By Raïssa Robles
“Ikaw yata yung sumulat against Duterte noon.” (I think you were the one who wrote against Duterte in the past).
It was the first thing presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo blurted when I met him at the e-book launch of Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on the South China Sea last week.
Panelo was the last person I expected to bump into, and I was surprised to see him by his lonesome. Usually, cabinet officials are like magnets in many gatherings I’ve attended. They immediately attract a horde who buzz around them constantly.
When I saw him I went up to him, introduced myself and told him I first met him SEVERAL YEARS BACK when he was coming out of the mansion of the late jeweler Ding Velayo in Quezon City, which the government was then leasing to serve as detention center for former Muslim rebel chief Nur Misuari. Panelo was then the attorney of Misuari.
After I introduced myself this is how our conversation went:
“Ikaw yata yung sumulat against Duterte noon.”
“Marami akong sinulat” (I wrote many.)
He said, “Sa dami” (So many).
I said I was not against Duterte but against his policy of extrajudicial killings.
Making a show of searching his memory, Panelo told me, “Sabi sa kin ni Rudy – sagutin mo nga yang writer na yan.” (Rudy told me, answer that writer for me.)
I stupidly asked Panelo – “Sino si Rudy?”
“Sino pa, di si Presidente,” (Who else but the President.).
Only then did I realize that “Rudy” was “Rody”.
Panelo told me he never got around to answering what I had written.
I forgot to ask Panelo why he was there at the book launch. I surmised that he and Carpio must have known each other as law students since Carpio was only a year ahead of him in the University of the Philippines College of Law.
We had a selfie together. He volunteered to take it since his arm was much longer:
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Which post of mine could have prompted Duterte to ask Panelo to answer me?
It couldn’t have been these two posts about Duterte’s rape joke:
Duterte told the same “rape joke” last January – watch video
Watch Duterte joke about raping a woman missionary
Was it about my post on Duterte meeting with the Chinese Consul-General?
Mayor Duterte, please disclose what you told Chinese officials about the South China Sea
Or perhaps it was my speech at a University of the Philippines forum on Duterte mimicking closely what his idol Dictator Ferdinand Marcos did
Why I believe Rodrigo Duterte is copying Marcos’ moves to set up a dictatorship
Or was it my May 2016 post on Facebook and Twitter that went viral, for which I got a lot of hate mail?
When I meet Panelo again, I will ask him. Perhaps he will remember.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Aside from the presidential counsel another surprising guest was Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. He shook hands with his former boss, Albert del Rosario, whom he once served as military attache and veterans affairs representative in Washington. Lorenzana is a tall man with a soft command voice who looks quite physically fit.
Someone admiringly remarked that Lorenzana had won the MVP Cup for golf last year [by taking 18 holes].
Lorenzana shrugged off the compliment, saying his wife was not at all impressed because he only came home with a trophy and not a car.
I jokingly asked him about rumors floating around that some people around the President did not like him.
He merely shrugged.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario gave a speech praising Justice Carpio’s backroom role in the international arbitration in The Hague. I noticed that his voice was softer than usual.
Unlike in other similar gatherings where guests tend to continue talking while a speaker is on the podium delivering a speech, everyone listened intently to Del Rosario. (One guest, though, could not help coughing at times.) Although his voice was soft he remained firm in his resolve that China’s claims in the South China Sea were bogus.
Later, Del Rosario told someone that he was in pain because of his back problem.
While listening to Del Rosario speak, it just struck me that the international arbitration was the “Golden Hour” for the Department of Foreign Affairs. Duterte, for his own reasons which are yet to be fully revealed, robbed the DFA of its shining moment in the history of modern global diplomacy: How one tiny nation without a Navy and an Air Force took on one of the most powerful nation with words alone.
No wonder China HATES lawyers.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Carpio’s former boss, ex-President Fidel Ramos, graced the occasion wearing his military cap with decorations. Perhaps to hide his thinning hair.
I asked him what he thought of what President Duterte did as chair of ASEAN, dropping any mention of the arbitral award. He fished out a sheaf of papers and gave it to me saying – that’s an advance copy of my column. It’s about Track III, the ASEAN Leadership forum.
Ramos often likes to be sphinx-like. But sometimes he can be very candid. Last night, he chose to be a sphinx.
I noticed for the first time, though, a fragility and sadness about him that I did not see last year in July when I bumped into him during the US Embassy reception for the Fourth of July. That time, Ramos was very jolly and voluble and had drank quite a bit. He was among the last to leave. My last glimpse of him then was a man weaving ever so slightly as he walked slowly across the marble lobby of Fairmont Hotel in Makati, while a male aide hovered protectively about him,
Seeing Ramos, I wondered – what’s an ex-President supposed to do after stepping down? Ramos has lived 19 more years after his presidency. No wonder he tried to change the Philippine Constitution before his term expired in 1998 because he felt he still had the energy and the drive to go on being President.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Justice Carpio’s staff was in full force during the launch. I sensed they were very fond of him beyond the call of duty.
I finally met Justice Carpio’s Vietnamese wife Ruth.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
I found Carpio’s guest list quite curious.
Aside from Ramos, Del Rosario and Panelo, there were three senators who earlier had dinner with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang: Cynthia Villar, Nancy Binay and Loren Legarda. Only Villar is with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as one of its three vice chairs.
There was also former national security adviser and retired general Victor Corpuz, who had earlier told me it would be better for the Philippines to shelve its claim in the South China Sea “for the rest of the century” and work closely with China.
See my South China Morning Post story –
And of course, Ramos’ former national security adviser General Jose Almonte. But I did not get to talk to him.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
You can download FOR FREE Carpio’s e-book, “Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea: The South China Sea Dispute” by clicking on the title.