Japan visit may be ‘reward' for Duterte Cabinet members after midterm polls victory: envoy

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 28 2019 02:15 PM | Updated as of May 28 2019 07:30 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte presides over the 37th Cabinet Meeting at the Malacañang Palace on May 6, 2019. Presidential Communication Office's Twitter account

Cabinet members say trip no 'pabuya'

MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte's visit to Japan may also be a reward to his Cabinet members as he was "so elated" with the victory of most administration candidates in the recent midterm elections, Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose Laurel V said Tuesday.

"You know, you ask me personally what is this purpose? Ito’y pabuya sa nakaraang election. Why do you bring 21 --- ah 20 Cabinet members here pati ang local government or land reform? Wala naman land reform dito. Tapos na, nandoon sa atin. But I think the President is so elated with the results... of the midterm election, that this is an affirmation of his administration in the last three years. Iyan ang katotohanan," Laurel told reporters in Tokyo ahead of Duterte's arrival.

(This is a reward for the previous elections. Why would you bring 20 Cabinet members even local government or land reform officials? There's no land reform here. It's done in our country.)

"Parang pabuya na, ‘Salamat ha, you’ve done your jobs. That’s why people …’ Mayroon bang tinakot doon sa election? Wala naman eh," he said.

(It's like a reward that means "Thank you, you've done your jobs." Was anyone threatened during the elections? No one.)

Eight of the 12 newly-elected senators were endorsed by the Duterte administration, strengthening the President's foothold over the legislative branch.

Duterte is flying to Japan on Tuesday to attend the 25th International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo. He is also set to hold a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It is Duterte’s first official overseas trip since after the elections.

Sixteen Cabinet members are part of the President's official delegation to Japan, namely: 

- Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
- Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez
- Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol
- Public Works Secretary Mark Villar
- Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles
- Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez
- Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat
- Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade
- Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato Dela Peña
- Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi
- Information and Communications Technology Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr.
- Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia
- Communications Secretary Martin Andanar
- National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
- Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo
- Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.

Laurel said Duterte's expenses for the trip will be shouldered by conference organizer Nikkei. He, however, did not clarify who will shoulder the expenses of the Cabinet members and their respective staff. 

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, meanwhile, denied that the trip was a reward and said Cabinet members are "not decoration" at the summit.

"Hindi naman. Puro halos wala sa kampanya ang mga kasamang opisyal. May mga kaniya-kaniyang trade missions ang mga kasamang cabinet. Hindi po sila dekorasyon sa summit. Trabaho lang 'yan," he said.

(Not really. Almost all Cabinet members were not present during the campaign. They have their own trade missions. They are not just decoration at the summit. It's just work.)

Piñol said the agriculture department is shouldering his trip along with one staff member.

"All that I know is this is a working trip and not a pabuya (reward) as the good Ambassador of Philippine to Japan Jose Laurel V was quoted by the media," he said.

Lopez echoed his colleagues and said they have never seen trips with the President as a "reward."

"I don't know about that. But every time we travel with the President, we maximize his presence and have him speak to several investments fora, and we conduct deal signing, business matching and networking," he said.

"We have never seen this as ‘pabuya.’ When we are working day and night just to prepare for all these activities." - with a report from Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News