Alberto Romulo will be removed as foreign-affairs secretary by end of January — official
A story in today’s The New York Times details China’s reaction to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. Written by Michael Wines (with additional reporting from me and other colleagues at the paper), the article says that “in the two months since the Nobel committee honored Mr. Liu, China has waged an extraordinary and unprecedented campaign, domestically and internationally, to discredit the award and to dissuade other governments from endorsing it.”
Apparently, the Philippines was not spared from this campaign. The story quotes a senior Filipino adviser to Philippine President Noynoy Aquino as saying that Secretary Alberto G. Romulo of the Department of Foreign Affairs decided not to send a delegation to the Nobel Peace Prize awards rites on Friday “without telling us.”
The official, who talked to me on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, called Romulo’s move to appease Beijing, which remained displeased with the Aug. 232 hostage-taking incident, “a clumsy attempt to balance the administration’s more distant stance on China.”
“This administration will be a voice for human rights in this part of the world,” my source said, “and now, this.”
Most of what follows did not make it to the NYT story, mainly because of space constraints:
The official told me that Romulo, secretary of the department since 2004 beginning with Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is “going off the reservation to try to please China.”
He said Romulo “is much more sympathetic with China than the Aquino administration, much more pro-China than the administration. We prefer to see a more balanced approach with regards to China.”
Romulo’s decision has put Aquino in an awkward position, the adviser said, especially since Aquino is “strong when it comes to Burma.” Aquino had earlier called for the military junta in Burma to release Aung Sang Suu Kyi. “This administration will be a voice for human rights in this part of the world,” my source said, “and now, this.”
Since the foreign-affairs department already announced that the Philippines would not attend the Nobel ceremony, the adviser said the Aquino administration “is forced to good” and that they would stick to the decision because “we don’t want to anger them anymore.”
Ellen Tordesillas, an investigative journalist with Vera Files, a Manila news outfit that specializes in foreign-policy reporting, said the non-attendance at the Nobel event “is clearly an effort by Manila to make amends to Beijing. It doesn’t want to ruffle more feathers at this time because the Chinese are still upset at us.”
The Aquino adviser said that while Manila obviously needs to appease Beijing because of the hostage crisis, what Romulo did “was a clumsy attempt to balance the administration’s more distant stance on China. The fact that Romulo is not exactly on the same page as the president leads to this clumsy attempt.”
This is not the first time that Romulo has expressed a position that is opposite to the Aquino administration’s. In interviews to the Manila press, Romulo was asked earlier this year if he favored an increased US presence in the Philippines and Southeast Asia and he replied no. “But the administration believes that increased US presence in Southeast Asia provides a counterpoint to China,” the Aquino adviser said.
The adviser said Romulo will be replaced as secretary of the foreign ministry by the end of January. “It will be a graceful exit but he will be gone by then,” he said.
A senior diplomat at the DFA, who talked to me on condition of anonymity, said “attendance at the awards ceremonies have always been optional and there is perhaps no need to put a political color as to who may or may not be there this year.”