What ‘alter egos’ must do

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Having covered many a number of presidential coverage abroad for The Philippine Star in the past, personal experience tells me never, if not very rare, that the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) became part of the official entourage. Not in the case of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) who, in particular, brought along DSWD Secretary Erwin Tulfo.

Tulfo joined PBBM as among the selected Cabinet members who accompanied him in his past two official trips recently abroad. The first was to tag along with him at the Leaders’ Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held in Cambodia from Nov. 8 to 15. The DSWD Secretary again was asked to join the President in the Leaders’ Summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) held in Thailand from Nov. 16 to 21.

What role did the DSWD Secretary play on the economic, trade and other burning issues on geo-politics tackled in these two just concluded Leaders’ Summits of the ASEAN and the APEC? This we asked of Tulfo who was our featured guest at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday.

Tulfo explained his participation was called upon in his capacity as DSWD Secretary to attend to the socio-cultural concerns and issues taken up in these two international conferences. “Since we do not have a cultural office abroad but other countries have, the DSWD handles the socio-cultural aspects,” Tulfo pointed out. In fact, he disclosed, he handled certain cases of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) whose families and relatives were having problems that could be addressed by the DSWD here in the Philippines.

We have always seen the “must” attendance in the ASEAN and APEC Leaders’ Summit whoever are the principal members of the socio-economic cluster of the Cabinet. While the DSWD Secretary is a regular member of the Cabinet socio-economic cluster, it is the Secretary of the Department of Finance (DOF) by tradition who heads the economic team in the Philippine delegation in the presidential trips.

Thus, when DOF Secretary Benjamin Diokno was not included at the just concluded ASEAN and APEC Leaders’ Summits, political wags spread the rumors he was on the way out of his Cabinet post. The rumors came out last Monday and apparently timed while Diokno was supposed to go through the confirmation process of the Commission on Appointments (CA).

No less than PBBM himself doused cold waters the next day on Diokno’s rumored “on the way out” of his Cabinet. Visibly flabbergasted, the Chief Executive called it as “fake news.” The next day, CA finally approved Diokno’s nomination along with Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.

In Tulfo’s case, the CA deferred for now his confirmation over his questioned acquiring American citizenship despite already renounced and court conviction in four libel cases while he was still an active journalist. Tulfo disclosed he immediately sent a text message to PBBM to ask for “guidance” following the CA deferment on his nomination. “Just do your job,” Tulfo quoted the President’s reply. “All he (PBBM) told me was that: You get ready. Let them do their jobs. Ayaw ho nyang makialam. That’s the (job of) the legislature. Antayin natin kung ano ang decision ng legislative (branch), ng CA,” Tulfo quipped.

Attending our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast forum a day after the CA confirmation hearing, Tulfo consciously refrained from discussing his troubled nomination since the matter is still being deliberated and tackled by the 25-man bicameral body. He likewise begged off from sharing with his former colleagues in media what the CA members took up during the CA closed-door “executive session” they later had with him.

“As journalist, we all know that being sued for libel is part of the hazards of our job,” he cited. He appreciated the point raised at his CA confirmation hearing by Senators Chiz Escudero and Francis “Tol” Tolentino, all lawyers, who argued in his favor. Tol and Chiz cited they even filed bills in Congress that seek to decriminalize libel. Senate minority leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III pointed out yesterday Tulfo could still work out amicable settlement of his libel conviction involving a private party.

The 58-year old Tulfo is the youngest of the famed Tulfo brothers working in media. Like Erwin, his brothers Ramon, Raffy, and Ben are radio-TV-print journalists. Eldest brother is our fellow STAR columnist, Ramon while another brother Raffy is a Senator. The wife of Raffy, Joyce Pua-Tulfo is incumbent party list representative of ACT-CIS but neither are members of the powerful CA.

The Congressmen panel at the CA also raised Tulfo’s admission of having sired ten children from four different women. “Since I was under oath, I told them (CA) all the truth. I cannot tell a lie,” Tulfo swore.

During our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Tulfo was only too proud to declare “all of them are well taken cared of.” He was not bragging but merely underscored he has not abandoned his obligations to all his children and their respective mothers.

Five of them, he cited, have already graduated from college, three of them in the United States; one finished his Information Technology course in San Beda College. Two are still in college here in our country while one of them is studying journalism in New York, while the youngest is still in senior high school.

After all, one of the priority tasks of Tulfo as DSWD Secretary is to care for the wellbeing and protection of children and youth, including mothers and women as well as single parents, especially those belonging to the disadvantaged sectors.

Each Cabinet member serves at the pleasure of the President. PBBM earlier removed his first Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez after he obviously lost his “trust and confidence” on his erstwhile close aide in the past.

As the alter egos of the President, Cabinet officials like Tulfo and Diokno must strive to keep this “trust and confidence” while working to better serve the needs and aspirations of the Filipino people.

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