MANILA – A “hard-headed” president like Rodrigo Duterte needs Cabinet officials who are brave enough to stand up to him and warn him about the implications of his statements, a former envoy said. Duterte has been criticized for saying that he will “separate” from the US during a state visit in China, only to take it back later on and say he only meant abandoning a pro-US Philippine foreign policy.
But even before Duterte took back his words, his men had downplayed his words and insisted that the Philippines would not be cutting its ties with the US. For retired ambassador Lauro Baja, incidents like this lessen the credibility of the administration here and abroad, and these could have been avoided had Duterte’s trusted men given him pieces of advice in diplomacy ahead of important speeches. “The president needs secretaries of foreign affairs, defense, and trade who will stand up to him and tell him the implications of his actions,” Baja told dzMM.
Baja said Duterte needs tough men who will have the power to sway him over, otherwise “the president would just ignore them; [because] you see, the president is hardheaded.” Baja added, if he were in Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s shoes, he will demand that the president meet him regularly to discuss his foreign policies. “That is needed because there must be close relations between president and his foreign affairs secretary as far as foreign policies are concerned,” he said.
The president has sparked one controversy after another due to his sharp rhetoric, especially against those who criticize his war on drugs. Duterte, 71, has occasionally expressed remorse for some of his controversial statements, but has also justified his style by saying he was not elected to be a statesman and has no plans of changing the way he speaks.