The case for Gloria Arroyo replacing Perfecto Yasay as foreign affairs secretary
In the first part of this two-part post, The Filipino Scribe discussed the untenable nature of Yasay’s appointment as Secretary of Foreign Affairs (likening it to a “seat-warmer”) and how it greatly clouded his first three months on the job.
Now, it is being rumored once again that Yasay is already on his way out. In a blog post published September 23, veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas wrote on her blog that former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is being discussed to be the next DFA Secretary.
Tordesillas explained that many of the country’s career foreign service officers are already “so traumatized and demoralized” of having to do damage control operations whenever President Rodrigo Duterte goes on a verbal tirade against other world leaders like United Nations Secretary Ban Ki Moon and United States President Barack Obama and international institutions like the European Union. She added that as a former President, Arroyo has a better grasp of foreign policy than Yasay.
1. Arroyo will make Duterte’s foreign policy coherent
With Arroyo as DFA secretary, expect the Duterte administration to have a more cogent foreign policy direction. After all, as Tordesillas noted, the two share a similar goal of making the Philippines have a more cooperative relationship with China. “If Arroyo becomes DFA head, Duterte’s idea of joint exploration in the South China with China can be fast tracked because Arroyo had entered into a same cooperation with China and Vietnam in 2004,” she wrote.
Needless to say, Arroyo also has gained a deep familiarity with the ins-and-outs of the international scene during her nine years as president. For example, during her administration, the Philippines earned a seat at the powerful United Nations Security Council for 2004 to 2005. The following year, the country hosted the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.
Her stature as a former head of state will give her instant gravitas among world leaders, diplomats, and the foreign media. Under Secretary Arroyo, expect fewer “amateur hour” moments for the Philippines in the world stage. Famous for being a micromanager and a highly-demanding boss, it is not likely that Arroyo will tolerate officials who commit embarassing gaffes when speaking to their foreign counterparts and the overseas press.
2. She knows how to deal with US and China
Arroyo can also navigate the Philippines’ relationship with both the United States and China effectively. In the aspect of foreign policy, Arroyo’s presidency can be best remembered for her ability to balance between the two superpowers.
Arroyo’s term overlapped with the entire eight years of former US President George W. Bush’s administration, and the two leaders worked closely in the area of counterterrorism. Arroyo vigorously backed Bush’s War on Terror, citing the ties of local terrorist group Abu Sayyaf to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. In May 2003, Bush hosted Arroyo at the White House and designated the Philippines as a major non-NATO ally of the US, making the country eligible to receive more military aid. Arroyo hosted Bush at Malacanang five months later.
Meanwhile, Arroyo’s final 17 months as President coincided with the first year and a half of President Barack Obama’s term. Obama hosted Arroyo at the White House six months into his presidency, the first Southeast Asian leader to do so.
Despite the country’s close ties to Washington during her administration, Arroyo nevertheless also pursued a strong relationship with China. Proof of this is the numerous deals and agreements she was able to get from the Chinese leadership, then led by President Hu Jintao including the Northrail project as well as the controversial national broadband deal with ZTE Corporation and the much-maligned Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking. There’s no doubt that some of the agreements were perhaps disadvantageous for the Philippines. But the bottomline is clear – under Arroyo, the Philippines had good ties with both superpowers.
Sidenote – In 2005, Song Xiuyan, former governor of China’s Qinghai province and now the vice president of the All China Women’s Federation, said that Arroyo is the female leader she most admired. “She not only has the courage and resolution of a political leader, but also the tender feelings of a woman,” she was quoted as saying in an article published on the Chinese government’s official website.
3. Personal relationships with current leaders
Apart from having broad knowledge of international affairs, Arroyo also boasts of having deep familiarity with some world leaders. For example, she has met with outgoing United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Russian President Vladimir Putin during her time as President.
A plus factor will be Arroyo’s personal relationship with the Clintons. Arroyo and former United States President Bill Clinton were former classmates at Georgetown University, with the two retaining regular contact over the years through the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting. Now, his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton is poised to become a President herself.
For those who think this is trivial stuff, take note of these words from former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney: “Sometimes personal relationships don’t fit into analysis schemes. They’re one card, but the most important card in international relations.”
4. Why it might not happen
However, Arroyo as DFA Secretary has two potential road blocks. Number one, this would be totally unprecedented. No former President has ever went on to directly serve in a successor’s administration. The closest parallel would be the election of former President Carlos P. Garcia to lead the 1971 Constitutional Convention during the administration of then-President Marcos (Garcia was succeeded by another former President, Diosdado Macapagal, when he died shortly after his selection).
And as a controversial former President, it is possible that her critics will use her confirmation hearings before the Commission on Appointments to remind the public about the controversies that hounded her years in power – regardless of the fact that all but one of the cases filed against her were eventually dismissed. With all those pluses and minuses, will Duterte really take a chance on Arroyo?
Oh and of course, Cayetano will most likely do everything he can to stop this from happening.