Head-on and hands-on

SECRETARY ALBERT F. del Rosario was called by President Aquino to lead the Department of Foreign Affairs during these critical times when our international relations are being severely tested. From China where too many overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are condemned to death for drug crimes, to the Middle East where revolutions are dislocating them, and to the United States where the planet’s largest economy is still bedeviled by low growth and high unemployment, the world is changing and challenging our meager capacity to cope.

Hit the ground running. After being sworn in, Del Rosario hit the ground running and immediately flew to Tunisia to supervise personally the repatriation of OFWs from Libya and other areas. This is typical of his leadership and work style: to meet challenges head-on and hands-on and to take decisive, courageous and, yes, heroic actions to solve them. Not given to glitter and showmanship, he formally assumed his office upon his return to the country a few days ago, simply and without fanfare whatsoever.

I have known Del Rosario over the last three decades. Basically a business leader (he was former president of the prestigious Management Association of the Philippines), he was first called to public service as Philippine ambassador to the United States—the country’s most important diplomatic posting—for five years, from 2001 to 2006.

He staunchly opposed the Arroyo government’s plan to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and to declare emergency rule at the height of the destabilization attempts against the former regime. For his refusal to support these outlandish propositions, he was unceremoniously fired from his job.

Before accepting his present post, he handed President Aquino a position paper on how he intended to discharge his functions. In turn, our Chief Executive reposed full confidence in his plan and gave him almost carte blanche authority in the assignment, recall and promotion of our foreign-service officers.

Though not a career diplomat, he advocates the posting of more professionals in the foreign service. He enjoys the unqualified support of the Union of Foreign Service Officers (Unifors). He is also pushing for a small formidable team of “the best and the brightest” recruits from the private sector, like Ambassador to Japan Manuel M. Lopez and Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia.

Creative legal solution. Some friends asked me how Del Rosario could perform his duties immediately given that Congress is still in session. They are alluding to a constitutional provision saying that while Congress is in session (like now), the President cannot appoint the regular members of his Cabinet (and other high officials) unless the Commission on Appointments first approves (or “consents” to) their nomination. Thus, a presidential appointee cannot assume the performance of his/her office till after the Commission on Appointments confirms him or her.

However, appointees named when Congress is on recess—called “ad interim” appointments—may assume their offices immediately. “Such appointments shall be effective only until disapproval by the Commission on Appointments or until the next adjournment of Congress.” Of course, by-passed appointees could be renamed to their positions, again in an ad interim capacity.

Because of the urgent need for a new foreign affairs secretary, President Aquino and his legal team had to devise a creative way to fill the position, by first naming Del Rosario as Presidential Adviser for International Relations, and simultaneously designating (not appointing) him as acting secretary of foreign affairs. Thereafter, once Congress goes on recess on March 25, Del Rosario would be issued his ad interim appointment as secretary of foreign affairs.

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International Moot Court. One of my most intellectually enervating experiences in many years was to preside as “Chief Justice” of the Jessup International Moot Court (Philippine championship round) held at the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City several days ago. The moot court mimicked the proceedings of the International Court of Justice, the judicial organ of the United Nations with headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands.

The “Court” was called upon to hear and decide a legal dispute between two fictitious states, “Ardenia” and “Rigalia.” Though the setting was fictitious, the issues raised were real, like the legality in international law of (1) using unmanned Predator drone aircraft that targeted separatist rebels but by mistake hit and killed several innocent civilians in a hospital; and (2) banning the wearing of a religious attire that covered the face and body, an attire purportedly being used to hide weapons during terrorist attacks.

Congratulations to the Ateneo de Manila University team composed of Philip Gerard Dabao and Marck Joseph Macaraeg for besting the University of the Philippines duo of Paolo Francisco Camacho and Rogelio Benjamin Redoble. Macaraeg was voted “Best Oralist.” The Ateneo team will represent the Philippines in the international championship round in Washington, D.C.

Aside from me, the “justices” of the moot court were Chief Presidential Counsel Eduardo de Mesa, Court of Appeals Justice Myra G. Fernandez, Dean Amado Valdez and international lawyer David Johnson. Kudos to the Philippine Association of Law Schools chaired by Dean Perry L. Pe, and to two super lady lawyers, Christina Garcia Codilla Frasco and Joan Largo for managing the joust.

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