By Roy Mabasa
Alan Peter Cayetano may earn the distinction of not just being the youngest secretary of foreign affairs in modern era as he turns 48 this month. As of today, the former senator from Taguig may also be known as the only foreign affairs chief to have spent a month traveling abroad and stationary in one single country – the United States.
Cayetano, who left the country early last month to attend the 72nd regular session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York that convened on September 12-19, is scheduled to arrive in Manila today, according to Charmaine Aviquivil, executive director of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD).
According to the OPD, Cayetano’s last official engagement in the United States was when he attended the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings in Washington D.C. on October 12 to 13.
He joined the Philippine economic team delegation headed by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Nestor Espenilla, among others.
While in the US, Cayetano was seen through his Facebook account attending several UN-related meetings and events with the Filipino-Amercians, and being host of media interviews, the latest of which, was that exclusive interview with Al Jazeera’s UpFront where he ferociously defended the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
A retired DFA diplomat familiar with the workings of at least past seven secretaries has noted that Cayetano’s latest trip was really “unprecedented.”
“Have not seen this, not even during the time of CPR,” the veteran diplomat said in reference to the late diplomat Carlos P. Romulo.
Romulo, who was also known as ‘Mr. United Nations’ for being one of the signatories to the UN Charter, served as foreign affairs secretary under eight presidents of the Philippines.
“I remember CPR shuttling between New York and Manila many times but never do I have any recollection that he stayed there for a month straight. None,” the retired DFA official said in a message to the Manila Bulletin.
While on official mission, Cayetano was “conspicuously silent” at the time when the department was besieged with controversial issues such as those involving the hiring of pro-administration blogger RJ Nieto, also known as ‘Thinking Pinoy,” as consultant of the DFA’s Office of Migrant Affairs, and President Duterte’s disparaging verbal attacks against the European Union delegation to the Philippines.
During the period of his absence, the DFA’s public diplomacy office that handles the day-to-day needs of the working media, was overly cautious in responding to queries.
This was glaring when the media started requesting the DFA to release a copy of Nieto’s alleged consultancy contract with the department. DFA’s silence on the issue of the President’s wild barrages against EU was also reverberating.
Upon his arrival, Cayetano will be facing gigantic tasks that would require his focus and attention – the preparation for the forthcoming ASEAN summit in November where about a dozen of world leaders are expected to participate, including US President Donald Trump.
Speaking of Trump, uncertainty still lingers on as to whether a one-on-one meeting between Duterte and the American leader who is expected to embark on a tightly packed, five-country tour that includes South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China, and the Philippines.
Efforts to get confirmation of the possible Duterte-Trump bilateral meeting proved futile as both the DFA and the US embassy in Manila did not return media queries.