Insurrection at US Capitol

FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2021 - 12:00am

When Trumpian mobs attacked the US Capitol to disrupt the confirmation of Joe Biden’s election, Americans and the watching world were left aghast and wondering at the state of democracy in that bastion of that ideology for the free world. The event of January 6 was the culmination of Donald Trump’s desperate attempt to hold on to power despite the undeniable fact that he lost the elections by repeatedly pushing his unproven assertion that he was cheated. His actions were aided and abetted by most of the Republican Party who wanted to keep the Trump-built base intact for their own and their party’s future election prospects. But in its darkest moment, American democracy founded on free elections and the sanctity of the ballot prevailed with bipartisan support. However, President-elect Biden now faces the huge challenge of reuniting a clearly divided nation, which Trump engendered by playing on the fears of conservative America and fomenting extreme right wing causes. I wrote a column previously on Trump’s dubious legacy which can probably be summed up by the saying “a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth”. It will be no easy task to unravel that alternative truth.

Could such an attempt to reverse the outcome of a free election – I mean from questioning the results to outright mob intimidation – happen in the Philippines and what would have been the outcome? Former chief justice Artemio Panganiban and Solita Monsod, in their perceptive columns, are not so convinced our democratic institutions – the electoral bodies, the legislature and the courts – are strong enough to withstand such pressure, especially from a sitting president. Sadly, I have to agree with them.

A diplomat in San Francisco

Henry S. Bensurto Jr. recently completed his six-and-a-half-year tour of duty as consul general in San Francisco. His flagship project was the launch of a “nation-building beyond borders” movement called Spark. Connect. Empower or SCE, “a non-partisan, non-political movement intended to spark love and passion among all Filipinos (including those of Filipino lineage) – both at home and abroad – about their Filipino culture and heritage; connect them with one another, and; in the process empower them as individuals and as a community.” Under his leadership, 60 individuals and organizations became SCE partners. He was particularly motivated by the shifting demographics of Filipino-Americans, citing the 2nd,3rd and 4th generation Filipinos who lack understanding of the culture so needed to support Filipino-American activities with the same enthusiasm as the Korean/Japanese-American communities.

To cite an example, on Dec. 28, 2020, three days before the end of his tour, Henry led the soft launch of Dynamico co-working space, located at the third floor of the Philippine Center, which had been vacant and idle for many years. Dynamico’s Filipino and Filipino-American founders were inspired by Spark447 (447 Sutter St. is the address of the Philippine Center), the economic component of SCE, which aims to tap the network of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in Silicon Valley to support the emerging startup community in the Philippines.

More importantly, he worked on upgrading the delivery of consular services, including the renovation of the consular and executive offices at the 2nd and 6th floors of the Philippine Consulate. He was able to reach out to his constituents through several platforms, including the Talakayan sa Konsulado, Tanong ni Congen, Startup Meetup series, among others. He also mounted world class performances by Filipino and Filipino-American artists during annual Independence Day celebrations in the Bay Area.

It is significant to note that Henry also had a concurrent responsibility as an advisor to the DFA Secretary in relation to the arbitration case against China. In 2016, the UNCLOS Tribunal rejected China’s Nine-Dash Line Claim, citing the utter lack of legal and historical basis, which included that of the Reed Bank. Under UNCLOS, it is binding and an integral part of international law.

Former DFA secretary Albert del Rosario identified two distinguished patriots who worked on the case and stood strongly against those individuals who wanted to derail the desired outcome of the Philippine case before the UNCLOS Tribunal.

“As men of integrity they remained steadfast in their convictions and worked tirelessly and courageously to protect what is ours. To these two patriots, we owe a debt of gratitude. We are most proud of former Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Consul General Henry Bensurto who have clearly manifested what it takes to be a true patriot.”

Personally, I believe that Henry is also an example for young career officers as a diplomat who consistently exceeded the requirements of his job.

Diplomats and COVID-19

According to Undersecretary Ed Malaya, there have been 38 DFA personnel and 19 dependents infected since the pandemic started a year ago. Ambassador Carlos “King” Sorreta in Moscow and his wife, Teelo, were hospitalized. Teelo was released after eight days and King after 20 days. After one week at home and contrary to his wife’s stern advice, Ambassador Sorreta went outside and slid on the icy driveway resulting in a broken arm. Malaya reported infections had clusters mainly in two places namely, Moscow and Geneva. Secretary Locsin and staff have been closely monitoring infections among DFA staff abroad.

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