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Official working visits to other countries turned into family holidays


When Douglas Imhoff, husband of US Vice-President Kamala Harris, came to attend the inauguration of Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. as president, he brought with him a letter from US President Joseph Biden. In that letter, Mr. Biden invited Mr. Marcos to come to Washington when both their schedules allow.

While the Marcos family is ever ready to go to an event it is invited to, be it the Grand Prix in Singapore, the World Economic Forum in ski resort Davos, a tete-a-tete in the White House, Mr. Biden was free only on May 1. Thus, on May 1, in true Filipino fashion, Mr. Marcos not only brought along his real family but his official family as well. Aside from wife Liza, son Sandro, and first cousin Martin Romualdez, Cabinet members Enrique Manalo, Eduardo Año, Carlito Galvez, Crispin Remulla, Ben Diokno, Arsenio Balisacan, Alfredo Pascual, Toots Ople, Toni Yulo-Loyzaga, and Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo joined the President in the trip to Washington, DC. Second cousin Babes Romualdez, who happens to be the Philippine ambassador to the US, welcomed them.

Only in the Philippines do couples bring along their children even if the invitations to wedding receptions, wedding anniversary celebrations, and other special occasions are only for Mr. and Mrs. As former ambassador Leticia Ramos Shahani wrote in her paper “Moral Recovery” shortly after her brother Fidel was sworn in as president: “Filipinos possess a genuine and deep love for family which includes not simply spouses and children, parents and siblings, but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents and other ceremonial relatives.” She did not include in-laws. Maybe she considered them ceremonial relatives.

When President Ramos went to America in 1993 to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Seattle, he brought with him and First Lady Ming Ramos their grandchildren and the First Lady’s sister and her American husband. They flew to America well ahead of the Seattle meeting so President Ramos could make sentimental journeys to his alma maters, the University of Illinois in Chicago and the United States Military Academy in West Point, and a side trip to Atlanta to visit a daughter. Mrs. Ramos’ American brother-in-law could not have seen the Long Gray Line parade had President Ramos not brought him along.

In 2004, then President Macapagal-Arroyo turned her state visit to China into a family holiday. She brought along not only her two sons and their spouses but her two granddaughters and their nannies as well. “Philippine culture is based on family and I have such little quality time with my family considering my heavy workload,” grumbled the mother and grandmother in reaction to the relentless and harsh criticisms from the press and some sectors of society. Her own daughter Lulli didn’t join the family on that state visit, but brother-in-law Jose Arroyo did.

Speaking of Philippine culture being based on family, during her State of the Nation Address before the joint session of Congress in 2003, President Macapagal-Arroyo›s granddaughter Mikaela, still in diapers, was present. Mikaela was also at the reception line at the Malacañang grounds when US President George W. Bush went to the Palace during his state visit to the Philippines. No, Mr. Bush’s two daughters did not come along during that state visit. American culture, unlike Philippine culture, is not built on family.

That brings to mind the wake for Pope John Paul II in 2005. Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo had not intended to go to it. She sent Vice-President Noli de Castro to represent the Philippine government. But when she learned that four kings, five queens, and 70 heads of states were going to pay their last respects to the Pope, a man who worked for world peace, for justice for all, she decided to go — with a delegation.

She designated representatives of various sectors of Philippine society to the official party that would accompany her to Rome, as if the wake was a convergence of world leaders in Rome to discuss and resolve issues affecting women, the youth, legislators, and governments. She named daughter Lulli, who was then in her mid-30s as representative of the youth. She chose Gina de Venecia for the women sector, Social Security System chairman Thelmo Cunanan for government, Hermilando Mandanas for legislators, and provincial broadcaster Cerge Remonte for what I do not know as Press Secretary Toting Bunye was already in the official party.

Obviously, the aforementioned personages were designated official delegates to give them a free holiday trip to Rome because the president owed them favors. In the case of Cunanan, it was his wife Bel that the president owed favors. Bel’s daily column in the Inquirer read like the daily bulletins from Malacañang.

As in all foreign trips of President Bongbong Marcos, Ate Glo came along in the official working visit to Joe Biden. She is like the head of the Privy Council that gives advice to the King of England. She has to sit right beside Sir Bongbong in meetings to whisper advice. After all, she was president herself for nine years, longer than the other two living former presidents — Erap and Tatay Digong. She took away three years from Erap’s term. She had also been on more official working visits than anybody else. She started making them when she was vice-president.

