This piece was originally published on http://globalnation.inquirer.net on December 8, 2010.
SAN FRANCISCO—Here’s dirt that U.S. diplomats share among themselves. Saudi Arabia slyly tried to sic the United States on Iran’s nuke reactor. Italy’s orgiastic Silvio Berlusconi took kickbacks from Russia’s Vladimir Putin in an energy deal. Muammar Qaddafi is always with a luscious Ukrainian nurse. Kazakhstan’s elites love drinking, throwing cash around in parties, and grooving to Elton John’s music. Etc., etc.
Thanks to WikiLeaks, we got a peek at the grimy underwear of outwardly prim international diplomacy. But I’m shocked, shocked, that the U.S. Foreign Service has become an accomplished practitioner of a cynical craft, sending “intelligence”–from the salacious to the sublime–through its worldwide Secret Internet Protocol Routing Network (SIPRNet). I suppose it has to be done. Diplomacy, after all, is founded on cold-blooded calculation, which in turn is based on often-brutal assessments of powerful leaders and their quirks. I only wished WikiLeaks had more about Berlusconi’s jacuzzi parties.
But didn’t your ears prick up upon learning that of the 250,000 cables WikiLeaks finagled, 1,796 were memos from the U.S. Embassy in Manila? Filipinos are waiting with bated breaths. What do these memos say? WAIT NO MORE. Julian (Assange–yes, we’re on a first-name basis) personally handed these cables to yours truly.
My expert analysis of the Manila cables: It’s clear that after the closure of the U.S. military bases in 1992, the United States abruptly demoted the Philippines in its strategic plans. Because of this, the caliber of the U.S. Embassy’s analysts has sharply declined. I think you’ll agree their work has been shoddy–read on.
NOFORN SIPDIS/ E.O. 1234 Classified by: Eve Stropper and P. Penn Thomas; Cultural Attaches/Manila; Dept of State
1. (S/NF) Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did not steal the 2004 elections. She just pretended she did to establish her political creds among peers. She also faked being corrupt to deter criticisms of being holier-than-thou. She was so convincing the public believed her. Arroyo’s family is actually much poorer today than when she took office. Her son is now a common security guard, and she’s a mere congresswoman. Embassy operatives obtained inside information from the former president’s own husband at a fair market price.
2. Past experience confirms that all new postings to Manila must have innate singing ability; must be able to give lounge-class renditions of “Lady,” “Hello,” and local tunes like “Awiting Mo at Isasawsaw Ko.” The game show “Wowowee” is an influential institution. It’s critical for Ambassador to make an appearance and do the Papaya Dance. Harry K. Thomas Jr., the first African American ambassador to Manila, will fit right in because, you know, blacks have rhythm. (Do not—REPEAT–do not try “My Way” especially in a karaoke bar. Threat level: High). All Embassy staffers are instructed to eat Dinangguan at every offer. Go ahead, it’s chocolate meat. Filipinos love such affectionate acts of condescension. Good for avoiding tough questions on the rape of a Filipina by a U.S. Marine or the Visiting Forces Agreement.
3. World boxing champion Rep. Manny Pacquiao always travels with a woman who’s not his wife. She’s sometimes a brunette, but always perky, always sexilicious, ever so well put together. TAG pr/3 for future scenarios: We could have a Qaddafi/Ukranian blonde nurse situation here. Update (11/30/10): No dice. Turns out, Pacquiao’s ubiquitous mystery woman is his mom, Aling Dionisia.
4. Philippino political analysts still believe nothing happens in their country without U.S. imprimatur or design. Unless instructed otherwise, Embassy will not let on that we really no longer care about what happens in their islands (U.S. direct investment here is what–$6 billion—that’s just Bill Gates’ kid’s trust fund). Americans get treated royally, so why spoil the fun? Cultural orientation to new Embassy staff: A scribbled sign in English in a supermarket on Quezon Blvd. encapsulates the broad but flawed American influence in this country: “Here we sell chicken ass.”
5. Unless instructed otherwise, post isn’t denying a rumor that the CIA plotted President Noynoy Aquino’s break-up with Shalani Soledad because her name sounds Muslim. The exaggerated view of the U.S. role here is due to the lingering influence of the Maoist insurgency, whose concrete analysis of concrete conditions was cast in concrete in 1968, when the fax machine wasn’t even around, not to mention exiled Communist chief Jose Sison’s favorite pastime, Facebook.
6. BLOWBACK: If Filippinos find out that we’re beyond caring, Manila could shift its allegiance to Beijing. This may not happen immediately. They haven’t fully forgiven the Chinese for once monopolizing corner sari-sari stores (which sold everything from sardines and Robin Hood pomade to cartolina, kite strings, and Daisy BB gun pellets) and the empty-bottle recycling market, before the Retail Trade Nationalization Act of 1954. Privately, many politicians still call them names, except just before Christmas and election campaigns.
7. ADVISORY TO USAID: Although Catholic Church leadership has softened its stiff anti-condom stance Agency’s distribution must remain covert and disguised so that blame falls on other usual suspects. Recommend stamping the packets with “Courtesy of the Reformation.” Oh, and be careful that the usual “clasped hands” of friendship is clasping nothing else.
8. The Catholic Church is a tough political force, must be handled with extreme care. Bishop Teodoro Bacani even accused Santa Claus of stealing Christmas, making lots of children cry. Embassy staff has been properly oriented to local religious scene, e.g., although adult Filipino males are circumcised, they are not Jewish; make Sign of the Cross when passing Catholic churches (this doesn’t apply to Protestant ones); during Mass, you can go out and smoke between Communion and Blessing.
9. For access to the dissolute offspring of the country’s elite, socializing with a certain Maurice Arcache is essential. Maurice, a suave socialite who is obviously a straight male, knows everyone but everyone on the A-list, dahlings.
It’s not widely known that the Philippine Foreign Service has its own version of SIPRNET. This internal cable protocol is the Philippine Secured System Transmission or PSST. A source turned over some cables to me. Nothing hot. A typical transmission from the Embassy in D.C.: “Due to a serious lack of patriotism, Filipino immigrants still prefer to buy Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce instead of Rufina Patis, which is detrimental to our export sector.”
But for my money, I think the Philippines’ diplomatic spies do a much better job than those at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Sometimes a PSST brings intelligence of utmost importance to the Philippine government. Like this one:
PSST/HOY2134: Classified by: Paul Degala-Puente, Attache, Tripoli; DFA-GRP
1) URGENT/Critical to resolution of RP Muslim insurgency: Libya’s Qaddafi had a scandalous falling out with his voluptuous, blonde Ukrainian nurse. Qaddafi has been hanging around the RP Embassy lately, obliquely asking questions and showing lots of interest in Aling Dionisia.