At Large

Butterflies and appointees

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“Political butterfly” used to be a pejorative term in Philippine politics, denoting a politician who flits and floats from party to party, driven by the politics of convenience and personal interest.

The term has lost some of its sting of late, mainly because of the nature of political parties themselves in the Philippines. How can one be accused of disloyalty or self-interest when parties have become themselves institutions built around a single candidate? New parties have emerged with every election, only to fade away with the defeat of the party leader, or the consequent drying up of funds. True, some diehards may remain, hopeful of a new infusion of campaign funds or the takeover by a new Mr. Moneybags. But the days of fanatic loyalty to the Liberal or Nacionalista Party are long gone, and the LP and NP themselves are but shadows of their old selves.

But even given the diminution of the term “political butterfly,” the political history of “Pambansang Kamao” (National Fist) Rep. Manny Pacquiao of Saranggani, is indeed remarkable. His record, membership in a possible five political parties in as many years, is especially noteworthy given his brief experience in the field.

One wonders how serious Pacquiao is about his political involvement, or his avowed desire to “serve the people.” If indeed he wishes to help his constituents, how can he help them over the long term if his loyalties are so fleeting and his attention, apparently, wandering?

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One also wonders what core beliefs and principles Pacquiao himself harbors if he can so easily shift loyalties and seek new sponsors.

Of course, one understands why political parties would be eager to welcome the Pacman into their fold despite his penchant for political traipsing about. He is unquestionably popular, and could give whatever party he joins a boost in the ratings and in media coverage. But why is Pacman such a restless candidate and official? Why does he feel a constant need to find new patrons and friends? And why is he so prone to temptation?

One would hope Pacman would take a hint from his new favorite reading material, the Bible, especially its teachings about constancy and faith. We have yet to hear from Pacquiao about his deepest beliefs, and he has yet to prove why he would be worthy of our vote when he runs for governor next year, and then reportedly for senator in 2016, regardless of what party he belongs to by then.

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At last, P-Noy has said he is considering submitting the name of a different nominee for the post of ambassador to China.

For over a year now, since the retirement of Ambassador Francisco Benedicto, the Philippine embassy in Beijing has been without an ambassador. This is because the President’s nominee, businessman Domingo Lee, has been bypassed repeatedly by the Commission on Appointments. Aside from being ethnic Chinese, Lee is also the honorary president of the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and is believed to have been a major supporter of P-Noy during his run for the presidency aside from marshalling critical financial support from the Chinese community.

But career diplomats oppose the appointment of yet another “political appointee,” while CA members have been vocal in their criticism of Lee who apparently lacks the qualifications of an ambassador, let alone in such an important outpost as China.

It took the most recent standoff between Philippine Navy ships and Chinese vessels on Scarborough Shoal to change P-Noy’s mind. As if he were talking to himself, the President asked out loud: “Has the situation changed that changes also the parameters of the ambassador we need in China? Now, we have a Scarborough Shoal incident and there are other issues. Does he (Lee) possess the necessary skills to be able to help us navigate these treacherous waters at this point in time?”

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Apparently, the answer is yes. Lee may have proven himself as a go-between with Philippine and Chinese businessmen and investors, but relations with China now go beyond trade and investment, and require a more agile mind capable of bridging geopolitical differences.

It may rankle the President to take a step back in his negotiations with legislators over his appointees, so I think it behooves Lee himself, if indeed he wants to protect the President, to offer to withdraw from the process of nomination. In fact, he should have done this long ago, upon realizing how stubborn the opposition was to his assignment. Appointees love to say they “serve at the pleasure of the President,” but when situations tend to embarrass the appointing power, or put them in a bind, appointees would do well to voluntarily step out of the picture.

Now the situation has become so much more embarrassing for Lee, with his qualifications for envoy publicly questioned by the President himself. Perhaps P-Noy should also realize by now that naming unqualified persons—despite the strong pedigree and links to the Aquinos—could only end in embarrassment not just for himself and his nominee, but for the government itself.

Chinese authorities are said to also be chafing over the absence of an ambassador—or a fairly senior official—in Beijing, especially given the sensitivities attending our relations with China, starting with the botched rescue attempt at the Quirino Grandstand. It really must seem like a deliberate affront to China, given its obsession with honor and propriety, especially in observing the proper hierarchical niceties, that we have not appointed an ambassador all this time. Let’s hope it’s not too late to appease China and that it is still in the mood to deal honorably and reasonably with a new ambassador.

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