Manila Moods: The Blog That Polices Philippine Diplomats
I RECENTLY ran across a blog called Uniffors and was fascinated in reading the carpings of a group of disgruntled Department of Foreign Affairs personnel, who of course blog anonymously to avoid being sacked for their vicious attacks on some of their own officials.
It was their recent post on the Philippine ambassador to Thailand entitled “Flaunting Laws of the Host Country” (June 17, 2006) that caught my eye in particular. Here’s part of what they said about him:
“This post is about the Philippine ambassador to Thailand, Antonio Rodriguez, but we are putting other ambassadors and consuls general on notice as well. The eyes of Uniffors are upon you.
“Uniffors has compiled a relatively thick dossier on Ambassador Antonio V. Rodriguez and wishes to release the second installment on his shenanigans at his post in Bangkok.
“We have received information that he has gone berserk in a desperate effort to identify those responsible for leaking information on his shameful actuations….instead of desperately and hysterically hunting down the numerous whistle blowers, we urge him to take a very good look at the mirror…to identify his warts in order that he himself could excise them or take other remedial action.”
What are the so-called crimes that Uniffors is accusing Rodriguez of in this post and others on the blog? Using the embassy’s official Mercedes-Benz, with diplomatic plates, to shop for pirated DVDs in the Patpong area of Bangkok; of borrowing money from a subordinate to pay for his daughter’s schooling fees, and horror of horrors, of not hosting an official Independence Day celebration but instead “forcing” the Filipino community to bring their own food and drinks.
As I have already commented on their site, buying pirated DVDs and not hosting an official national day bash are hardly reasons for any diplomat being recalled. I also pointed out that even if the ambassador had a privately owned car in his name, it would still sport diplomatic plates.
I do agree though with Uniffors that Philippine diplomatic missions abroad should host both an official, or formal, marking of the Independence Day celebrations for the diplomatic corps and host country officials, and a more informal one for the local Filipino community. Funds are made available by the DFA for just this purpose, and are included in the representation budget of all ambassadors abroad.
To the credit of Uniffors, they allowed Ambassador Rodriguez to reply to their accusations, and posted the first part of his reply on their blog.
The envoy points out, in an interesting aside, that he was the president of UNIFORS, the Union of Foreign Service Officers of the Philippines, from 1999-2003.
He also claims that National Day parties are not obligatory; denies ever “forcing” the Filipino community to bring their own food and drinks, and says he has never asked a subordinate to lend him money to pay for his children’s tuition fees.
“I have three children of school age….my daughter at Chula [University] pays 260,000 baht a year, or roughly 350,000 pesos. My son’s annual fees is [sic] 300,000 baht, or about 405,000 pesos. Only my son is entitled to an annual educational allowance of US$1,000.00, which is about 53,000 pesos,” wrote the envoy.
“Have I ever borrowed money from any of my foreign service officers to pay for the tuition fees of my children? My answer is no….I assume that a person who lends that kind of money would certainly have a written agreement with the debtor. Do you perhaps have a copy with my name on it? You don’t have, right? The only thing you have is the say-so of your informer. You pass on lies to your readers because that’s what your informer purveys to you. That’s why you are losing the little credibility that you have left,” concluded Rodriguez.
I have to agree with the ambassador’s last point. Blogging anonymously, like these foreign officers are doing on Uniffors.com, affords them protection from retribution and possibly termination from their jobs, but it also allows them to put out slanderous and irresponsible accusations without allowing the accused a chance to fairly and openly defend him or herself.
Allowing the ambassador to reply on their pages was an excellent decision, showing that they do have some decency left. But what about Rodriguez’s reputation, that has already been put through the shredder? Allowing him to have his say only partially restored his reputation. The other bits have been lost for a long time.
The point I’m trying to make is that blogging anonymously allows many people, including those of Uniffors, to be irresponsible and to become spreaders of innuendos and false accusations. No newspaper or magazine worth its salt would ever print half of the accusations that Uniffors regularly does without having proof that would stand up in a court of law. Hearsay and gossip are hardly going to make the mark here.
Even though Uniffors undoubtedly has excellent sources of information, mainly the people who work with the accused, one does wonder if personal agendas and old scores are being settled here when allegations come out on the site.
While I admire the site’s objective of policing its own ranks, and keeping Philippine diplomats on their toes and best behavior, I do think that its writers have a touch of megalomania and they would do good to also look in the mirror before casting the first stone and accusation.