Tit-for-tat
Tit-for-tat
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo withdrew not only his words but also showed by his dress “code” in making his not so subtle public apology to Chinese ambassador Zhao Jianhua. Always teased no less by President Rodrigo Duterte for his flamboyant dress styles, Panelo obviously made extra efforts by letting his outfit of the day – OTD as the millennials call it – as subliminal message of his peace offering to the Chinese ambassador.

Appearing before his regular press conference at the Malacañang media briefing room last Friday, Panelo showed up with a Chinese cheongsam-inspired “barong tagalog.” Panelo equivocated for attributing to the Chinese ambassador the supposed “tit-for-tat” warning on undocumented Filipino workers in China could similarly be sent back home by Beijing in retaliation against any deportation of illegal Chinese working here in the Philippines. 

In previous day’s press conference at the Palace, Panelo told reporters that Amb. Zhao informed him over dinner that China would do the same if the Philippines deport illegal Chinese workers. “That’s tit for tat,” Panelo quipped.

Panelo was practically rebuffed in an official statement released the next day by the Chinese Embassy in Manila to vehemently deny any “tit-for-tat” was mentioned by the Ambassador during a supposed dinner conversation. The Embassy reiterated Beijing’s respect to the Philippine government’s internal affairs and adverted to Beijing’s own policy that adheres to the principle of non-interference.

Taking note of media reports on Panelo’s “tit-for-tat” quote on Amb. Zhao, the embassy cited: “Chinese law enforcement agencies will continue to properly handle relevant issues concerning foreign nationals working illegally in China in accordance with laws and regulations.”

It was actually President Duterte himself who first explained why the Philippine government must exercise maximum tolerance in dealing with illegal Chinese workers to avoid getting Beijing’s ire and a situation where they will go after our own illegal Filipino workers in China.

Perhaps, Panelo might be telling the truth about his private conversation with the Chinese ambassador. Or, Panelo might have misheard Amb. Zhao. Or perhaps, both Panelo and Amb. Zhao were actually just in agreement to President Duterte’s warning. The exuberance of the moment may have been the effect of wine, if served during the dinner.

Whatever it is, Panelo got away with his overstepping the bounds of his dinner party conversations.

But when sober, Panelo could be a very effective “pooled” reporter in closed-for-media events. This he showed when he narrated some details of the brief meeting talks that President Duterte had with visiting American State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo last Thursday night at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.

Relating the light moments when President Duterte’s possible trip to the US was mentioned, Panelo quoted the Secretary of State telling the former Davao City Mayor: ‘You’re just like our President.’ We were laughing. The style of the President: frank, doesn’t discriminate. He can fight anyone. Isn’t Mr. Trump like that? Against all odds?” Panelo rhetorically regaled reporters the next day at his briefing with Malacañang reporters.

According to Panelo, the President and Pompeo talked for more than 45 minutes. Panelo though shared only the light stuff of the conversations while leaving out the more juicy details taken up during the meeting. It was Pompeo himself who disclosed the next day being thankful that President Duterte obliged to meet him before the Chief Executive flew to his regular weekend vacation at his family residence in Davao City. 

Pompeo flew here for tete-a-tete with his counterpart official, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and headed their respective panels in the bilateral meeting held at the DFA head office in Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City.

In a joint press conference immediately after the bilateral meeting, Pompeo and Locsin explained in broad strokes about the substantive matters the two panels discussed behind closed-doors. Unfortunately, the press briefing was very brief. Only one reporter from local and one from US media were allowed to pose question.

From the Philippine media, Pompeo was asked to comment about the use of Huawei’s 5G technology in the country’s growing digital infrastructure. Although it was not identified, the question was in apparent reference to the Mindanao Islamic Telephone Co. (Mislatel) that won the controversial third telco deal involving state-owned China Telecom Corp. Ltd. as part of the consortium led by Davao-base businessman Dennis Uy.

As far as Philippine government officials are concerned, Huawei gadgets and digital technology have been here in our country. In fact, our mobile phone services from Smart and Globe Telecoms use Huawei. In fact, it’s popularly used not only in Philippines but also elsewhere in the world.

The top American diplomat, however, echoed the US government concern that the Chinese system poses serious security risks for the Philippines. “We believe that competition, whether it’s in 5G or some other technology, ought to be open, free, transparent and we worry that Huawei is not that,” Pompeo pointed out.

Obviously, the US official was speaking about criminal charges against two Huawei affiliates for allegedly stealing technology from T-Mobile, an American telecom giant.

In January, the US announced 13 charges against Meng Wanzhou, Huawei and two affiliates. Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei, is due in court on March 6, when prosecutors will present the evidence against her and lay out detailed arguments for her extradition, the Agence France Press (AFP) reported over the weekend.

Meng was changing planes in Vancouver in December when she was detained at Washington’s request on suspicion of violating US sanctions on Iran – sparking arrests of Canadians in China that were seen as retaliatory, the AFP wire report added.

That’s the real tit-for-tat.

CHINESE WORKERS MIKE POMPEO
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