Tuesday, April 12, 2011


President Aquino gave the country’s new ambassador to Washington DC his “marching orders” – pull in the investments that will create jobs for Filipinos.

Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. defined the “three pillars” of his mission as economic diplomacy, national security and protecting the interests of overseas Filipinos.

“The objective is to create jobs that will alleviate poverty,” he told the Fil-Am press at the Philippine Embassy.

“Trade and investments will be very important – not to say the two other pillars are not important – but we would like to generate more jobs for Filipinos so they don’t have to go abroad,” he explained.

“We can see what’s happening in the Middle East and North Africa. The President would really like to see us intensify efforts to attract investments, especially foreign direct investments,” Cuisia stressed.

“He sees the risks involved in countries experiencing conflict,” he averred.

“When you look at total direct investments, the US would be number 1 or number 2. American companies continue to be one of the biggest source of foreign direct investments and that’s very clear in his (President Aquino’s) instructions,” Cuisia disclosed.

The office of the US Trade Representative reported that US direct foreign investment in the Philippines reached $5.8 billion in 2009 – up from $5.6 billion in 2008 – mostly in the manufacturing sector. Bangko Sentral statistics showed US companies pumped an additional $201 million in 2010.

After spending decades in the rarefied world of high finance, his job as diplomat will be a first for Cuisia.

Born in Manila in July 1944, Cuisia graduated magna cum laude at the Dela Salle University and earned his Masters in Business Administration at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania.

He steered the Social Security System in 1986-1990; and spent the next three years as Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines and Chairman of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation.

He alternated between the government and private sector – Chairman of the Far East Bank & Trust Company (1994-2000), President and CEO of the Philippine American Life & Insurance Company (1993-2009) and Vice President for Life Insurance of the American International Group (1997-2009). He worked as Chairman or sat in the board of about a dozen other companies.

It was precisely this background that made him President Aquino’s top choice for Washington DC. This and of course, his deep personal ties with the Aquino family.

He was one of President Cory Aquino’s most trusted advisers and would eventually engineer financial reforms, laying the groundwork for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

“I know a lot of people in the American Chamber (of Commerce), the US-ASEAN Business Council because I’ve dealt with them before. I know many of the past US ambassadors to the Philippines like Ambassador Frank Wisner who also actually worked with AIG as vice chairman for several years,” he revealed.

President Obama had sent Wisner to Egypt at the time the US was trying to broker the exit of President Hosni Mubarak. “He is a personal friend,” Cuisia said, ticking off more names of top US envoys that he’s developed friendships with.

“I hope to be able to tap my friends in business and political circles to be able to help us achieve our objectives,” Cuisia declared.

Cuisia spent just a week in Washington DC. He summoned the country’s consuls general in the US to assess the challenges and opportunities ahead.

He also offered his credentials at the State Department – signaling the official start of his work as Philippine Ambassador to the US. The State Department will arrange an appointment with President Obama for him to submit his credentials.

Although he appears ready for the Washington DC circuit, there may be two reasons making the move a little difficult – the grandchildren he’ll be leaving behind in Manila. “I hope they can visit during the school break,” wished the grandfather.

There’s a trade-off though – he has two daughters in New York – one of whom is getting married in September. Cuisia signaled he’s already looking forward to the date for a family reunion in the US.

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