Panelo or Locsin? Senators wonder who speaks for PH foreign policy
MANILA, Philippines — Why are there two spokespersons for the country’s foreign policy?
This question was raised by two senators Monday night as the Senate deliberated on the P24.216 billion proposed 2020 budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
It was Senator Panfilo Lacson who first pointed out that Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo has been issuing statements about Philippine foreign policy.
“I’d like to find out…if he’s (Panelo) on secondment to the DFA?” Lacson said.
Senator Richard Gordon, who was defending the budget of the DFA, said the presidential spokesman would base his statements on the “last thing he heard” from the Cabinet meetings.
“Sometimes he gets called when the meeting is still going on and he just makes his statements based on the last thing he heard,” Gordon said. DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. was seated beside him.
“So he’s not actually taken over the position of speaking for the government in terms of DFA matters but at times, the media cannot wait and he just makes the statements. Now as to whether we can take it (Panelo’s statements) at face value is another thing,” he added.
Lacson then asked if there had been instances where the Palace official would issue a statement contradictory to the position of the DFA.
“Walang (No) contradiction? Every time the spokesperson speaks it is always, in other words, they’re of the same minds?” Lacson inquired.
In response, Gordon said: “I’m surprised that Teddy Boy Locsin says this, but yes.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III then said in jest: “Perhaps it would be best to just rely on the tweets of Secretary Locsin than to listen to the spokesman.”
Following up on the question raised by Lacson, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon inquired why there two views on the country’s foreign policy.
One from Panelo and another from Locsin, the senator said.
“Apparently it’s a question of elasticity, apparently Mr. Panelo has a wider view because he takes it when he reacts to media,” Gordon answered.
In the case of the Foreign Affairs Secretary, Gordon said, he has a “more cogent” and a “more studied” position because he would base his statements from information from the military and other sources within the DFA.
But Gordon admitted that he himself finds having two spokesmen on the country’s foreign policy “really unacceptable.”
“I think it really should be the DFA who should be the principal spokesman,” he said.
Drilon agreed with Gordon and called on Locsin to advise the President that matters concerning foreign relations be referred to the DFA chief.
This as the minority leader underscored the sensitivity of issues regarding foreign policy.
“The Secretary of Foreign Affairs should assert that he is the—other than the President—is the single spokesperson in so far as foreign relations is concerned given the very sensitive nature of his work and our foreign relations,” Drilon said.
“We would like to think that the secretary has a very competent pool of advisers who can advise him on the ramifications of any foreign policy pronouncement which unfortunately is not in the bureaucracy of the presidential spokesperson,” he added.
Locsin, through Gordon, explained that Panelo is “very open to media” while he is not.
“In other words, the secretary of foreign affairs is more judicious in answering questions because of the important nature of the statements but in the case of Secretary Panelo, he seems that he has an aire libre (out in the open) policy that he can answer all questions,” Gordon said.
“But again it doesn’t help us because I think the message must be sent also—if not the Senate but the secretary of foreign affairs, himself, to request the President that there be only one spokesman,” he added.
Drilon then mentioned that he had noticed that the presidential spokesman would quote text messages he has with the Chinese ambassador.
“You know it doesn’t do us well that such important policy issues be tackled publicly by somebody other than secretary of foreign affairs,” he said, adding that statements on foreign policy issues should only come from the DFA.
“We are spreading this views on the record, so that there can be some correction done in so far as the structure is concerned, that’s all that we’re saying,” he added.
At this point, Gordon assured Drilon that the foreign affairs secretary “reads you loud and clear.”
Drilon then expressed hope that the secretary “will bring this out internally in their meeting.”
“No politics involved here, it’s just a question ( of us) being able to communicate correctly our foreign policies,” he added.
The budget of the DFA was eventually deemed submitted and approved after no senators expressed intent to interpellate.
Edited by MUF
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