Duterte told of protocol: 'You do it for the country'

MANILA, Philippines – Seasoned diplomat and former senator Leticia Ramos Shahani reminded President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, October 26, about the importance of protocol as the Philippines' chief diplomat makes a 3-day official visit to Japan. 

"In diplomacy, protocol is very important," Shahani said at the Wednesday Roundtable at Lido forum in Quezon City.

Shahani explained: "If you have to attend a reception, you do it for the country. It's a patriotic act."

"As somebody said, 'I regret that I have only one stomach to give to my country' – because you really have to eat and drink just to be in good conversation with your peers, and to get some information from them," she said.

"If you are a good diplomat, you're not just there to enjoy the food and have a nice time. No, you have to get some information from them. Which they will be ready to give you after they have eaten your nice food and drank your nice liquor. That is the idea. So protocol is also very important," Shahani added.

The President, after all, is also the country's chief diplomat based on Philippine laws – even as Duterte employs an unconventional style, which includes telling US President Barack Obama to "go to hell."

Before winning the presidency, the long-time Davao City mayor also said he will not feed foreign ambassadors in a ceremony to welcome the new head of state. "Why will I serve food there? All the ambassadors there are well-fed. They're all rich," Duterte said on January 20. (On June 30, Duterte ended up having a simpler inauguration than usual, with food like pandesal, lumpia, and fried saba.)

Chewing gum before the emperor?

Shahani made her remarks on Wednesday after a journalist asked her if Duterte should finetune his style before dignitaries, as the President makes his trip to Japan.

The context was a report by the Associated Press that Japanese officials "are wary" about Duterte’s informal style. "They are paranoid about him chewing gum in front of the emperor," the AP reported, as Duterte was set to meet with Emperor Akihito in Japan.

The AP report said: "Japanese TV shows have repeatedly shown Duterte apparently chewing gum – at meetings, shaking hands and at other public occasions. In footage of a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Duterte wore a business suit instead of a formal Philippine barong shirt. He walked in with his hands in his pockets and chewed gum during the hand shake and a signing ceremony."

Citing Duterte's landslide victory in the May 9 elections, Shahani pointed out in a mix of English and Filipino: "He is the overwhelming choice of the people. As such, he will now meet Emperor Akihito, whose father was like a god. The Japanese expect that our President won't eat chewing gum, that he won't wear jeans." 

Referring to protocol, she also said: "You say it's elitist. But that is the way human life is organized so that you have a sense of the importance of the event."

Shahani, 87, was Philippine ambassador to Australia from 1981 to 1986. She was also secretary general of the World Conference on the United Nations Decade of Women in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985.

The daughter of the late foreign secretary Narciso Ramos, she became senator in 1987. At the Senate, she chaired the committee on foreign affairs, among others.

Shahani is also the sister of former president Fidel V. Ramos, who endorsed Duterte’s presidential bid. Ramos recently criticized Duterte even as he maintained support for the President. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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