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We convey our congratulations to the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) as it celebrates its 90th Founding Anniversary.

The Communist Party of Vietnam sits in the Standing Committee of our International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), which now represents some 350 ruling, opposition and independent political parties from 52 countries in Asia, including the political parties from the Philippines led by the ruling PDP-Laban of President Rodrigo Duterte.

In the congratulatory letter we sent last week to the leadership of Vietnam’s Communist Party, in our humble capacity as Founding Chairman of ICAPP and Chairman of the ICAPP Standing Committee, we said that Vietnam has a special place in our heart as it was where we spent our initial foray in international relations, as a 30-year-old Presidential Assistant, concurrently assigned as Minister, Economic and Press Counselor at the Philippine Embassy in Saigon, the South Vietnam capital then (now Ho Chi Minh, capital of the united Vietnam) from 1966 to 1969during the then raging Vietnam War. 

As we earlier mentioned in this column, it was also in Vietnam, in 1967, where we conceived of, designed and began the implementation of the historic dollar Remittance Program for the Filipino overseas workers, which rapidly enlarged each year and which now raises more than $30-billion a year for the Philippines, a continuing yearly bonanza for our Central Bank. 

We went to Vietnam for the second time in 1959, as a 22-year-old journalist, when we were invited by then-President Carlos P. Garcia to join him on a visit to Saigon. We remember sailing the Saigon River with President Garcia and the then South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem aboard the Vietnamese leader’s presidential yacht. President Garcia also offered us the position of Press Attache at the Philippine Embassy in Vietnam or somewhere in Europe but we politely declined, with deep humility and gratitude, as we were then enamored with the adventure and honor of being a journalist at home and overseas. 

We first visited the south’s capital Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh city (with the north keeping its capital, Hanoi) in 1956, for the Proclamation of the Vietnamese Constitution and the first anniversary of the Vietnam Republic following Vietnam’s partition at the waist in the 17th Parallel after the French forces’ classic defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

We were then a 19-year-old journalist and fledgling foreign correspondent but rapidly promoted to Manila bureau chief of the first Asian news agency, the Pan Asia Newspaper Alliance, founded by the late Norman Soong, then Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “favorite war correspondent” in World War II. The largest international news agencies at the time up to today are Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Reuters, and Agence France Presse (AFP).

We also had a Pan Asia weekly column then, printed once a week in the old Philippines Herald, which in the old days was edited by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Carlos P. Romulo, who later became President of the UN General Assembly and then our Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Herald’s editor in the mid-1950s was Carlos F. Nivera, then our journalism professor at the Ateneo, who gave us our first journalistic job. He was married to Pat Nivera, the late President Ramon Magsaysay’s social secretary. Professor Nivera co-established the Pan-Asia bureau in Manila with historian Carlos Quirino and we served as the first Philippine correspondent, then 19 with a meager but livable salary and our assistants were photographer Leoncio Alejandro.

As fate would have it, seven years after our Vietnam visit with President Garcia, we were back in Saigon, in 1966, as Presidential Assistant and Minister and Economic Press Counselor at the Philippine Embassy there. Vietnam was then a hotbed amid an escalating war with the United States under then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

That year, our Philippine Government sent a contingent of the Philippine Civic Action Group (Philcag) and we welcomed the Philcag troops at the Saigon Airport with our veteran Ambassador Luis Salcedo, our Co-Minister Anastacio Bartolome, Press Attache Joe Aligno and our Military Attache, the Vietnam specialist Col. Joe Banzon, who was a friend of the legendary Cold War specialist Ed Landsdale. The Philcag had no combat duties, only civic action and engineering work, building roads, bridges, markets and hospitals but shielded by a Security Battalion. The Philcag mission was based in Tay Ninh province, near the border with Cambodia, was successful and much appreciated by the Vietnamese masses and not bothered by the militant Vietcong guerillas and by the Viet Minh. 

It was in Vietnam where we became friends with the then young military officials who would later rise to national prominence, among them, Major Fidel V. Ramos, who became a hero of the Edsa People Power Revolution, Armed Forces chief, Defense Secretary and then President of the Philippines; Captains Jose Almonte, who became National Security Adviser under Ramos; Renato de Villa, later Defense chief; psywar and civic action leader Jose Magno, Thelmo Cunanan, one of the rare Filipino West Pointers, who became a General, and later, a highly-regarded Ambassador to Cambodia, married to noted Inquirer columnist Belinda Olivares-Cunanan; and capable Lieutenants Lisandro Abadia and Arturo Enrile, who later became heads of the Armed Forces, and many distinguished others. 

