Excessive or not? Martin Andanar's 10 trips abroad
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has been firing officials left and right for supposedly traveling too much. But one top official, a Cabinet member no less, appears to have escaped his notice.
Rappler found that Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar has made at least 10 trips abroad in 15 months, from 2016 to 2017.
Duterte fired Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) chairman Terry Ridon, for traveling less – 6 to 8 official trips in 13 months, or roughly the same timeframe.
Andanar, based on photos of his trips posted on his “Martin Andanar” and “Martin Marfori Andanar” Facebook accounts, government releases, and news reports, has gone on at least 10 overseas trips so far. This number excludes the trips he made as part of the President's official delegation.
He went to France twice, dropped by 3 states in the United States, flew to Dubai and the United Kingdom, and traveled all over Asia.
In many of these trips, Andanar met with the information ministries of the countries he visited, or else joined conferences related to transparency initiatives. He also frequently interacted with “Duterte Diehard Supporters” based in those countries.
It was during his United Kingdom visit, for instance, when he made the now controversial "iyot" remark in which he claimed European officials critical of Duterte just need more sex.
His US trip in January 2017 was primarily so he could attend the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, along with National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. The President designated Philippine Charge d'Affaires to Washington Patrick Chuasoto to represent him at the inauguration.
But rather than limiting the trip to Washington DC, where the inauguration was held, Andanar also visited New York City and Los Angeles, California. In LA, he touched base with pro-Duterte blogger Maharlika who posted a video of their one-on-one interview.
Andanar had said he and Esperon attended “side meetings,” aside from the inauguration.
Here’s a tally of Andanar’s trips, with the dates when the photos were posted, and some of his activities during the trips:
- China, November 22, 2017 - China-ASEAN Member States Information Ministerial Meeting
- Paris, France, October 24, 2017 - Interacted with Filipinos based in Paris
- United Kingdom, October 23, 2017 - Met with Filipinos based in UK, attended seminar in University of Sussex
- United Arab Emirates, October 22, 2017 - Spoke to Filipinos based in UAE at the Philippine Consulate in Dubai
- Australia, August 31, 2017 - Attended event organized by Federation University Australia as distinguished alumnus
- Hong Kong, June 14, 2017 - Attended APAC News Literacy Group event co-organized by University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA)
- Australia, February 18, 2017 - Met with Global Chinese News Corp, interacted with Filipinos based in Melbourne, gave interviews to Australian media
- United States, January 2017
- New York City, January 25, 2017 - Had a meal with Adrian Chen, writer for The New Yorker
- Los Angeles, California, January 23, 2017 - Was interviewed by pro-Duterte blogger Maharlika, interacted with Filipino-Americans
- Washington DC, January 20-23, 2017 - Attended Trump inauguration, met with US-Philippines Society and Center for Strategic and International Studies
- Paris, France, December 7, 2016 - Attended Open Government Summit with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Senator Grace Poe
- Malaysia, August 15, 2016 - Accompanied Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and other officials for negotiations between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front
The frequency of Andanar's foreign trips is comparable to that of former PCUP chairman Terry Ridon.
Six of Ridon's trips were for him to attend international conferences related to urban poverty or development issues.
While Ridon's trips took place between October 2016 and November 2017, a period of 13 months, Andanar's trips took place from August 2016 to November 2017, or a period of 15 months.
Six of Ridon's trips are listed below:
- Ecuador, October 2016 - UN Habitat III
- India, December 2016 - Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development
- Morocco, December 2016 - 22nd Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- China, August 2017 - study visit
- New York, USA, September 2017 - High-level Meeting of UN General Assembly on the New Urban Agenda and UN-Habitat
- Germany, November 2017 - 23rd Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Andanar, responding to Rappler, said he does not think any of the trips he made were unnecessary.
"The trips that we made in the PCOO, that I made in the PCOO, had the approval of the Executive Secretary....All of the trips that I’ve made in 2016 and 2017 are justified," he said on Thursday, January 11.
Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra, however, had previously cautioned officials against using Malacañang-signed travel authorities to defend their trips.
Andanar also said that at least two of the trips he made were shouldered by other entities, and not the Philippine government. These are the trips to United Kingdom, paid for by an NGO called Making All Voices Count, and to China paid for by the Chinese government.
