Columns

OFFLINE: An ambassador speaks an unspoken truth

Almost all ambassadors for all countries are forced to serve as public relations consultants of their respective homelands. They can never speak ill of their country, unless they abandon their posts and seek asylum in their host countries.

This is true for Filipino ambassadors, as well. They may only speak good things about the Republic of the Philippines and the nations it has friendly relations with, especially when engaging with their fellow ambassadors.

Diplomacy is the name of their game, and they are taught what to say, when to say it, and avoid engaging in debates with their fellow envoys.

Every once in a while, however, ambassadors do say things that will cause shock to other countries, and they may be the object of diplomatic complaints.

It was therefore a most pleasant surprise when Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel ‘Babe’ Romualdez said some things that were absolutely true, but which must have caused eyebrows in Beijing to rise higher than The Rock’s. Not just one eyebrow, but both.

Romualdez said two things that made me come close to jumping up and down with joy like a drunken chimpanzee.

First, he said point blank that it was China that was being constantly aggressive against Filipinos in the seas where they and their families and forefathers have been fishing for centuries.

How true.

China’s Coast Guard as well as militia ships have been harassing Filipino fisherfolk in recent years, starting when former president Rodrigo Duterte refused to fight for their rights and advised them to just accept Chinese presence in Philippine waters.

In one instance, a Chinese ship rammed a Filipino fishing boat, cutting  it in two. The Chinese seamen than abandoned the Filipinos in the open sea, and it was by some miracle that they survived.

The Chinese would later claim that it was all an accident, and offered to replace the completely destroyed boat with a new one, which they did.

In other instances, Chinese militia used power hoses to drive Filipino fishermen away. It was a most inhumane treatment that no human being deserved.

Then there was that recent instance when a Chinese Coast Guard ship aimed a high-grade laser as a Philippine Coast Guard vessel, temporarily blinding the crew.

There have also been multiple instances when scores of Chinese vessels have intruded into Philippine waters. Too many times to count, actually.

So yes, all unfriendly acts occurring at the West Philippine Sea have been initiated by the Chinese.

Ambassador Romualdez spoke the truth, but I’m pretty sure that the people at the Department of Foreign Affairs were not too happy with his honesty.

The other thing that the envoy said was that it was not impossible for more military camps in the Philippines to open their doors to American forces coming in and conducting training exercises, along with storing their supplies.

The Philippines used to have five camps that could host US troops by virtue of the Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA. Very recently, four more areas were identified as places where good, old G.I. Joe was most welcome.

Guess what the ambassador formerly known as Babes had to say about that? He said it was not impossible to think that more sites could be made available for the Americans to start hoarding all sorts of weapons, except nuclear that is.

That comment must have caused more gnashing of Chinese teeth in their foreign ministry.

I have tried most of the time to toe the nationalist line and I am fully aware that there have been many instances when American soldiers did horrible things to Filipinos.

In some ways, the US is not so much a friend of the Philippines as it is a potential protector and ally should push come to shove.

China’s belligerent actions are all indicative of a future plan to invade the Philippines, as far as I’m concerned. They may practice some form of diplomacy where they donate large sums whenever a catastrophe strikes, or plunk in some money for infrastructure projects, but all these acts do not give them the right to bully the Philippines, especially our fisherfolk.

As this is being written, China has been holding a theoretical invasion of Taiwan, and have sent ships and planes over Taiwanese waters and air space. Their version of a military exercise is as blatant a threat as can be imagined.

In return, US and Philippine forces are having their regular Balikatan exercises, and this year will be the biggest yet. Some 17,000 soldiers from both sides will take part in the military maneuvers, which will include use of live firearms.

Take that, Xi Jinping!

I guess Ambassador Romualdez must be smiling in his sleep these days. At the very least he was able to express what millions of Filipinos are thinking.

I am by no means a fan of Ambassador Romualdez. Let’s just say that I have witnessed how he has stepped up from his early days as a wannabe newscaster. That career was wrecked by the Edsa Revolt, and he did what he had to do to survive.

Somewhere along the way, he seems to have put up a PR firm of some kind.

If he is reading this, he may want to know that I once worked for a Dubai-based newspaper called Gulf News, which set up a Manila office. He became quite chummy with a Brit who handled its local operations. And that’s all I will say about that.

Later, he either hired or befriended a PR practitioner, whom I knew. That lady occasionally sent me releases of Romualdez, and lo and behold he had shortened his already short nickname of Babes to simply Babe.

Nothing wrong with that, as an ambassador named Babes just wouldn’t cut it.

The guy knew how to be in the right place at the right time, and before I or anyone knew it, he was suddenly appointed by Rodrigo Duterte as ambassador to the US. Not much I could say but bully for him.

I have met a few ambassadors, and a good friend was even named ambassador to an Eastern European state. His name was Andy and he was a great guy, God rest his soul.

As far as I can tell, Babe Romualdez has performed credibly enough while handling one of the most important diplomatic posts for the country.

To be clear, I’ve never met him face-to-face, and I cannot say that I’m a rah-rah boy if his. But congratulations are in order for his speaking out against China, which is no friend of the Philippines in my book.

Will I praise him again? I doubt it, but who knows? As long as I believe he speaks without forked tongue, he will get either one or two thumbs up from me somewhere down the road.

Got it, Babes?