Marcos Jr. administration

The Marcos delegation: Who joins the President’s trips abroad?

Bea Cupin
The Marcos delegation: Who joins the President’s trips abroad?
Although members of the delegation change, depending on the reason for the trip, some have become constants

MANILA, Philippines – Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. assumed office and embarked on his first trip abroad, Malacañang has not released in an official manner the delegation that he brings with him to state visits, summits, and general assemblies outside of the country.

It’s a less-than-ideal situation for media covering the President and an even lesser ideal for a public that’s entitled to know who are part of any working, official, or state visits that entails spending taxpayers’ money.

Yet even as the Palace has not been the most forthright in disclosing the delegation list, it also has not been exactly secretive. (READ: Marcos defends cost of foreign trips: It’s about return on investment)

Traveling media – or even journalists covering the President’s departure and arrival speeches – can typically see for themselves who’ll be flying out or who has flown back in alongside Marcos.

Here’s a rough guide on the typical presidential entourage that accompanies Marcos in his trips overseas:

The First Lady

Lawyer Liza Araneta-Marcos is almost always by the President’s side when he flies out of the country for official (and even the unannounced, unofficial) trips.

Typically, during summits or assemblies of regional and international organizations, the spouses or the heads of state or government have side events to attend – these side events include cultural tours or luncheons.

The First Lady also joins the President’s side meetings and events. In Davos for the World Economic Forum, for instance, she joined a luncheon with Filipino business executives. She also accompanies the President in formal galas or dinners during these summits or assemblies.

It’s no secret that Araneta-Marcos plays an active role in her husband’s politics. She was a main decision maker in his 2022 presidential run, as she was in his failed bid for the vice presidency in 2016 and his bid to contest that election. But the lawyer and law professor has insisted she does not meddle in her husband’s work as president, telling the public – through the chief of the Presidential Security Group – that she’d shut down whoever tries to use her name in securing a post in government.

But her role, according to the President, doesn’t include having a say in policy matters of the administration. (READ: Marcos: I only consult the First Lady on legal, not policy matters)

Speaker Martin Romualdez

In the 2022 campaign, Romualdez was a constant in now-Vice President Sara Duterte’s sorties and events (he was, after all, co-campaign manager for her team). Post-win, in the Marcos-Duterte administration, Romualdez is a constant in nearly all of Marcos’ trips abroad.

The House Speaker, who heads a Marcos-allied supermajority chamber, is also the President’s first-degree cousin through former first lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos. He has joined practically all of Marcos’ foreign trips and often has a prominent spot in his bilateral meetings with fellow heads of state and in business meetings.

In Brussels, after Marcos lost his voice, it was Romualdez who faced the media during a previously scheduled briefing. That same trip, the House Speaker left ahead of the rest of the delegation because he had to be at Batasan to preside over the House’s last session in 2022.

His inclusion in the delegation has been explained this way by administration officials: as one of two heads of Congress, Romualdez is in the best position to understand what the legislative branch of government can do to address the concerns of potential and existing investors.

Special Assistant to the President Anton Lagdameo

The former congressman is another regular in the delegation. He joined the trip to Davos and was also present in China during the 2023 state visit.

Lagdameo, a close friend of the President’s, has generally kept a low profile during these visits but appears prominently in photos and videos of the various meetings Marcos leads.

Deputy house Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

While the former president is technically only a recent addition to the Marcos delegation – she joined Marcos for the first time to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok – the impact she’s made cannot be denied.

In Thailand, she joined Marcos’ first bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was reportedly surprised to see his “old friend.” When Marcos flew to Beijing for a state visit, Arroyo was also there – Marcos said she was “our consultant who actually was leading the way in many of our meetings.”

She also joined Marcos in Brussels for the first ever Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-European Union (EU) summit, where she also joined him in his bilateral meetings. She was also part of the delegation to Davos for WEF.

Arroyo was a key ally of Marcos in the 2022 election. The Lakas-CMD president emeritus (Speaker Romualdez is the current president), according to sources, helped broker support from long-time allies who were, perhaps, willing to support Sara Duterte but on the fence about Marcos.

Senator Mark Villar

The senator has been another familiar face in presidential trips – although, as his 2022 campaign jingle promised, he makes little noise.

His presence was made most prominent in Brussels, when Speaker Romualdez was asked about the controversial Maharlika funds. There, the House leader said he was hopeful the measure would be deliberated in the Senate, partly through the help of Villar.

As promised, it was Villar, chairperson of both the committee on banks, financial Institutions and currencies and the committee on trade, commerce and entrepreneurship, who sponsored the measure in the Senate.

Marcos’ justification for Villar’s presence is the same: that the legislature needs to be there in person to hear about the proposed “changes in policy.” The Senate, like the House, is dominated by a Marcos-allied supermajority with an opposition bloc of two legislators.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo

The secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), a veteran diplomat and the son of two veterans before him, is a constant in the President’s trips. In some cases, he flies out ahead of the President. As the nation’s second top diplomat (next to the President, of course), Manalo also holds bilateral meetings and other side meetings during these trips.

The DFA secretary travels with deputies – undersecretaries and assistant secretaries – the mix of which depends on the trip. For instance, Assistant Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Daniel Espiritu was in Phnom Penh for the ASEAN meeting and again in Belgium for the ASEAN-EU Summit. In Davos, ​​Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and International Economic Relations Carlos Sorreta was the highest-ranking foreign affairs official to join the delegation.

