EU, CHR not invited to Duterte's SONA 2017
MANILA, Philippines – Breaking diplomatic protocol, the Philippine government did not invite the European Union (EU) to President Rodrigo Duterte's second State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Neither did the government invite the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to Duterte's SONA last Monday, July 24, according to CHR Chairperson Jose Luis Martin "Chito" Gascon.
Rappler confirmed with a highly placed source on Wednesday, July 26, that the Philippine government did not invite the EU Delegation to Duterte's SONA. Two other sources corroborated this information.
It is Congress that sends out invites to the SONA, even as Malacañang coordinates with it regarding the guest list.
The EU Delegation is a diplomatic mission apart from the embassies of individual European countries. The delegation officially opened in May 1991, and is now facing criticism from Duterte.
The EU Parliament and the CHR have both condemned the killings in Duterte's war on drugs. In turn, both bodies have been slammed by the Philippine leader who also once called Barack Obama a son of a bitch.
Days before the SONA, a delegation of EU lawmakers visited in jail one of Duterte's fiercest critics, detained Senator Leila de Lima.
This is the first time that the EU was not invited to the SONA, the Rappler source said.
The EU – a union of 28 countries, including France, Denmark, and Italy – was the Philippines' 4th largest trading partner in 2016.
The EU is also the 4th largest source of remittances from overseas Filipino workers, contributing around 10% to the Philippines' gross domestic product. (READ: FAST FACTS: How important is the EU to the Philippines?)
Recently, the EU was also supposed to provide the Philippines up to 250 million euros or P13 billion in new grants, but the Duterte administration rejected this due to the EU's supposed meddling in local affairs. A ranking EU official said the EU will not "beg" the Philippines to take European aid.
Breach in protocol
By not inviting the EU to his SONA, the Philippine government not only alienated a major partner, but also broke a decades-long tradition.
"It is my understanding that diplomatic protocol entails inviting all heads of mission to the SONA," former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said in a text message to Rappler on Wednesday.
Historian Manuel L. Quezon III, who was communications undersecretary during the Aquino administration, also told Rappler that members of the diplomatic corps "always have been" invited to the SONA.
Quezon added that "the consular corps attended all SONAS" even before the US recognized Philippine independence on July 4, 1946.
The first SONA was delivered by his grandfather, then president Manuel L. Quezon, on November 25, 1935.
"The diplomatic corps attends inaugurals for the same reason as the SONA: It is also the venue where the Philippine government (through the President) can inform the world of its intentions for the coming year," Quezon said.
Quezon said, too, that "all invites are technically issued by and decided by Congress," and that "the President appears by invitation and as guest of Congress."
"If Congress does not invite, it does mean it's a leadership decision particularly because CHR is a constitutional office and protocol for inviting foreign embassies is standard," he said.
On inviting the EU, Quezon said that the President "conducts foreign affairs so Congress would be dependent on the list submitted by the Palace, but that still means ultimate decision is Congress'."
Rappler is still trying to reach Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to ask why the EU was not invited to the SONA.
CHR not invited, too
Aside from the EU, the CHR was also not invited to the SONA, Gascon confirmed to Rappler on Wednesday.
"I think that it's the prerogative of the leaders of the Congress as to who they wish to invite to come to their event," Gascon told Rappler in a text message. "I did not give a second thought to the fact that no invitation was given to us. I wouldn't lose sleep over that."
It was the first time in recent years that the CHR was not invited, Gascon added. In 2016, the CHR chair attended Duterte's first SONA.
In a press conference after his SONA, Duterte again lashed out at the CHR, saying it is "better abolished."
Duterte also said he will not allow the CHR or the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate his men for wrongdoing if not cleared with him.
The CHR, however, is a constitutional body that is not under any branch of government. It can only be abolished by amending the 1987 Constitution.
Gascon said on Tuesday, July 25, that Duterte's pronouncements "remove any doubt regarding the attitude his administration will take towards respecting the human rights guarantees enshrined in the Constitution." – Rappler.com