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Cronyism in the Aquino government


Once again, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III appointed a family friend to an important – and sensitive - government position notwithstanding allegations that his appointee, Domingo Lee, does not have the qualifications and experience required of the job as Ambassador to China.  And to think that China is the second most important ambassadorial post, next to the United States, it’s like Lee skydiving into the South China Sea from a height of 10,000 feet in the midst of a tropical storm for the first time.

What does one make of Lee’s appointment? Cronyism comes to mind, which is defined in Wikipedia as “partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications. Hence, cronyism is contrary in practice and principle to meritocracy.”  Does Lee fit the description of a crony?  You bet!

The buzz in Manila is that Eldon Cruz – husband of P-Noy’s sister Ballsy Cruz – lobbied for Lee’s appointment, whose close and long association with P-Noy’s parents, Ninoy and Cory, was probably the only “qualification” he possesses.

Reacting to a flood of criticism, deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said over radio dzRB: “For every appointment that is made by the President, we always say that it is based on the trust, competence, and capability of the appointee. That being said, I think it would be prudent for us to wait until the appointee concerned starts working before we make our judgment on his capability.”   But aren’t “competence” and “capability” predicated on qualification and experience, which Lee’s curriculum vitae doesn’t show?

That leaves “trust” as the only factor that can be attributed to Lee’s appointment.  But “trust” alone couldn’t do the complex job of Ambassador to China, especially at a time when the Philippines’ relationship with China is teetering amidst the hotly disputed Spratly archipelago.  What is needed is a seasoned career diplomat who knows the “tricks of the trade” in dealing with China’s aggressive diplomatic assault as well as her menacing military presence in the Spratly archipelago including her frivolous but serious claim that the entire South China Sea is part of her continental shelf; thus, an integral part of her territory. 

It’s interesting to note that Lee’s predecessor, Francisco Benedicto, was recalled by P-Noy because of a diplomatic faux pas in regard to five Filipino “drug mules” on death row in China, which the Aquino administration was negotiating for their freedom or commutation of their death sentence.  In Ellen Tordesillas’ article, “What was the quid for the drug mules’ quo?” last February 11, 2011, she wrote: “But what if China does not grant the request? Anxious to please the President, DFA sources said Ambassador Francisco Benedicto indicated in a meeting with Chinese officials that the Philippines is willing to drop the Spratlys in exchange for the freedom of the Filipino drug mules.”

Today, there are still about 70 Filipino “drug mules” in Chinese prisons awaiting sentencing, which would most probably be “death sentence.”  I hope that P-Noy's crony Domingo Lee would not exchange the Spratly islands for the Filipino “drug mules” like what his predecessor tried to do.

At the end of the day, cronyism in P-Noy’s administration would be his “black mark.”  Three of his cronies – Rico E. Puno, Virginia Torres, and Ernesto Diokno -- have already caused problems in his administration.   But the problems they caused were domestic and did not affect diplomatic relationships with other countries.  The last thing we want to see happen is an inexperienced ambassador “shooting from the hip” like John Wayne.  But John Wayne was an actor; Domingo Lee is for real.

By Perry Diaz

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