Teddyboy Locsin confirmed as Philippine foreign secretary

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) –  Lawmakers on Wednesday, November 28, confirmed the appointment of Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), after the Cabinet official defended the Duterte administration's foreign policy before the Commission on Appointments (CA).

The CA confirmed Locsin's appointment shortly after it was recommended by its foreign affairs committee. 

During the CA hearing, Senator Risa Hontiveros grilled Locsin about President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, and the Duterte administration's policy toward China. 

"Withdrawing from the ICC of course does not legitimize any violation of human rights. We have a commitment against crimes against humanity," Locsin answered Hontiveros. "It was far from being a knee-jerk reaction."

On Duterte's war on drugs, Locsin said, "It is, in my view, a legitimate war against criminal syndicates."

Hontiveros later asked Locsin how he reconciles an "independent foreign policy" with the Duterte administration's China-friendly policy. She cited Locsin's earlier statement that an independent foreign policy does not simply mean switching masters.

On the Philippines' renewed ties with China, Hontiveros asked, "Is this simply switching masters?" Locsin answered, "No, far from that."

"We do not waive a single inch of what was given to us in the arbitral award, in international law, UNCLOS in general to which the United States refuses to subscribe," Locsin said. 

He also commented on the loans and grants extended by China to developing countries. "When I went to Brussels, the Wall Street Journal threw this remark and said, "Well, China seems to be attacking developing nations aggressively by throwing projects, financing, credit at those countries." So I said, "If that is aggression, please aggress me more."

On filing diplomatic protests against China, Locsin said, "The filing of notes verbales is basically throwing pieces of paper at a brick wall, essentially the Great Wall of China." He said the better way to do it is to assert the Philippines' rights in international fora such as the United Nations. 

Locsin's hearing before the CA foreign affairs committee, which began at 9:30 am on Wednesday, took 42 minutes. 

Defending Philippine sovereignty

When his appointment reached the CA plenary, lawmakers took turns heaping praises on him as Locsin stood in attention for around 30 minutes.

Senators and members of the House of Representatives praised Locsin for his brand of diplomacy, and cited the blunt and often fiery way he tweets. They said they also believe Locsin will defend Philippine sovereignty.

In his sponsorship speech, CA foreign affairs committee chair Senator Panfilo Lacson said Locsin "will bring his own brand of diplomacy" to the DFA. 

"If he pulls off and succeeds in the present endeavors which he is currently occupied with, with nary a constitutional challenge but that would catapult the Philippines into the league of rich, influential, and economically powerful nations, we may now be confirming a future President of the Republic of the Philippines," Lacson said. 

San Juan City Representative Ronaldo Zamora, vice chairperson of the CA foreign affairs committee, described Locsin as a "one-man keyboard army" who still uses a Nokia 3310 – "so non-smart a phone" – but "he knows smart diplomacy like no other."

"If diplomacy is about saying the nastiest thing in the nicest way, then he has raised it to an art form.  Those who will sit across him in negotiations will never know if they have been paid a compliment or have been showered with criticism," Zamora said.

"They say that foreign relations is pursued with wine and words. Well trust me, our nominee can toast, our nominee can boast, and our nominee can roast," he added.

Senator Grace Poe said Locsin "is not just a good choice, he is the right choice." Poe said with Locsin's appointment, the post of top diplomat "will now be held by one of the most brilliant legal and political minds of his generation."

"I know that he will not allow our country to be bullied," Poe said. "I am confident that he will ensure that our sovereignty is respected, while still being open to collaboration with other nations, the same way he engages his thousands of followers on Twitter."

Locsin's appointment was confirmed by the CA plenary at 11:26 am on Wednesday.

Malacañang hails Locsin confirmation

Malacañang welcomed the confirmation of Locsin's appointment.

"With this confirmation, Secretary Locsin would be able to lead the DFA in supporting the President chart an independent foreign policy course while pro-actively looking after the welfare, protection, and well-being of millions of overseas Filipino workers around the world," said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

Panelo added that with Locsin being a lawyer, "the Filipino community can expect Secretary Locsin to fully advance the interests of the Philipines in the community of nations and protect the sovereignty of the State." 

Locsin is a lawyer and television host who was once newspaper publisher, congressman, and speechwriter to 3 Philippine presidents.

He was the Philippines' permanent representative to the United Nations until President Rodrigo Duterte chose him to replace Alan Peter Cayetano as foreign secretary. (READ: FAST FACTS: Who is DFA chief Teddyboy Locsin?)

Locsin took his oath as foreign secretary on October 17.

Soon after his oath-taking, Locsin immediately represented the Philippines in regional meetings in Belgium and Singapore, hosted Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, helped in the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and signed a controversial memorandum of understanding on oil and gas development between Manila and Beijing. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.