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The envoy is a coward

Leandro DD coronel MANILA

“Forty percent of all male tourists who visit the Philippines go there for sex.”

The American ambassador to the Philippines, a guy named Harry Thomas, made this statement sometime ago. On the heels of the ensuing uproar among discerning Filipinos over his imprudent remarks, Thomas apologized.

It appears he apologized just to quell the Filipinos’ anger. He apologized but never took back his statement. Indeed, a few weeks ago, Thomas spoke again, this time in New York City, and admitted he only apologized because he “didn’t want to create a stir.” (Manila Mail, March 31) In other words, just to quiet down the outrage among Pinoys.

A relative of mine in New York emailed his admiration for the US envoy who, my relative said, spoke against human trafficking, specifically the abuse and exploitation of women who are turned into prostitutes or sex slaves.

Words, words, words. They can put you in trouble.

The US ambassador is a chatty fellow. He’s always smiling which, one guesses, is a requirement when you join the foreign service.

“An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad,” someone once noted. This may be true of some ambassadors but in Thomas’s case, he’s a dishonest man who lies abroad.

Let us suppose it’s true that some male tourists come to the Philippines to have a good time, including to have sex. But 40 percent? That is an exaggeration, surely.

But still, let’s suppose the figure is accurate. Is it part of an ambassador’s brief to announce this kind of “news”? What is he, an ambassador for morality? Is it really his role to discuss what tourists look for in a foreign country?

And still, let’s suppose Thomas was right with his numbers, why did he apologize but later told a foreign audience that he said sorry only because he didn’t want to create a “stir”? Isn’t that dishonesty? Or cowardice? When you apologize but are not sincere about it, that’s dishonesty.

The trouble with US ambassadors is that they think they’re paragons of morals. They have no business making speeches and discoursing about what type of “services” a country offers to tourists. What their business is, is to represent their country’s interests.

The trouble with us Filipinos is we’re too easy to please (“mababaw ang kaligayahan,” as we say in Filipino). Foreigners, especially Americans, come to the Philippines, make a couple of jokes and dance for the local folks, and eat with their bare hands, and Filipinos are greatly impressed. Then they have us eating out of their hands.

Let’s give allowances for what an ambassador may say in the country where he’s posted. And let’s grant for a second that it’s okay to be undiplomatic. But why apologize and later say he only did it because he didn’t want to create an uproar? He already did, the bum. The damage had already been done.

“A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip,” said another observer.

This is true of many Filipinos. Why do I say this? Because Harry Thomas can be seen in Manila’s social scene dancing the night away in some upscale disco, sweating it out with the crowd who don’t seem to mind that this is an “ambassador” who utters undiplomatic and imprudent statements about their country.

Thomas does go to the disco and is seen on television having fun. And he’s reported to go to concerts all over the country. If that’s the work of US ambassadors, then he should stick to discos and concerts.

He’s no better than his predecessor, someone named Kristie Kenney, who had a permanent smile on her face and who guested on television game shows and talk shows. She was always ingratiating and unctuous and, like Thomas, would break into a jig or two to please the natives. And oh, how the natives were pleased!

In Thomas’s case, his unctuousness is literal, because he’s a fat guy who’s always sweating despite (or maybe because of) his expensive-looking suits.

So, Thomas the coward apologized because he didn’t want to face angry Filipinos who are not impressed with his dancing prowess or his dapper suits. Which gives meaning to what another wag said about diplomacy: “It’s the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ till you can find a rock.”

Thomas backtracked with his tail between his legs after telling his tale that 40 percent of foreign male tourists come to the Philippines for sex. But when he got to the safety of distant New York, he found a rock and flung it again at his host-nation and host-people.


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