MANILA, Philippines — Malacanang maintained Wednesday that everyone in the entourage of President Rodrigo Duterte during his official visit to Russia was essential for the trip, which has been criticized for having been turned into a publicly funded “junket” for administration officials and kibitzers.
Duterte had to cut short his visit and rush home after declaring martial law over the whole of Mindanao when clashes broke out between government forces and the Maute group in Marawi City. Fighting is still continuing, although the military has been saying it is close to resolving the crisis.
“We should recognize how deeply he’s (Duterte) become … he’s emerging as a leader regionally, internationally …” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in response to plans by Senator Grace Poe to investigate the Russia visit.
While acknowledging Poe’s prerogative, Abella also said assembling the delegation for the visit to Russia was part of Duterte’s job to forge good relations with other countries.
Abella also could not say if there would be changes in choosing who would make up presidential delegations in future trips.
For the Russia visit, Duterte was accompanied by at least 16 Cabinet members, assistant secretaries and staffers, Senate President Aquilino III and a number of other lawmakers. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, whose position would traditionally designate him caretaker in the president’s absence, and Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa also went on the trip.
Duterte’s partner Honeylet and his children Sebastian and Veronica also accompanied him.
The composition and size of the Russia delegation earned the ire of former President Fidel Ramos who pointed out that it effectively left no one in charge when the Marawi crisis broke out.
“In the first place, some people should have stayed behind to take care of the situation,” Ramos said on May 26. Instead, “the executive secretary and so many secretaries and so many generals (joined) the junket,” he pointed out as he lashed at what he called a “failure of organization” in the Duterte government.
In previous trips abroad, questions have also been raised about some of those accompanying Duterte such as former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and whistleblower Sandra Cam.
Duterte was supposed to visit Japan but has cancelled the trip because of the continuing crisis in Marawi.