Philippine president names career diplomat to head foreign department

JC Gotinga
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Philippine president names career diplomat to head foreign department President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, cross paths at the Malacañang Palace grounds during the official handover ceremony, June 30, 2022.
BenarNews/FOCAP pool

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. swore in a veteran career diplomat Friday to lead the country’s foreign affairs department, a crucial post in a country allied with the United States and involved in diplomacy with China over the South China Sea, the government announced Friday.

The appointment of Enrique Manalo as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) secretary virtually completes Marcos’s cabinet. With four decades of experience, Manalo served as the Philippines’ envoy to the United Nations in New York and as an acting foreign secretary in 2017.

Marcos selected Manalo “in view of his long and distinguished career in the Philippine Foreign Service and his vast experience in diplomacy,” a DFA statement said, adding the president preferred a career diplomat who can “effectively advance its interests in the international stage in the face of formidable challenges.”

The decision returns a career diplomat to the department’s top post. Manalo succeeds Duterte’s foreign secretary – Teodoro Locsin Jr. – who worked as a lawyer and a journalist before becoming a politician.

A Philippine analyst said the appointment reflected the new president’s approach to balancing superpowers vying for influence in the region.

“A veteran diplomat is more likely to appreciate the need to navigate difficult nuances and choices in geopolitics,” Temario Rivera, a retired political professor, told Reuters news agency.

“By appointing Manalo, [Marcos] might be sending a signal of trying not to antagonize any of the major powers in the region, especially the U.S. and China.”

The new secretary officially took the lead at DFA on Friday, a day after Marcos’ inauguration. His tasks include recalibrating a decades-old treaty alliance with the United States.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles confirmed the appointment, saying Manalo had asked the president “for a few days to wind up affairs in his previous post.”

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (left) administers the oath of office to incoming Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo in Manila, July 1, 2022. [Department of Foreign Affairs handout]

Manalo is expected to handle South China Sea and other diplomatic negotiations with China, a top donor to the country during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

Beijing continues to send its coast guard ships and fishing fleets into waters within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone, including around Scarborough Shoal, 120 nautical miles west of the country’s main island of Luzon. Locsin and his DFA staff filed a series of diplomatic protests over China’s ships beginning in early 2021.

The Philippines won an international arbitration case in 2016 after China refused to pull its ships anchored around the shoal, also called Bajo de Masinloc locally.

The ruling, ignored by China, came shortly after Duterte took power. He set it aside in favor of billions in Chinese economic assistance and investment.

As his six-year term neared its end, Duterte raised the issue with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whom he said warned him of war should Manila insist on following the ruling.

After their final phone call in April, Duterte said Xi led him to believe Beijing would not bend on the issue. For his part, Duterte said he made it clear to the Chinese leader that the Philippines would never give up sovereignty of its territorial waters.

Speaking for the first time about the issue after his election in May, Marcos stressed that he would follow the arbitral ruling.

“We will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights,” Marcos told reporters in May, just days after winning the elections by a landslide. “It is not a claim, it is already our territorial right and that is what the arbitral ruling can do to help us.”

U.S. treaties

Updating the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is also expected to be on Manalo’s agenda. Duterte nearly severed the VFA, which analysts have said gives legs to the MDT, and the nation’s defense establishment has called for recalibrations because of evolving security challenges in the region.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has expressed a willingness to revisit the treaty and the agreement.

Previous Marcos appointments include Vice President Sara Duterte as education secretary; former defense chief and senator Juan Ponce Enrile as chief legal counsel; former university professor Clarita Carlos as national security adviser; broadcaster Erwin Tulfo as social welfare secretary; former Cavite province governor and key political ally Boying Remulla as justice secretary; and Marcos himself as the agriculture secretary.


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