Romualdez: We confirm smear job vs PH envoys
Philippine diplomats have been on the receiving end of “smear campaigns” by China in an effort to ruin relations between the Philippines and the United States and weaken Manila’s defenses in the South China Sea, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said on Friday.
One such effort appears to have been a purported memorandum from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) ordering the recall of Romualdez due to bribery and corruption allegations. This was received by the Inquirer and other media outlets this week through email and Viber from a certain “Mario Carmona.”
“We have enough information coming from our intelligence agencies to confirm that there is a smear campaign by a Chinese group out to discredit people working for stronger US-Philippine relations,” Romualdez told the Inquirer.
The supposed confidential DFA memo sent to the Inquirer on Wednesday said that an “anonymous complainant” accused Romualdez of using his position to act as a public relations consultant for several companies in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is a violation of the law on the ease of doing business.
No such order
But Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo denied that there was such a recall order and stated that Romualdez would keep his position as Manila’s ambassador to Washington.
The supposed memo contained many grammatical errors and its purported receiver was redacted.
“We are concerned. We are not sure where it’s coming from,” Manalo said during a meeting with reporters on Friday, adding that the allegation against Romualdez was “not true.”
Romualdez believes that efforts to oust him from his post were intended to strain Philippine ties to the United States, a strong and vocal supporter of the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea.
“Everything that I do in the US reflects exactly our relationship with the US, which is what China is always afraid of. Because if we’re just on our own they can easily push us around but because the US is involved in it, they are now feeling that stronger relations, which is exactly what Vietnam is doing,” he added. The ambassador explained that Vietnam is currently forming some type of coalition with countries like Japan, Australia, South Korea and the United States “to stop illegal activities of China.”
The Inquirer has been told by at least three vocal critics of Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea and Beijing’s expansive claims to the country’s exclusive economic zone that they were requested by individuals whose identities they could not verify to write commentaries against Vietnam’s alleged militarization of the South China Sea.
Driving a wedge
Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, Jay Batongbacal, head of the University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, and De La Salle University international law professor Renato de Castro said they believe that Chinese or pro-Chinese groups were behind a move to also drive a wedge between Vietnam and the Philippines.
They disclosed that they were offered an unspecified sum for their commentaries.
“It’s divide and conquer,” Romualdez said in reaction to their disclosure.
“[If we’re on good terms with Vietnam] the harder it is for them (the Chinese), for their plan to take over the whole South China Sea,” he said.
National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya on Thursday said pro-Chinese “operators” in the Philippines were undermining the country’s position by mouthing Chinese propaganda.
One propaganda line—that the Philippines promised to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal—is part of Beijing’s “psychological warfare” to sway Filipino public opinion in favor of China, Malaya said.
“The Chinese are so desperate because the public is so much against them,” Romualdez said.
“How can you sway public opinion when what they’re doing is clearly a violation of what is exactly not to be done, such as water cannoning, putting features into the territorial waters of the Philippines,” the ambassador pointed out.
In recent months, the Inquirer has been receiving emails and messages from unidentified individuals besmirching both Romualdez and Manalo.
One email from a certain “Joanres” in July claimed that Manalo would be replaced by one of his undersecretaries because of his “too diplomatic approach” to Washington.
“I’m still waiting for that to happen,” Manalo said.
“I would be concerned with disinformation but it’s happening everywhere, so it’s really up to us on how we find better ways to distinguish between what is the truth,” he added.
The DFA is already looking into this matter and asked “appropriate” Philippine authorities to investigate, Manalo said.