Philippines' top diplomat: 'America has failed us'

MANILA, Philippines – Departing from the measured tone of his agency's policy papers, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr released a statement saying the United States has "failed" the Philippines in the eyes of President Rodrigo Duterte

"America has failed us," Yasay said in a statement uploaded on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday, October 5.

Yasay also said the Philippines should end its "subservience to the United States' interests."

He added that the US cannot even assure the Philippines that "it will promptly come to our defense under our existing military treaty and agreements."

The US has repeatedly expressed its commitment to the Philippines, in the wake of China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). 

During his state visit to the Philippines in April 2014, US President Barack Obama said that US commitment to the Philippines is "ironclad." Obama reiterated this when he returned to the country for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in November 2015. 

Citing Washington's Mutual Defense Treaty with Manila during a visit to the country in 2015, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter "stressed that the US commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad." 

On the US, Yasay continued, "Does it value our special friendship to save and strengthen it?"

"Or would it instead choose to ignore our urgent pleas and interject alleged human rights violations and concerns as we address our pressing domestic problems based on our urgent needs and priorities to get what they want?" (READ: Obama to Duterte: Fight crime, terror 'the right way')

This statement was originally posted on Yasay's personal Facebook page on Tuesday, October 4.

It was later posted on the DFA website with the title, "Statement of Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay Jr." The post came with a footnote saying, "As posted on his personal Facebook page."

Yasay's statement is not the DFA's official policy position as far as his agency's bureaucracy is concerned, Rappler learned on Thursday, October 6.

Lack of 'message discipline'

Yasay, however, is the Philippines' top diplomat. He is also Duterte's alter ego when it comes to foreign affairs.

This means everything he says as secretary – especially when posted as a "statement" on the DFA’s official platforms – is construed as the Philippines' official position.

Still, throughout his first 100 days as DFA chief, Yasay has been known to speak without checking his notes or consulting his colleagues if his statement is aligned with the established DFA policy. 

Weeks ago, in fact, a Filipino ambassador pointed out Yasay's lack of "message discipline."

Yasay's communication style was seen during Duterte’s recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. Just minutes after Duterte said that the upcoming military drills with the US "will be the last military exercise," Yasay told reporters: "No, no, no, he did not say that at all."

Yasay later admitted that he "did not hear" Duterte say that. "Maybe I was too sleepy because of the jet lag that I am going through," he said after his flight from Manila to Hanoi.

Contradicting Del Rosario

Before this, he had also claimed to be misquoted or misinterpreted by media at least twice. 

Once, he denied having said one thing during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Laos, only to deny this in Manila. A recording obtained by Rappler showed that Yasay actually delivered the quote attributed to him.

The quote was about Yasay justifying why he doesn't want to include a historic ruling on the South China Sea in the joint communiqué issued by ASEAN foreign ministers. 

At the same time, Yasay also once contradicted his predecessor, Albert del Rosario, on the Philippines' case over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Yasay said on July 27, "The case we filed before the arbitral tribunal with respect to our dispute with China concerns China and the Philippines alone."

Two years before this, what Del Rosario said was, "The case before you is of the utmost importance to the Philippines, to the region, and to the world."

Before entering the DFA, Yasay chaired the Securities and Exchange Commission from 1995 to 2000, and taught law in the United States. Yasay ran for senator in 2001, and for vice president in 2010, but lost in both bids. 

He also wrote newspaper commentaries, hosted a live radio program in New York, and ran a blog, www.perfectoyasay.com. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and 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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