Friday, July 31, 2009

Obama-GMA Meeting Reflects US Policy Toward Philippines

Having spoken strongly against those who cling to power through corruption and deceit during his inaugural address, one would think President Obama would somehow reinforce this message during his conversation with GMA, whose waning administration as we know has been beset by serious allegations of corruption and abuse of political power. He made no qualms reiterating this in his disapproval of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya's ouster by the military, although there are still hanging questions on the legitimacy of Zelaya's actions that precipitated his removal. Instead, President Obama steered away from such hot-button issues like charter change, term extensions, martial law, corruption and human rights, despite the fact that these issues threaten the political stability of the Philippines.

To be sure, President Obama was briefed on these issues but policy considerations made them off-limits. That President Obama did not make any reference to them at all, or even a hint, is an indication that the US's only interest in the Philippines right now is regional security. Given the generous accommodation the Philippines provides to US forces, not to mention our history of unflinching support for US foreign policy in other parts of the world, GMA is seen by the US as an invaluable ally in propping up its presence in the Asia-Pacific region in the wake of the North Korean threat and the growing dominance of China. Serious questions about GMA's governance appear to be the least of US's worries for now.

Such approach to US foreign policy is not something new, where notably corrupt and dictatorial regimes have been supported by the US in the past in pursuing its interests, as in the case of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War or of Pervers Musharaff of Pakistan in recent memory. Or closer to heart, we have the case of President Ferdinand Marcos who, until Edsa I, continuously enjoyed the support of the US. But the idea that President Obama would resuscitate this reprehensible policy is a big disappointment. After all, President Obama stressed during his inaugural speech that he rejects the false choice between America's safety and ideals; that US foreign policy - when it comes to protecting America - would not compromise its ideals. Although such pronouncement was made in the context of fighting terrorism it is safe to assume that it would also apply in other instances.

What is even disconcerting is that not only did President Obama fail to indicate US disapproval of any totalitarian tendencies and raise concerns on the disturbing corruption and unsolved human rights cases in the Philippines, he also heaped encomiums on GMA for her position on human rights and, in his words, for doing "an outstanding work on a whole range of issues." This is ironical because the human rights record of the Arroyo administration is not anywhere near acceptable. Just last year UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Philip Alston gave the Philippines a failing mark on human rights. And five months ago, the Philippines has been listed as the most dangerous peactime country for journalists in the wake of the numerous unsolved murders of journalists.

I don't know if corruption - where the Philippines notoriously and consistently get a high world ranking - is among the "range of issues" where President Obama said GMA is doing an outstanding work. I am sure he is not unaware of the recent World Bank report on corruption of road projects in the Philippines which are funded by no less than the World Bank, in which the US has a stake; or of the allegations of corruption in the use of military assistance funds provided by the US on the joint RP-US military exercises.

But why would the US put so much value in its relationship with an administration which, although has proven to be an important and loyal ally, is already in its waning days and risk the ire of an opposition that could seize power after the elections, given the administration's sagging popularity? This is a fertile ground for speculation of possible US support, or what amounts to the same thing, of off-hand US policy in case our much-feared apprehension of a term extension for GMA comes true. How we wish we knew what transpired behind closed doors between these two leaders.


  1. I am disappointed that Obama did not give unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to GMA to finish off the Abu Sayaff and the latter has not asked for it. It's a cheaper implementation of the VFA, without American presence. Anyways...

    Perhaps the American position still recognizes how strategic is the geographic importance of the Philippines in the Southeast Asian lake, with or without bases. Meanwhile, they are also diplomatically strenghtening cooperation with the Chinese and they have hit the right keyword there - 'cooperation' is an inherent chinese strategy.

    Filipinos should probably learn from the American policy. It is naivete for Philippine civil society to think that just because they have put out an open letter, American policy will be swayed. I presume the White House get a handful of those everyday - them open letters.

    Perhaps, Filipinos should learn the 'computational dynamics' of American policy first. It is probably juvenile to water down the strategic and geographic importance of the Philippines - if and when, the opposition now will already be the administration next year. That 'importance' should remain convenient.

  2. The well entrenched US foreign policy is to keep America's interest first (what sensible leaders would not puruse such policy for his/her own country?) - the application or non-application of its values notwithstanding. The lesson we learned from this is that in the end we are left to tend for our own welfare, rather than looking up to someone even as powerful as the US.