In Vietnam, where we lived for four years, we also had the privilege of meeting and making friends with Admiral John McCain Sr., U.S. commander in the Pacific, whom we invited to Manila and father of the late Sen. John McCain, also a war hero shot down over North Vietnam skies, prisoner of war in Hanoi and who later ran but missed the presidency of the U.S. Admiral McCain helped our Armed Forces with the organization of our first Engineering Construction Battalion, and equipped with construction machinery. (In peacetime, we invited him and served briefly as an honorary board member of our long-retired Landoil Resources Corporation).

Later, we invited and accompanied to Manila the most bemedalled World War II hero in Europe, Gen. Creighton Abrams, later U.S. Commander in Vietnam after whom the U.S. Abrams Tank was named, for he was the celebrated combat officer of the equally famed U.S. General George Patton, the feared and foremost Allied military commander then against the German forces. Abrams later also helped the Philippines with its first Armalite Battalion and engineering equipment for our Philcag troops in Vietnam, a precursor of our Engineering Construction battalions today. 

Today, we truly admire Vietnam, led by President Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, for rising from the tragedies and sufferings of war — the World War II conflict with Japan, the guerilla war for independence against the French Foreign Legion and Army, and then against the U.S. and Allied Forces after Vietnam’s earlier victory in the classic battle at Dien Bien Phu in the north against the French Army, all of which the North Vietnamese forces won — to become an economic and peaceful power today, lifting the living standards of the Vietnamese people and advancing agriculture, education and industries, and promoting today a culture of peace in Asia and the international community. We also commend the genuine reconciliation between the U.S. and the united Vietnam. 

We also note Vietnam’s role today with ASEAN partners to build a Code of Conduct in the East Sea/West Philippines Sea in accordance with international law and its now enviable role as Chair of ASEAN 2020 and its non-permanent strategic membership in the coveted U.N. Security Council in 2020-2021. 

**

Nobody knows how long the Coronavirus will rage and estimate its effects in the Philippines and in the various countries of the world.

All the newspapers in the Philippines and elsewhere are preoccupied and have written extensively on the epidemic. No major health authority in Asia, Europe and the Americas has spoken nor dared say how long the crisis will run.

But generally, all the plagues in the various regions in history are dangerous and often claim many lives but are not long-lasting and peter out sooner than later. 

In the meantime, the government and our citizenry, families, friends, townmates and neighbors must and should help each other in every possible way. 

Today, the crisis rages but we know from past histories that in a few months, God willing, the spreading virus will sputter out and the plague will come to an end.

**

In our column last Sunday, January 19 and in much earlier interviews, we said, “It is almost certain that U.S. President Donald Trump will win very shortly the impeachment case filed by U.S. Congressional Democrats, which indeed they overwhelmingly won in the House of Representatives but which they will most likely lose in the U.S. Senate, controlled by Republicans, in the next few days or weeks.” [Editor’s note: Trump was acquitted of impeachment charges on Wednesday, February 5, 2020.] 

We also said that the impeachment charge will “diminish” Trump but the “Senate clearance will uplift him en route to the electoral battle in November.”

The Democrats are still struggling, beginning with almost 20 presidential contenders for the Democratic nomination. They have about three outstanding candidates but they must settle for only one to face Trump.

It will be a rough-and-tumble contest for almost nine months until D-Day November 3, 2020. 

Hon. Former Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia Jr.
Hon. Former Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia Jr.

Hon. Jose de Venecia, Jr. served as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998 and from 2001 to 2008, and is Founding Chairman, International Conference of Asian Political Parties. During his distinguished career, Hon. De Venecia was instrumental in successfully securing a peace agreement with the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front in southern Philippines and in forging a ceasefire and a peace pact with the rebellious Armed Forces group, RAM-YOU. He also revived the imperiled and long-stalled peace process with the communist National Democratic Front-New People’s Army, and progressed peace talks with the residual fundamentalist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Hon. DeVenecia is a member of GPF’s Global Leadership Council.

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