Saturday, August 1, 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 the 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.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary


Anonymous said...


It may be that PBO has over the period of months in office learned to better not speak his mind all the time. The Gates Crowley incident being the most recent incident of speaking his mind that, if not for this beer summit that upstaged GMA's press conference, would have really put Barack in hot water.

Too bad about the second reporter, he could have asked something about what you bring up about Gloria's record. Instead he asked about that "beer summit." Of course, that could have been staged to save face.


Jun Bautista said...

Perhaps Obama is losing his touch in being known as a careful and measured speaker? But what he failed to say, which most disenchanted Filipinos expect, has raised even more speculation and an unwitting endorsement of GMA's actions. In the words of the Washington Times editorial, Obama may have sanitized GMA. Sad to say for both GMA and Obama, Filipinos cannot buy into this.

Anonymous said...

At least no one asked who the Great White Leader (errr Great New Leader) will appoint when GMA's term in Malacanang expires.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jun,

Your suspicions are being proved true every day. Obama is no friend of democracy..just ask Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Putin or Zalaya..all good friends of 'The One'.

Yes, GMA is Bill Clinton transported to the Philippines. Now maybe she can be the Philippines Obama...Hope and chage Gloria!

But look at Obama's policies and American opinion polls now....well, I think I know where you stand...pretty sad that there are so many Filipinos who think the next logical move after GMA-Clinton is GMA-Obama, but that's where things seem to be headed.