There is no reason for the Philippines not to send an ambassador to the United States unless President Rodrigo Duterte is sending a new message to Donald Trump, a former Philippine envoy to the UN said.
Former Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Lauro Baja said the country stands to lose a lot if it continues to leave its diplomatic concerns in the hands of a chargé d'affaires, or a diplomat who heads an embassy in the absence of an ambassador.
“If we don’t have a regular representative there in Washington, that means our representation there will be on a second-tier level because a chargé d'affaires can only have lower access to the echelon of government and lower level of contact with interest groups there,” Baja said in a phone interview on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines.”
“There simply is no policy for us not sending immediately an ambassador there, not unless the President wants to send another message to the United States,” he added.
Duterte on Thursday said he is not yet keen on sending a new ambassador to the US, days after US President Donald Trump issued a travel ban on 7 countries.
Since the departure of Jose Cuisia Jr. as Philippine envoy to the US, it has been 7 months since the Philippines had an ambassador in Washington.
Baja, however, hopes that Duterte’s statements may only be one of his off-the-cuff remarks and expects clarification in the coming days.
“The president did not say why he is not keen on sending a Philippine representative to Washington. I don’t think it’s a policy yet,” he said.
“I would urge the President to appoint as soon as possible for an ambassador there (US). We have a good supply of prospects who the president could tap,” he added.
More than the personal qualifications of an ambassador, Baja said Duterte should give greater consideration to an appointee’s network and connections in various interest groups in Washington.
“A regular ambassador can open doors much more easily and much more reliably than not having one. And somehow, it doesn’t project a good diplomatic practice of not sending a regular ambassador to an important post like Washington,” Baja said.
Asked what the next Philippine ambassador should focus on in Washington, Baja said top three priorities should be the welfare of Filipinos in the US; economic interests and concerns with the new administration; and security concerns of the Philippines particularly in the West Philippine Sea.
Meanwhile, University of the Philippines Political Science Professor Emeritus Clarita Carlos said Duterte's pronouncements are not a big deal since the Philippines is still reconfiguring its foreign policy.
“It’s no big deal because we’re still trying to reconfigure the direction of our foreign policy and we’re looking at other international actors in the international scene and that’s where we’re going,” she said in an interview on "Mornings@ANC."