Missing from the entourage to Washington were Sir Bongbong’s mother, Ma’am Imelda, and two sons Simon and Vinny. Mommy must be unwell, as rumors say. Simon preferred to jam with friends in Manila, and Vinny, a software engineer, had work. Also missing was official family member Sara Duterte (Education secretary). I guess as Vice-President she had to stay home to look after the house, so to speak.

But I thought Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Toni should have stayed home as well. The very recent collision between a tanker and a dredger off Corregidor called for her attention to the heavy dredging going on in the waters off Cavite. It is destroying the coral reefs there and threatening the livelihood of Cavite fishermen.

Migrant Workers Secretary Toots should have gone instead to war-torn Sudan to help the Filipino migrant workers desperately scampering for safety. There was really not much need for her to go to the US. Filipino migrant workers in America are just too happy to be there even if they work 12 hours a day, six days a week, for wages below what white Americans get. Eventually they renounce their loyalty to the Philippines and become American citizens, the dream of thousands of Filipinos. As many say, it is really hard to love the Philippines.

I noticed from the video report of ABS-CBN North America correspondent TJ Manotoc that there were many Filipino-Americans who trooped to Washington, DC to join the Jan. 6, 2021 rally called by Donald Trump. Some told TJ they came all the way from California. Many were wearing MAGA (Make America Great Again) paraphernalia. Conspicuous was a “walis tambo” (a broom made of Philippine indigenous material) hoisted during the occupation of the Capitol by Donald Trump cultists.

Filipino-Americans had become “white” supremacists, notwithstanding the color of their skin, and anti-immigrants, even if they were immigrants themselves before, because they are now Americans.

But let me say that no other persons are more qualified than Toni and Toots for their respective positions.

Back to Joe Biden’s invitation. Only Mr. and Mrs. Marcos Jr. were received in the White House. He must have told the others that what he wanted to take up with Bongbong (iron-clad commitment of mutual defense) was not their cup of tea. As for Liza Marcos, Jill Biden entertained her in the Tea Room.

May 1 was a Monday, a working day. May 1 is not Labor Day in America. Unfortunately, the White House is not open for public tours on Mondays. So, the rest of the Marcos Jr. family, personal and official, could not even enter the White House as tourists. They had to go somewhere. Maybe Sec. Toni and Ate Glo went to their common alma mater, Georgetown University, which is a 45-minute walk or five-minute car ride from the White House.

Sec. Toni earned a master’s degree from the university and Ate Glo earned bragging rights to having been a student there at the same time that future US president Bill Clinton was enrolled in the same school. That they were classmates as she claims, is in question. Bill graduated from Georgetown with a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service in 1968. Ate Glo graduated from Assumption College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics, magna cum laude, also in 1968. According to Encyclopedia Britannica she studied Economics in Georgetown. Obviously, the units she earned in Georgetown were credited in Assumption for her to graduate with a degree in Economics. She is the Mother of Holiday Economics. She can also be called the Mother of Official Holiday Visits.

Sec. Toots might have spent the free time surveying the area between the White House and the Capitol and reflecting on the significance of her situation. In February of 1986, Sec. Toots’ father, Blas Ople, then Minister of Labor and Assemblyman, was in Washington DC lobbying for the beleaguered President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. When the People Power uprising broke out, US Secretary of State George Schultz advised Mr. Ople to call on President Marcos Sr. to resign. Sec. Toots could have wondered if history would repeat itself.

As for Finance Secretary Diokno, Trade and industry Secretary Pascual, and NEDA Director-General Balisacan, they could not accomplish much in Washington. They didn’t accomplish much in Beijing and Davos. As I had written before, after every presidential state or working visit to another country, investment pledges are mere gestures of courtesy on the part of the host country.

During President Macapagal-Arroyo’s state visit to China in 2004, President Hu Jintao committed fund assistance for the North Rail project. Before leaving Beijing, five major trade agreements between Filipino and Chinese businessmen were signed. There was a commitment to set up fish processing facilities here. A seismic study in the South China Sea for possible petroleum resources was supposed to be conducted. None of those came to be.

When President Duterte made a state visit to China, he was pledged funds for railways, ports, energy generation, and mining projects worth $54 billion. Only 5% of that has been released.

Mr. Marcos Jr. and Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo being in the forefront in discussions of possible investments in the Philippines renders those supposed trade missions ineffective. The people they talk to must be fully aware of the Bataan Nuclear Plant case and the NBN-ZTE deal.

The Filipino people have good reasons for denouncing those presidential state and working visits to other countries.

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor.

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