This Week in Asia

Hothead or peacemaker? Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial pick for China envoy divides opinion

The Philippines' newest envoy to China is a controversial journalist who once made headlines by giving a karate kick to a film actress who then beat him black and blue.

President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Ramon Tulfo, 72, as the first special envoy for public diplomacy to China upon Tulfo's request, the controversial Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist has revealed. Tulfo said Duterte, 73, wanted him to run for senator but he declined because he did not have sufficient campaign funding.

Tulfo, who attended the same school as the president, offered instead to become "a special envoy to China."

"As a special envoy to China, which pays only P1 per year, I could retain my public service programme - Isumbong mo kay Tulfo (Complain to Tulfo)," he wrote in a column earlier this month. Tulfo would only get half that amount since the appointment is only for six months. Tulfo, who could not be reached for comment, did not say why.

He said his work would begin as soon as Beijing accepted his credentials.

As special envoy, Tulfo explained he would "facilitate applications and issuance of permits to Chinese investors", in particular obtaining leases for idle agricultural land and fish ponds for contract farming. This would generate "millions" of jobs, he said.

Tulfo, who was recently thrust into the spotlight for boorish behaviour inside a public hospital, said he intended to act as a "go between ... in the event of diplomatic tiffs with China". He claimed an expertise in negotiating, having once talked a gunman who had killed two police officers and used human shields into surrendering.

"I've been portrayed as a hothead, but I'm really a peacemaker, which is the job of an emissary," said Tulfo, who once told The Post that he always carries a loaded Glock pistol "because I've offended many people through my hard-hitting column."

Hours after posting his appointment papers on Facebook on Friday, Tulfo got embroiled in a war of words on radio after a whistle-blower accused him of being on the payroll of a businessman.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed controversial journalist Ramon Tulfo as a special envoy to China. Photo: EPA

Tulfo fired back by accusing the woman of conducting an affair with a drug lord and having "smelly private parts".

A former newspaper colleague of Tulfo told the South China Morning Post that he doubted that the former crime reporter would make a good envoy.

"Will he make a good ambassador? He did not make a good anything," said Vergel Santos, chairman of media watchdog the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Santos said that based on his experience of editing Tuflo's articles in the past, "he's not good for anything. He never did anything big as a journalist. He did not rise from a police reporter."

Tulfo has said he was awarded for his investigative reporting at the 1984 Catholic Mass Media Awards.

"I did not know he suddenly knew business and agriculture and economics," said Santos, who writes guest opinion columns for The New York Times.

Asked why Tulfo was chosen, Santos said: "Because Duterte likes him. Duterte only puts in people he wants. It's horrible.

"Apparently, the president thinks Tulfo can do something that our own ambassador to China cannot do."

"Tulfo's claim to fame is the supposedly unequalled number of libel suits filed against him," he added. "It does not in the slightest suggest admirable journalism and definitely has nothing to do whatsoever with diplomacy."

Tulfo is the eldest of 10 children, two of whom were embroiled in a corruption scandal earlier this year. His sister, Wanda Teo, was sacked as tourism secretary after it emerged that her department had approved P60 million (US$1.1 million) worth of advertising spots that ran during a television show produced and anchored by her brother Ben. The code of ethics for public officials bars such financial arrangements between relatives.

Tulfo has publicly castigated his brother Ben and sided with Wanda.

The ninth sibling Erwin, a broadcaster, was fined P10,000 (US$190) for interviewing in a sensational manner a disgraced police officer who was holding hostage 22 Hong Kong tourists inside a bus in Manila in 2010. Erwin snubbed a request by the Hong Kong government to appear at an inquest into the incident, which killed eight Hongkongers.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2018. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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