By Julius Leonen
and Ted Tuvera
The country’s second-highest executive official, who is being hailed as the leader of the opposition, had received an invitation from the Palace but was delisted from the guest list for the Palace function of the annual Vin d’honneur at Malacañang hosted by none other than President Rodrigo Duterte because the guest list was “limited.”
In a statement, Vice President Leni Robredo’s spokesman, Georgina Hernandez, said that Malacañang had excluded Robredo from the function’s guest list because the guest list was already full.
This is the first Vin d’honneur since Mr. Duterte took office.
The Vin d’honneur is a traditional diplomatic function hosted by the country’s Chief Executive in Malacañang to mark the New Year.
This is usually attended by top government officials (including the Vice President), heads of government agencies, lawmakers and ambassadors.
In response to inquiries why Robredo was absent from the function, Hernandez said that while the Palace had sent Robredo an e-mail invitation last December 28, it later retracted the invitation.
“Our Office received an invitation to the Vin d’honneur via e-mail last December 28. On January 4, Malacañang called the Office to retract the invitation, stating that the guest list was limited,” Hernandez said.
Malacañang, however, was tight-lippedon the Vice President’s claim that her earlier invitation to attend the traditional New Year Vin D’honneur was scrapped by some Palace officials.
In a chance interview with reporters, Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said he was not aware of the Office of the Vice President’s press release that Robredo was unwelcome at the gathering of top Cabinet officials and members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Abella however noted that in future engagements, they will not snub Robredo and that her presence or absence depends on her capacity and schedule.
“I don’t think the word is ‘snubbed’. The Vice President also has her own participations in public service,” Abella said.
The Presidential spokesman also stated that Malacañang has the choice and last say when it comes to inviting Robredo during certain events.
“It is the prerogative of the Palace to invite those who they feel are needed to be there,” he added.
Robredo has divorced herself from the Duterte administration after resigining as chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) a month ago because she believed she is no longer welcome in Cabinet meetings.
She said she was forced to do so following an order from Mr. Duterte to cease attending Cabinet meetings.
The Vice President has been accused of conspiring with the Liberal Party, which she currently chairs, to oust Mr. Duterte from power. Mr. Duterte even accused Robredo of joining anti-Duterte demonstrations to call for his ouster. Robredo has denied the accusations.
Robredo has been vocal about her opposition toward the Duterte administration’s stand on extrajudicial killings and the burial of former President and late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Last week, Robredo admitted that since her resignation, there has been no communication between her and Mr. Duterte. Robredo however said that she and the President were not enemies.
Rody: RP a friend
to all governments
At the Vin d’honneur, the President yesterday reminded top diplomats based in the Philippines that he is a “friend” to foreign governments.
In his prepared speech during the traditional affair with diplomats, held at the Rizal Hall in Malacañang, the usually impromptu-talking Mr. Duterte urged the more than 90 ambassadors present to be his government’s “collaborators” despite the apparent uncertainty of his so-called independent foreign policy.
“The Philippines contends with the realities that are our own. We believe that friends help each other and utilize constructive engagement to achieve common goals. In truth, we all share the same aspiration of greater peace, progress, and prosperity,” the President said, claiming that his brand of foreign policy is not necessarily closing the doors on long time allies.
“We value partners as we seek strengthened existing friendships even as we pursue new ones,” he added.
Mr. Duterte, in the past few months, has been seen as unfriendly toward the United States — the Philippines’ biggest traditional ally — to the point of threatening to strike down important defense and economic pacts between the two countries.
At the same time, the Chief Executive kept on insisting that he is leaning toward the support committed by America’s long-time political rivals, Russia and China.
The President also clarified that his idea of foreign relations is one that is based on “mutual respect” — something that, he believes, has not been accorded to him by the US after criticizing his war on illegal drugs.
“In a world that recognizes our interconnectedness and respect each others’ sovereign independence, the horizons and frontiers of cooperation are virtually limitless. Friendship, after all, knows no bounds,” Mr. Duterte said.
“The Philippines has and will continue to build on our friendship founded on a common objective, shared values and time honored principles of international law,” he added.
As a response to the President’s message, Papal Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto assured Mr. Duterte that the Diplomatic Corps and as well as the states that they represent are committed to help the Philippine government especially in times of great need.
“The word ‘solidarity’ means much in this country and we, members of the Diplomatic Corps, feel that we were part of the Filipino people of its hospitality and its determination to face the challenges of growth, adversities brought about by forces of nature or arising from events that take place,” Pinto, who is also the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, said during his toast.
“There is no nation nor people that do not long for tranquility and security. Therefore, initiatives for peace multiply and open the way to development,” he added.
Mr. Duterte is not known to drink wine, champagne or spirits.