Andanar said many of his foreign trips were to boost the PCOO's capability and know-how in fighting fake news, an online phenomenon that has endangered democracies all over the world.
"It was made for PCOO to get more info about fake news...to really update ourselves with what is happening on the news front. We know the issue here is fake news, so that was a very timely seminar," Andanar told Rappler.
His own agency, however, has been charged with spreading fake news or inaccurate information. (READ: State-sponsored hate: The rise of the pro-Duterte bloggers)
PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson has had to fend off criticism that she uses her Facebook account to spread fake news favorable to President Duterte.
Exceptions to ‘no junket’ rule?
Does Malacañang consider Andanar’s trips excessive and unnecessary?
So far, Malacañang has not called out Andanar or asked him to explain his travels – contrary to how Malacañang had asked 5 Energy Regulatory Commission executives to explain their alleged "extravagant" travels, when it got wind of this.
A Palace source close to the President said Duterte is unaware of how many overseas trips Andanar has taken.
Andanar’s case will test Duterte’s “no junkets” policy. How is Andanar's case different from that of Ridon's, based on Malacañang's definition of an "extravagant" trip?
Past cases show that Duterte typically fires an official after receiving a complaint against them. So far, no such complaint has been formally made against Andanar.
Yet there have been instances when complaints have been made about a jetsetting official, with no action from Duterte or Malacañang.
One example is Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) chief operating officer Cesar Montano.
He was the subject of a complaint penned by TPB employees accusing him of using government funds to pay for “personal travels.” Another claim was that some of his trips were not sanctioned by travel authorization documents.
The Presidential Action Center in Malacañang received the complaint against Montano on March 1, 2017.
Yet Montano, a popular actor who helped Duterte’s presidential campaign, remains in his post. The complaint against him didn’t even warrant a public admonition from the President.
Compared to Duterte’s treatment of Ridon and Maritime Industry Authority administrator Marcial Amaro III, Montano seemed untouchable.
Is Duterte being selective on which globe-trotting official stays or goes?
An even higher-ranking official landed in controversy for supposedly promoting junketeering. Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo was accused of greenlighting an 8-day junket to Iceland and Norway that was to have taken place in July 2017.
After public condemnation, the trip was canceled. If the trip had pushed through, would Duterte have fired Teo or told her off?
Were Andanar's trips necessary?
Andanar himself condemned the practice of junketeering by some government officials during a radio interview on Friday, January 5.
Speaking to former senator and radio anchor Orly Mercado in an interview on DWFM, Andanar said the strategy of some officials is to attend a one-day or two-day conference abroad and then extend their trip by a few more days for sightseeing and relaxation, all at the expense of taxpayers’ money.
Andanar reminded public servants to be more circumspect about their travels.
“It has to be a trip that is worthwhile. And also a trip that will not waste the money of our fellow Filipinos, the taxpayers, because that trip is sure to help in the development and progress of their agency,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
It’s a reminder that can apply to Andanar's own trips as well. If he was tasked to attend the Trump inauguration in Washington DC in January 2017, why the need to extend his trip to visit Los Angeles and New York City?
How relevant were his meetings there with the US-Philippines Society and Center for Strategic and International Studies to his mandate as PCOO Secretary?
In the spirit of frugality and wise spending, was it necessary for Andanar himself to participate in the Open Government Summit in Paris in December 2016 when his undersecretary Kris Ablan, who is in charge of the FOI program, was already in attendance?
To widen the scope of inquiry to include PCOO’s spending on its other officials’ foreign travels, was it necessary for Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York where neither Duterte nor Andanar were present.
The Philippines was instead represented by Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano who had his own communications staff. Uson’s mandate is limited to presidential communications.
Andanar's explanation for this is that Cayetano himself "requested" for Uson to accompany him to the international summit.
Taxpayers will always applaud government policies that promote wiser spending of public funds, but such policies must apply to all and favor no one.
Malacañang seeks to implement guidelines on foreign trips taken by executive branch officials and employees but its new memorandum suffers from vague wording.
Part of the criteria for the approval of a trip is that the trip must provide "substantial" benefit and that expenses for it should not be "excessive." Without more concrete benchmarks, this criteria is again in danger of being abused. – Rappler.com