitation, renovation, and the eventual operation on the NAIA-3 in the best way that we can manage to do that,” Ochoa said in a chance interview at the Villamor Airbase, Pasay City after sending Aquino off to Brunei where he will be on a working visit this week.

Ochoa, nonetheless, admitted that going through such process is a bit “tricky” on the part of the government since a separate arbitration case filed by NAIA-3 builders, Philippine Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco) and the Germany-based Fraport AG, is still ongoing.

He also recognized that Piatco and other concerned parties are free to seek legal redress over the decision rendered by Pasay City RTC Branch 117 Judge Eugenio de la Cruz, awarding Piatco with $176-million in just compensation which is closer to the $149-million set by the government instead of the $846-million compensation being sought by the private firm.

“From our view, we won there (in the expropriation case) because the court has already settled the issue on just compensation. But there are still options from all sides, legal options, and so, we don’t see as yet an immediate end to this because of the legal remedies available to the parties,” Ochoa said.

Piatco already announced that it will elevate its case before the Court of Appeals to seek the reversal of the Pasay RTC’s ruling—a move which disappointed Malacañang but said it respected Piatco right nonetheless.

“We realize that it is very difficult to deal with it because we only inherited (this problem). We have to dig up what happened really but this time, we know now and we have…the latest there is we have already agreed and the President has already approved to proceed with the task of planning on the operations of NAIA-3,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa, moreover, said he understands the German government’s sentiment on the possibility of a protracted legal battle on NAIA-3 as implied in a statement it has issued recently which called for a swift and fair resolution of this particular controversy.

“We can understand their sentiments also because this NAIA-3 (issue) starte from way back when. We can understand their exasperation on the settlement of the issue but then, over the years, the way I look at it, it has gone a bit more complicated. There are various issues sprouting that we have to really sort of remove them from the cobs,” explained Ochoa.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda previously appealed to Piatco, asking its officials “to see things through based on the findings of the court in the valuation of the claim and see that its position of $800-million in just compensation has no basis”.

“Compromise is the best possible way of settling this as early as possible. But the Pasay City Regional Trial Court has already awarded a figure. We urge Piatco to see things through and hopefully see things our way and we would hope that they would not file an appeal and if that’s the case we can easily discuss the matter,” Lacierda stressed in one of his recent interviews.

Lacierda added that experts from Malacañang’s legal team are still discussing the court’s decision to determine the proper course of action that the government must take in light of this development.

Noy appoints family friend Domingo Lee as envoy to China By Michaela P. del Callar 06/04/2011

[PHOTO - President Benigno S. Aquino III accompanied by the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCII ) officials (from left) Honorary President Dr. John K. Tan, Chairman Emeritus Dr. Lucio Tan. FCCII President Dr. Alfonso A. Uy and FFCCCII Honorary Ambassador Domingo Lee and former Senator Mar Roxas on Friday (March 25).

Aquino was the guest of honor and Speaker at the opening ceremony of the 28th Biennial Convention of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII.) 'Partnership for Progress and Prosperity' held at the Smx Convention Center, Sm Mall of Asia in Pasay City. (Photo by Marcelino Pascua/Malacanang Photo Bureau/PCOO)]

President Aquino continues with his penchant for appointing personal family friends in his government, no matter how old they are, and how inexperienced they are.

Aquino has chosen a businessman and family friend inexperienced in diplomacy as the new Philippine ambassador to China at a time when major problems, such as the series of territorial spats in the contested Spratlys in the South China Sea, are straining the country’s bilateral ties with Beijing.

The nomination of Domingo Lee, a personal friend of the Aquinos, immediately triggered criticisms from top Philippine diplomats, expressing doubts on Lee’s ability to handle such sensitive issues given his lack of experience in foreign relations.

A copy of Lee’s appointment papers signed by the President in late May that was forwarded to the Commission on Appointments and the Department of Foreign Affairs was seen by the Tribune on Friday.

“What we gather is that he has no experience in foreign affairs,” a senior diplomat told the Tribune. “He would probably have to undergo on the job training to learn the ropes of diplomacy, the challenges of the maritime conflict we are now facing against China and other policy issues.”

In this crucial point in Manila’s relations with China, it is important to have a competent ambassador who can handle complex diplomatic and international issues and is aggressive enough to uphold the country’s national interest.

“We would have been more comfortable if a career ambassador had been nominated instead by the President,” the diplomat said.

Amid several reported Chinese incursions in the Spratlys, the Philippine Embassy in China has been without an ambassador since February, following the recall of another political appointee and businessman Francisco Benedicto.

Increasing Chinese activities and incursions in Philippine-claimed territories have sparked fresh tensions in the area, prompting Manila to file a series of diplomatic protests and openly accuse Beijing of violating a 2002 non-binding regional code of conduct it signed with the Association of South East Nations. The Spratlys, said to be harboring rich minerals and oil deposits, are claimed in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.

From February to May this year, the government recorded between five to six Chinese incursions and activities in the Spratlys.

In February, a Chinese naval ship fired upon Filipino fishermen off the Jackson Atoll, 120 nautical miles from Palawan. Then in March, Chinese navy ships were reported to have harassed a Philippine oil survey team vessel in the Reed Bank, followed by three incidents of intrusion and construction activities in the vicinity of Amy Douglas Reef, another Philippine-claimed territory. All these incidents were protested by Manila.

Lee, said to be in his 70s, is already past the mandatory retirement age of 65. But legally, there is no age limit for political ambassadors.

