FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - March 23, 2017 - 12:00am

Although he still has to dress properly for the role, President Duterte has proven himself a tireless and exemplary diplomat.

In his first six months in office, the country’s diplomat-in-chief managed to raise over a trillion pesos in assistance for our economic development. That amount is expected to balloon some more next May, when the President visits Moscow. There is a team working feverishly ahead of that visit, exploring new economic and business opportunities between the Philippines and Russia.

The past several days, the President has been in Myanmar and Thailand on official visits. While these visits were undertaken principally because the Philippines is chairing the ASEAN this year, numerous business deals were concluded with the two countries.

As a gift to his Burmese hosts, Duterte handed a check for $300,000. This was to support humanitarian efforts for the Rohingya minority, an oppressed minority group in Myanmar.

The gift spoke volumes. The world has spoken against the inhuman treatment of the Rohingya by Burmese authorities. Members of the minority group are not considered citizens. There has been increasing violent attacks on Rohingya communities. The gift politely reiterated our country’s concerns over the bad treatment of a Muslim ethnic minority in a predominantly majority Buddhist nation. Through the gift, we conveyed our concerns without making the hosts lose face.

The visits to both Myanmar and Thailand greatly improved prospects for getting a Code of Conduct for parties in the South China Sea claims. Manila is most anxious for such an international convention to be signed within the framework of the ASEAN. Now there is expectation the Code of Conduct may be signed this year.

A Code of Conduct was needed years ago, before China began building up reefs into military bases. Having accomplished its task of building military facilities on several reefs, China is now more amenable to signing a Code of Conduct. While it might be late, the Code of Conduct is far from academic. The contested areas in the South China Sea remain flashpoints.

It is worthy to note that Duterte has been on his best behavior when on diplomatic missions. He reads the carefully worded communiqués prepared by our professional diplomats rather than embarking on another one of his stream-of-consciousness monologues. He does not monkey around with his hosts. He does not interpose his personal opinion on matters of state.

Duterte, while abroad on diplomatic missions, seems an entirely different person from the one we regularly see delivering impromptu speeches diligently covered live on most afternoons. We are only sure its him because he reverts back to the “domestic Duterte” when he speaks before Filipino expatriate audiences.

During such appearances, he curses with wild abandon. He cracks sexist jokes. He fires broadsides against his political enemies. Invariably, the Filipino expats cheer him wildly. After all, they took the effort to make an appearance in those sessions to see the President they heard so much about. They want to see the real Duterte, not the sanitized version of the man.

Those of us at home would rather see more of the “international Duterte” grow on the domestic version of the man. We want to hear more of the “economic Duterte” and less of those long monologues about personal fate and destiny.

Our domestic politics has lately become highly charged. A dose of sobriety and some carefully crafted presidential statements will do us some good.


Many years ago, the irrepressibly blunt Lee Kwan Yew visited Manila and took Filipinos to task for being too political. It did not escape his observant mind that politics, not basketball, is the real national sport.

The obsessiveness with which we conduct our politics saps all our energies. It keeps us away from doing the things that matter while focusing us on things that don’t.

Right now, we seem to be headed for a long hot summer of escalated politicking. That is indicated by an early impeachment complaint filed against President Duterte and another complaint being contemplated against Vice President Leni Robredo.

The complaint against Duterte was filed by the Magdalo group. It wants to take the President to account for things he did as mayor of Davao City. It also wants Duterte to explain his wealth – for which no evidence seems to exist.

While the House may easily dismiss the complaint, it is bound to do so only after some semblance of a hearing is done. That is all Magdalo wants: a duly televised hearing that will allow them to grandstand and smear a sitting president.

The complaint against Robredo arose out of a really inconsequential pre-taped spiel she delivered for a side-event during a UN-sponsored international meeting. The spiel is indeed loose in its facts and terribly written. Those characteristics, however, do not merit impeachment.

In this country, no one is penalized for badly composed spiels. Otherwise, most of our politicians will be behind bars.

The Magdalo complaint, while better written, offers no damning evidence. But we are doomed to discuss it anyway.

The Robredo complaint, if a version better than the crappy one already submitted by lawyer Oliver Lozano, really intrudes into the sphere of free speech. If all politicians who dispensed fake information were prosecuted, our jails will be even more congested.

Nevertheless, the obligatory consideration of these complaints, while fodder for free public entertainment and podium for grandstanding, will take a toll on a precious resource: legislative time. There are so many beneficial things – such as the comprehensive tax reform package – that ought to have priority in the legislative schedule.

Lee Kwan Yew was so right in his observation.

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