Thursday, December 2, 2010


Honesty is still the best policy – be they in personal dealings or world diplomacy – but nations still need their secrets, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said in response to the leak of thousands of confidential State Department documents in the WikiLeaks website.

“We have been transparent,” he stressed, “what we say to them (the US government) is what we say to our people.”

According to WikiLeaks, a total of 1,796 diplomatic cables out of the more than 251,000 documents posted now or in the weeks ahead emanated from the US Embassy in Manila. Nearly all were sent between January 2005 and February 2010.

WikiLeaks has not yet posted the Manila cables.

“Everybody laments the leaks that happened but since it’s already out there, we have to confront it,” Romulo said.

The DFA chief was in Washington DC to hand-carry a personal letter from President Aquino to key congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.

Last night, he presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated Philippine Chancery along Massachusetts Avenue, just across the Philippine Embassy that now houses the consular section where the new Philippine e-Passports are processed and issued.

Romulo admitted no one from the State Department has reached out to him to give advance warning of what could be in the cables from Manila.

The US already briefed leaders around the world about potentially embarrassing and sensitive information that may become public because of the so-called “cablegate”.

According to the United Kingdom’s The Guardian newspaper, the bulk of the documents from Manila were “unclassified” and only 65 were marked “secret”.

The Philippines has close – some might say, cozy – relations with the US since the Philippines was granted independence in 1946.

However, there were two significant events that seemed to test that relationship during the period 2005-2010 – the crisis spawned by allegations of fraud in the 2004 national elections and the trial and detention of US Marine Cpl. Daniel Smith who was convicted of rape in December 2006.

Smith spent much of his detention – even after his conviction – in US-controlled facilities.

That sparked public indignation and fueled calls for a review, if not the cancellation of the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“Both our countries have agreed to the review,” Romulo said, suggesting that the 11-year-old agreement may have become outdated because of intervening events not only in the Philippines but across the world.

But he signaled they were not ready to scrap the VFA outright. “A review is a review,” the DFA chief averred, conceding that the issue of who should get custody of erring US servicemen will be one of the topics on the agenda.

Romulo indicated he was not especially worried about what could be in the cables.

“In my case, what I say to them and what I say in public is the same,” he averred.

Still, he hastened to add, “there is such a thing as confidentiality in diplomatic relations.”

“Instead of confiding in each other there will be reticence or even constraint,” he explained.

Romulo will be in town for a few more days as he meets with congressional leaders to push for the SAVE Act.

He’s already met with Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, one of the Philippine’s most avid supporters on Capitol Hill and chairman of the influential appropriations committee.

Inouye, a prime backer of Filipino World War II legislation in Congress, was reportedly smarting from law suits filed against the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) bill that granted lump sum payments to veterans in the US and Philippines, but what some groups say fell short of granting full recognition and benefits to Filipino veterans, including their widows and children.

“He knows; he’s been in politics for a long time,” Romulo explained.

President Aquino has personally invited Inouye to revisit the Philippines, something that Romulo said the lawmaker was looking forward to.

Romulo said he will continue to push for the SAVE Act (granting duty-free access for US textiles to the Philippines, and Philippine garments to the US) because “it will be good for both countries because both countries need jobs.”

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