Presidential spokesperson, other cabinet secretaries also in New York
NEW YORK – Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr. met with a packed crowd of Filipino-American community leaders and members for a town hall-type meeting at the Philippine Consulate General’s Kalayaan Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 21.
The meeting was meant to discuss the Philippines’ international policy commitments and foreign policy directions as well as how it relates to the global Filipino diaspora.
Sec. Yasay arrived in the United States last week and in Washington, DC, he met with officials to promote Philippine-US bilateral relations. He also met with State Department Secretary John Kerry to discuss Philippine relations with one of its closest allies.
He also met with about a hundred members of the Filipino community in the nation’s capital at a program called Talakayan sa Pasuguan where he, along with Charges d’Affaires Patrick Chuasoto responded to questions from the audience.
The former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission lived in New York in the late 70s and early 80s and was active in the Fil-Am community then while worked as a litigator in many corporate, civil and criminal cases during this time.
“I come here as a balikbayan, having practiced law in New York state in various federal, appellate and district courts in the United States,” Yasay said, recalling his life during the 80s. “It brings me immense joy to see the tremendous upliftment of Filipino Americans in the United States. It is encouraging to see a growing number of kababayans who are taking positions of leadership in government.”
The foreign affairs secretary talked about elected Filipinos in the Northeast, including four council members in various cities and towns in New Jersey and a mayor in Pennsylvania who was elected in 2012.
Yasay then segued to the ongoing presidential campaign and asked who the audience was voting for.
“Being the second largest Asian community in the United States, our numbers matter and we can make a difference in US elections. With 10% of the four million Filipinos living in the United States northeast, your unified vote will be in a position to influence policy issues that are of interest to the Philippines,” Yasay said.
The secretary then fielded questions from the local Fil-Am media and the community. Among the hot topics discussed were the administration’s war on drugs, extrajudicial killings, foreign policy and even destabilization plot rumors.
“We have now for the first time a president who has shown us the political will to ensure that the fight against corruption will succeed,” Yasay said, responding to a question on the Duterte’s campaign promise of eradicating corruption in the government.
“He displayed without any hypocrisy his strengths and weaknesses. The people loved him for who he is. He never minced words, including using expletives. Our people in general did not listen to the words that he said, did not listen to the expletives that he uttered, but listened to the message of hope and change that he had offered,” the secretary added, his pronouncements punctuated with loud applause from members of the audience who wore shirts printed with “Du30”.
The secretary also talked about the issue of West Philippine Sea and how the Philippines looks at its relations with China.
On the president’s “colorful personality”, Yasay said he does not need to defend the president in front of the international community.
“President Duterte is a unique person. He oftentimes uses expletives, but I do not have to explain what Mr. Duterte means when he says those words other than to say that these are always uttered in anger, frustration and disappointment and these are not directed at any personality,” Yasay added.
At the community meeting in Washington, DC, Yasay said he has grown accustomed to hearing Duterte say “Putang ina” because he has been hearing him say those words even when they were just roommates at the YMCA in Manila decades ago when they were pursuing higher education.
It even came to a point where Yasay said he felt that Duterte says those words as a “term of endearment”.
“Public policy is clear, when the president says we will have no joint patrol in the area of South China Sea, he only means that that area is still international waters and anybody can patrol the area. The United States can patrol that area, China can patrol that area,” he emphasized.
While in New York for the UN General Assembly, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella got acquainted with the Filipino-American members of the media at a meet and greet session and informal forum at the Boardroom of the Philippine Center last Monday, Sept. 19, hosted by the Consul General Mario De Leon. Also present were Charge D’affaires Patrick Chuasoto from The Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC, Vice Consul Khrystina Corpuz and about a dozen Fil-Am press practitioners.
Spokesman Abella started his message by describing the President’s three-pronged approach to fulfill his vision of a better Philippines: 1) reduce poverty by 26%; 2) address and eliminate crime, corruption and drugs; 3) bring final and lasting peace in the country (by negotiating to CPP-NPA, NDF, MNLF).
He related how the President’s actions come from a very personal standpoint, and always works towards the good of the people, a trait that he has developed from being a Mayor of Davao for more than 20 years. He quoted the President’s statement during his inaugural speech, “What I promise you is a comfortable life.”
Several issues came up during the dialogue, including human rights, the image of the Philippines in the international stage, the Presidents’ strengths and weaknesses.
When asked about his role in defending the Presidents’ statements, he quipped, “I don’t try to defend him. My job is to make his intentions clear. I try to bring in the larger picture.” He added of the President’s messaging, “His narrative is consistent. He talks about the common good.”
He recognized the contribution of overseas Filipinos through their remittances, thereby extending economic support, but also appealed to promote patriotic support.
The Spokesperson urged the media to present a positive image of the Philippines. “Makiisa. Be patriotic. Do not be adversarial; be critical but be constructive.”