Senior Deputy Majority Floor Leader Ferdinand Alexander ‘Sandro’ Marcos

The presidential son, despite being a first-term legislator, is a senior ranking member of 19th Congress. His previous legislative experience includes working under his uncle Speaker Romualdez when the latter was Majority Leader.

The younger Marcos, who represents the first district of Ilocos Norte, has had a front seat to the diplomatic side of the presidency. In Singapore, he joined his parents for a breakfast with Lee Hsien Loong and his wife. In New York, he joined the bilateral meeting with United States President Joe Biden.

Representative Marcos also joined his parents in Davos.

Communications Secretary Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil

Garafil first joined the President’s delegation – then, as just the office-in-charge of what was then called the Office of the Press Secretary – to Cambodia for ASEAN, then to Bangkok for APEC.

The lawyer and former Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board chief joined the Palace in October 2022, shortly after the first communications chief, vlogger Trixie Cruz-Angeles, resigned less than three months into her role.

As communications secretary, Garafil mostly kept out of the spotlight, unlike her predecessor. Her office, now called the Presidential Communications Office (PCO), handles everything, from preparing transcripts from the President’s speaking engagements to press releases from his events and engagements.

In Davos, her team also released to the media transcripts of interviews with delegation members defending Marcos’ participation in the glizty summit, as well as his promotion of the Maharlika fund.

Under the PCO team for these trips are several other government officials, including undersecretaries or assistant secretaries that handle Malacañang and Marcos’ social media accounts, media relations, and the like.

Presidential Security Group Commander Colonel Ramon Zagala

Zagala – set for promotion to brigadier general – heads the group tasked to protect the President and his family. He is also Marcos’ senior military assistant and often joins him on trips abroad.

The former Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson is a third-generation military man. His father, former Army chief Rafael Zagala, was part of the so-called “Rolex 12,” or the military men reportedly gifted Rolex watches by president Ferdinand E. Marcos, the incumbent’s father, as a “thank you” for their work.

Presidential adviser and godson Paul Soriano

The entertainment director was appointed a presidential adviser in October 2022 and, in his own words, spent the rest of the year orienting himself on the workings of government. Soriano is related to the First Lady and is the wedding godson of the First Couple. His wife, Youtube show host and celebrity Toni Gonzaga, was among Marcos’ most prominent and celebrity endorsers.

As presidential adviser on creative communication, Paul Soriano, has promised to “creatively communicate what’s in the heart” of Marcos. Yet his is an office without a budget of its own – he will, instead, work with other agencies and tap into their resources.

He first joined Marcos on the trip to Bangkok for APEC.

The Cabinet

Almost always, Marcos has with him members of the economic cluster of the Cabinet. Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual and Information and Communications Technology Ivan Uy are frequent members of the delegation.

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno has been on several major trips (the US, China, Davos), as well as National Economic and Development Authority’s Arsenio Balisacan. Both Diokno and Balisacan stayed behind in Switzerland after Marcos and his delegation returned to the Philippines to go around Europe for their own official engagements.

Other economic team members who have joined the delegation include Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman, and Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, among others.

On some trips, the economic team leads a briefing in hopes of encouraging investments from businesses based in whatever country they are in. Thus far, the delegation has brought home pledges and re-affirmations of earlier pledges.

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople has also joined the President on several trips, as well as in bilateral meetings held on the sidelines of those trips.

Media, staff

The “official delegation” of presidential trips under Marcos doesn’t include everyone who flies out of Manila with the President. There are, of course, the various support staff – those who work for the different Cabinet members, legislators, the Presidential Management Staff, and the Presidential Security Group. The count also does not include the media who fly alongside the President and his delegation on board PR001.

They – private media, public media, and Malacañang’s media producers – are referred to as the media delegation.

The count also does not include government officials who usually fly in days or even weeks before the President arrives, to coordinate with the host country or organization.

Friends, family

And then, of course, there’s the delegation whose ties to the President are clearly personal.

The First Couple’s two younger sons – Simon and Vincent – were among those who flew with them to Davos. Simon was also seen in New York during his father’s event at the New York Stock Exchange.

Also a prominent name is that of actress Dawn Zulueta, who is married to Secretary Lagdameo. Zulueta joined her husband and the President on the trip to Bangkok for APEC and Davos for WEF.

Business delegation

Malacañang also does not publish the names of business executives and leaders who fly in during these summits and meets.

In New York for Marcos’ participation in the United Nations General Assembly, for instance, several big names in business led by Private Sector Advisory Council lead Sabin Aboitiz, were there too. They joined the President in his event at the New York Stock Exchange.

In Davos, seven Filipino business leaders flew out to “support” the government. The business delegation, said Marcos, fly to whichever part of the world on their own dime. Their arrangements are their own, although they feature prominently in events with Marcos and his economic team, too.

“The others that have been accompanying me are actually private sector. They don’t actually fly with me. They go there on their own. Although they are included in our meetings, and they have their own meetings on the sidelines as well,” said Marcos, reacting to criticism over his delegation size. – Rappler.com

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  1. ET

    It is expected that Malacañang will continue NOT releasing “in an official manner” specific information about “the delegation that he brings with him to state visits, summits, and general assemblies outside of the country.” Filipino taxpayers should be accustomed to Marcos Jr.’s insufficient “openness” and “transparency” with respect to his foreign travels and just suffer (bear it out without ever complaining, because they can do nothing about it anyway) – however he had abused, abuses and will abuse their money.

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.