Just before the holidays we brought you news that the Philippines was on the verge of signing a significant FARA lobbying contract with Covington & Burling. The word “significant” hardly did the initial rumors of the deal justice – a Philippine senator opposed to the deal told that nation’s Daily Inquirer that it was worth an eye-popping $50 million.
In the days since, however, a more realistic sum has surfaced: $500,000 for six months of Covington’s time. The deal isn’t signed yet, according to the Embassy of the Philippines in Washington, but could be at any time now that a mandatory government procurement waiting period has passed.
Late last year the embassy fought with a newly formed coalition of human rights, labor, and religious groups called GMA Watch over imposing human rights conditions on U.S. military aid to the nation. In a recent statement to the Philippines’ Daily Inquirer, the chief legal adviser to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (she’s the “GMA” referenced in “GMA Watch”) said that the government had been forced to hire Covington in order to match the lobbying strength of “leftists” and “protestant bishops” in Washington.
While those groups did manage to get human rights conditions placed upon a small amount of supplemental military aid to the country, Carlos Sorreta, deputy chief of mission for the Embassy of the Philippines, denies that the government has retained Covington solely to combat the coalition.
“That was [the legal adviser’s] personal view, and I don’t think he has seen the contract,” Sorreta says, adding that his government was already negotiating with Covington before the matter of military aid restrictions arose.
Under the arrangement, which the ambassador has said will likely be signed this month, the government’s interests will be represented by Stuart Eizenstat, a former high level official in the Clinton era State and Treasury Departments who now heads Covington’s international affairs practice.
Lobbying has been controversial in the Philippines in the past. Last year, the country canceled a lobbying contract with Venable after an outcry from domestic opposition over how the contract was brokered and questions over whether Venable had been hired to play a partisan role in domestic deliberations over changes in the Philippines’ constitution.
“It seemed that some of our politicians found out about it when it was signed already,” Sorreta says, adding that the government was being very careful to “follow the rules” this time around.