08 December 2009

GMA Can't Keep A Good Woman Down

Bernarditas de Castro Muller
Everyone expected Philippines to include veteran negotiator Bernarditas de Castro Muller (pictured above, left) as part of the country's official delegation to the landmark climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. Hence, it was a big surprise when it was reported that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself decided that she should not be part of the list. The reason is not yet clear, but many suspect that the government was pressured by industrialized countries to exclude the 'Dragon Woman' from the crucial negotiation, which will run from 7 - 18 December 2009.

For those who are familiar with the outwardly polite yet vicious world of UN climate change diplomacy, where negotiators use all kinds of trick available in their books to further national interests and where battles rage over commas, colons and semi-colons, Bernarditas is seen by most poor countries as a heroic defender of their rights. However, most rich countries paint her as a machiavellian, Soviet-style hardliner holding back an agreement to save the world.

Bernarditas was the lead negotiator and coordinator of the 130 developing countries in the umbrella group known as the G77 plus China. She negotiates in what is called "the ad hoc working group on long-term co-operative action (AWG-LCA) process under the Bali action plan". In short, she represents the interests of nearly two-thirds of the poorest people of the world in the climate talks.

"She is the protector of the convention," says a colleague (in the world of diplomacy no one wants to be identified). "I'd hate to negotiate against her. She reminds me of Humpty Dumpty when he said to Alice, 'When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.' "

A western friend, who also asks not to be named, says: "She is used by the G77 and China as the bad cop, the experienced negotiator past whom the inexperienced, naive and unsuspecting cannot pass. She has an old style of Soviet negotiating. She can go on for 45 minutes easily. It's a method. It's attrition. Her start is from a stance of noncooperation. Success is seen as how much the opposition gives in, and how much you can extract. You have to start with something unbelievable and make concessions. Even the Americans quake in fear of her. She terrifies them."

If these are the reasons why she was dropped from the roll of Philippine negotiators, then before MalacaƱang officials preen themselves over 9-course dinners and congratulate each other over their carbon-friendliness, they better be ready for international backlash because Sudan wants nothing of it.

Sudan, represented by Ambassador Lumumuba di Aping and is currently the chair of G77 and China, has adopted Bernarditas as part of the group in the crucial negotiations after learning that Philippines dropped her like a hot potato. At least there was one country who recognized the value of having a feisty negotiator for G77 who is a stickler for detail and knows the UN climate change convention and the Kyoto protocol word for word on their side of the fence.

Bernarditas has also represented the Philippines in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since its inception in 1994.

Now, given the experience of Bernarditas and the complexity of diplomacy that must be made on climate change, why in the world did President Arroyo excluded her in favor of the following politicians with questionable integrity and several hangers-on:
  1. Senator Loren Legarda
  2. Senator Edgardo Angara
  3. Secretary Heherson Alvarez
  4. Albay Gov. Jose Ma. Clemente Sarte Salceda
  5. Rep. Nanette Daza
  6. Amb. Elizabeth Buensuceso
  7. DENR Usec. Lucille Sering
  8. Vice Consul Lenna de Dios-Sison
  9. DA Usec. Segfredo Serrano
  10. DOE Usec. Zamzamin Ampatuan
  11. DOST Usec. Graciano Yumul
  12. Atty. Tony La Vina (Dean, Ateneo School of Government)
  13. Amelia Supetran - UNDP
  14. Ma. Rosario Felizco - Oxfam GB
  15. Naderev Sano – WWF
  16. Conservation International Philippines (no name specified)
  17. Ms. Bernabe – Asian Farmers Association
  18. Ms. Victoria Corpuz - Metrobank Foundation
  19. DFA Asec. Leila Lora-Santos
  20. DFA Asec. Evan Garcia
This is not to belittle the achievements of the 20 delegates identified by the government above, but it is doubtful that everyone in the group even know the meaning of "sustainable forest management" as opposed to "sustainable management of forests" or the difference between "economic development" and "sustainable development".

There is also a question on whether they can set aside their institutional bias to belch fire and tear the flesh off the negotiators from the industrialized countries, specifically the U.S. Not a few are in agreement that without Bernarditas, the Philippine group would become too timid to swallow the opposing side whole, sit back and watch them tremble as they look for a better word to suggest in the negotiating table.

Bernaditas herself says: "I use their [the rich countries'] language. I spell it better. I don't make grammatical mistakes like they do. It angers them. I never get angry, I'm not subservient, nor impressed. They say, 'She cannot be right, she's only a woman and must be weak.' "

The Copenhagen talks must be either a success or a great success. It may clearly be a fudge, or even a cop-out, but if Filipino politicians want to sell it back home, then they better get the 'Dragon Lady' back on their side.