US envoy Harry Thomas Jr. eats humble pie: Sorry for sex tourism digBy Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Someone once said you should choose your words carefully because one day you may have to eat them. US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. is eating, if not words, perhaps, humble pie.
Hammered in the media for saying that 40 percent of male tourists come to the Philippines for sex, the American envoy later said in published statements that he would not apologize for his remarks.
On Friday, in a text message to Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Thomas seemed to have changed his mind.
“Sir, thanks again for taking time to meet with me twice this week,” Thomas said in his message, which Del Rosario forwarded to the Inquirer. “I am sending you a response expressing regret for my comments. I should not have used the 40 percent statistic without the ability to back it up. I regret any harm that I may have caused.”
Del Rosario, who is on an official trip to Vietnam, described Thomas’ message to him as “very straightforward.”
Clearly, Thomas was “looking for closure” to the controversy, Del Rosario told the Inquirer.
Del Rosario at the same time noted that the US diplomat “has been closely working with the Philippine government in addressing the grave challenge of human trafficking in our country.”
Malacañang the other day said it was “concerned” about Thomas’ assertion.
The Palace said it would leave it to the Department of Foreign Affairs “to decide on the best course of action” after seeking a clarification from Thomas about his claim on sex-starved foreign tourists visiting the country.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has also sought an explanation from Thomas. De Lima described the ambassador’s remarks as “offensive and demeaning to the image of the nation.”
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago called Thomas’ remarks “undiplomatic.”
Santiago said she “would in the first instance investigate what is his basis for saying that, whether that is a personal opinion or whether it is verifiable or quantifiable.”
A Catholic bishop on Friday opposed calls for the government to file a diplomatic protest with the US Embassy.
Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani said over Church-run Radyo Veritas that the government must instead exert efforts to address the problem of prostitution in the Philippines rather than waste time on diplomatic actions against the US envoy.
“If (the US ambassador) is wrong, then let it serve as a wake-up call to us,” Bacani said. He said that instead of taking Thomas’ statements as derogatory to the Philippines, government officials must deem it a warning.
Bacani said it was high time the government address more aggressively the problems of prostitution and human trafficking in the country. With a report from Jocelyn R. Uy