What will be in the SONA / Foreign relations through embassies

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

When President Aquino delivers the third State of the Nation (SONA) message, he will have more than the usual number of hearers. Many Filipinos are eager to know why after more than two years, there is no vision or plan of government. To be a real state of the nation message they expect the President to use the occasion as an opportunity for him as Chief Executive to revisit his government program and what bills should be passed by Congress for its implementation. But somewhere along the way this purpose of a SONA has been lost. It has become a mere recitation of accomplishments, real or imagined, of what presidents think make good copy for headlines.

Some are pretty sure he will cite Corona’s conviction and the continued detention of the former president as “accomplishments.” That would be regrettable. The former president’s continued detention is illegal and in defiance of a Supreme Court TRO. That cannot be called an accomplishment. If he persists in citing both as examples of his ‘successful’ campaign against corruption he may be in for a shock.

There is more corruption in government today than ever before and people know it. Instead he will feed the widespread anger against the destruction of institutions that protect the human rights of individuals whether it is about a former president or an ordinary citizen.

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For a long time, I did not think embassies were useful places to know more about their countries. I looked at them as offices where to get visas and read about diplomats in the social pages of newspapers and magazines.

I spent some time as an ambassador’s wife in Brussels and I found the life constricted — we met the same people in the diplomatic circuit and talked about the same things when we met in social events. Being a journalist for more than 20 years in bustling London it was difficult to adjust to a more serene and uncomplicated way of life in the diplomatic center of Europe. It was nice to be known as an ambassador’s wife but frankly, I would not wish it upon anyone who wants a more active and challenging life.

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Fast forward and I am back in Manila ten years after, still a journalist, but no longer an ambassador’s wife. I thought of embassies in Manila as pretty much the same as it was in Brussels and other capitals — visas and parties and nothing mostly in between. The fault was mine because of my narrow view of diplomacy.

Whatever diplomats do, that are more significant about relations between countries, are conducted discreetly. That is the rule. Diplomats are carriers of information from leaders who are expected not to expose their positions to the other side prematurely.

I like the definition from a New York Times article of a diplomat: “A person entrusted with good offices, or a good officer, is a channel of communication between parties to a dispute who are not on speaking terms.” Well, that is a limited aspect and probably refers more to UN diplomacy. But the essence of diplomacy is discreet communication of whatever kind.

The Philippines is on speaking terms with countries represented by embassies in Manila. We have had some difficulty in communicating with China on the South China dispute but I would like to believe that diplomatic lines no matter how strained are open. President Aquino has been criticized for bypassing these diplomatic channels of communication. He would have done better if he allowed diplomats to do their jobs quietly. That would also have given enough room to make mistakes and save faces so important to Asian culture.

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But that is not what this column is about. As a journalist, I am interested in looking at how embassies function and how they promote trade and friendship with the Philippines. It is good that this questioning takes place during the Japan-Philippines Friendship month. I am astonished at how seriously the Japanese embassy takes its role to promote trade and culture. Instead of limiting itself to the party-going crowd at diplomatic functions, it reaches out to as many Filipinos as possible which is what it should be.

The schedule of events was full and not limited to Manila either. It is practically a celebration of friendship for everybody. Eiga-Sai, its film festival was shown in Manila, Davao, Baguio and Cebu City. The embassy worked with the Japan Foundation and other organizations.

Apart from Eiga Sai, they have lined up the K-Pop Anime singing contest, Aki and Kumiko Concert and Le Velvets Concert. There is also the exhibition of woodblock masterpieces of Toshusai Shraku in the Ayala Museum that runs from July 10 to September 9.  

At the same time the Japan Bulletin’s special issue reminds us of the many projects the country has lined up for the Philippines like a project for the improvement of our meteorological radar system and a vocational training center in Negros Occidental. Japan has committed P33.8 billion ODA including six yen loan and four grant aid projects. All this is remarkable from a country that has just suffered from the Fukushima tragedy.

It is so typical of the Japanese to go all out to return to normalcy and invite Filipinos to return to Japan, a country that innovates to defeat tragedy and its odds.

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To be fair, there are other embassies that are promoting their countries’ friendship with the Philippines.

Among the most active in Manila these days is the Spanish Embassy. Most of its activities are coursed through the Instituto Cervantes de Manila. Recently they presented a concert of Spanish and Chabacano live music.

It was part of En Torno al Chabacano series — the celebration of the Chabacano language through music, films, and talks — the Spanish cultural center will feature live Spanish and Chabacano music from original compositions of Spanish pop-rock musician Javier Álvarez and Zamboangueño singer-songwriter Marc Velasco.

En Torno al Chabacano is part of the events to commemorate the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day. It is celebrated every year on June 30.









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