However, another senior Philippine diplomat said Aquino should send “a very knowledgeable person” to Beijing and “must have the physical and mental toughness” to deal with sensitive issues.

“Our envoy there should be alert, agile and aggressive in protecting our national interests and in analyzing China’s objectives in the region and in the world,” the diplomat said.

DFA career officials assured that they “will dutifully implement instructions and decisions of the President without equivocation,” respecting and recognizing his authority to appoint ambassadors.

“We are quite certain that when he decided to nominate a prominent Chinese-Filipino and a close friend of the family as Philippine ambassador to China, he must have considered all the ramifications, implications and consequences to the supreme national interest of the country over personal attachment,

“Having said that, it follows that he accepts full responsibility for whatever result or outcome of sub-standard quality of performance of his appointee,” the diplomat said.

In the meantime, career diplomats said it is up to the Commission on Appointments to evaluate Lee’s qualifications “not on the basis as a Chinese-Filipino or party contributor but as an ambassador of our country.”


Please, not Domingo Lee to China BY ELLEN TORDESILLAS

Early this week, President Aquino signed the appointment of 17 career ambassadors to different foreign posts.

Foreign service veterans said they haven’t seen this big a bunch of appointments of career officers in the history of Philippine service. Needless to say, the career officers are very, very happy.

“This would not have been possible under (former Foreign Secretary) Alberto Romulo,” a career officer said adding that morale is high in the department with Secretary Albert del Rosario whom they describe as “conscientious and hands-on.”

I don’t have the complete list of the 17. But here are some of them: Ricky Manalo to London; Cristy Ortega to Paris;Vicky Bataclan to Belgium; Leslie Baja to Switzerland; Maynard Montealegre to Greece; Lourdes Morales to Netherlands; Leslie Gatan to Canada; Ellen Jaucian to Hungary;

Belen Anota to Australia; Virginia Benavides to New Zealand;Eduardo Malaya to Malaysia; Ezzedin H. Tago to Saudi Arabia.

These appointments will improve the ratio of career ambassadors to political ambassadors. This points to a more professional foreign service.

Not yet filled are the positions of Philippine representative in the World Trade Organization in Geneva and ambassador to China.

No amount of lobbying by Gloria Arroyo representative to the WTO Manuel “Dondie” Teehankee convinced the President to retain him in Geneva. Earlier,Teehankee was so confident that family friendship would give him another six years in Geneva, he didn’t immediately come home even after the three month extension given to all Arroyo-appointed political ambassadors.

It’s worthhile to mention that Teehankee’s father, former Supreme Court Justice Claudio Teehankee swore Cory Aquino into office in Club Filipino on Feb. 25, 1986. The elder Teehankee was then associate justice. He was named chief justice when Aquino assumed the presidency via People Power.

But family friendship might work for another ambassador to China aspirant: Domingo Lee, whose only qualification for that very important post is he is a friend of the Aquino family.

A source said the one pushing Lee’s appointment is Eldon Cruz, husband of presidential sister Ballsy Cruz. We wonder why.

Although Secretary Del Rosario’s first choice is a non-career, preferably a businessman, for the Beijing post (We were informed that banker Edward Go is out of the running), he would prefer a career officer for such an important assignment than the likes of Lee.

Whereas DFA’s experience with the most recent political appointee, Francisco Benedicto, was a disaster, the track record of career officers in China is excellent. The late Pablo Suarez, Philip Mabilangan, Romeo Ong, Sonia Brady competently protected Philippine interest in the complex relations China.

Speaking of China, we hope that the filling of a diplomatic protest over China’s 9-dash line claim in the South China Sea is a signal that the Philippines finally mustered the spine in dealing with our behemoth neighbor.

Better late than never.

Several times in the past, we asked people in the DFA why we did not protest the submission of China with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) which claimed as part of their territory the whole of the South China Sea, and answers we got were along the line of “China would not like that” and “We are no match to the power of China.”

Pathetic. You are not going to war when you protest another country’s incursion into your territory. You are merely asserting the integrity of your territory. In a civilized world, you assert your sovereignty through diplomacy.

It took us TWO years to finally found the courage to tell China, “Hey, you are including my territory in your map.” Malaysia and Vietnam, who also dispute China’s territorial coverage, filed their protest a day after China filed it on May 7, 2009.

Indonesia, who is not even a claimant in the Spratly group of islands, beat us in registering non-agreement to China’s all-encompassing claim over the South China Sea. It filed its protest in 2010.

VERA Files story on the Philippine protest with China explains the 9-dash line: “The map is called “9-dash line” or “9-dotted line” because it shows a series of nine dashes or dotted lines forming a ring around the South China Sea area, which China claims is part of its territory. The area includes the Spratlys group, a cluster of oil-rich islands disputed by five other countries, including the Philippines.

“China has been using the map with nine dashes in asserting its territorial claim over the whole of the South Sea. But the map first made its way to the UN body, when China used it to challenge the claim made by Vietnam and Malaysia over their extended continental shelves in the South China Sea. Aquino is scheduled to visit China next month. Rather than spoil his visit, the Philippine’s firm defense of its territory, should earn him respect and understanding from China who is most steadfast in asserting its territorial claim.

For that, the Philippines should have a competent and capable ambassador in Beijing. Domingo Lee doesn’t fit the bill.

April 15, 2011 12:14 am Tags: DFA, Domingo Lee Posted in: Foreign Affairs

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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