While President B. S. Aquino 3rd is traveling abroad, a self-imposed moratorium on criticisms of the presidency might do us some good. A kind of unilateral truce. It is one of the more decent rules of engagement in our trade.
I call it observing the “three-mile limit.” That is to say, never attack your own government while speaking to a foreign audience beyond the old three-mile canon range from your continental shelf.
Whether as a journalist or as a quondam senator, I have tried to adhere to this rule since I left the Marcos Cabinet in 1980 through the Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presidencies. And I was pleased to do it again when I spoke to over 1,000 delegates from 50 countries at the Kremlin last week.
Now that the President is out of range, I don’t believe he should be made to worry about what we are saying about him while he is out talking to or dining with foreign heads of state. He should be allowed to concentrate on what is on his plate.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder what B. S. III could be saying to his Spanish, Belgian, French, German and American hosts on this 12-day trans-Atlantic trip. I am sure they all have heard of the country’s much ballyhooed economic growth,
Is Aquino shopping for foreign political support?
trans-Atlantic trip. I am sure they all have heard of the country’s much ballyhooed economic growth, but they must also have heard of its crude shift to one-man rule, its unending corruption scandals, its shabby infrastructure, its infernal red tape, its permanent traffic jams, its electric power shortages and second to none public utility prices, and its ever-widening poverty and inequality indices.
If this is a campaign to open the European market to Philippine products and services, as officially announced, the Europeans will want to know exactly what we have to export apart from our skilled and unskilled manpower, which now contributes $25 billion a year to our Gross Domestic Product.
As far as we know, our manufacturing is dead. We manufacture nothing but outrageous political lies, corruption scandals and man-made calamities. These add to our natural calamities, the most devastating of which has been super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, which drew the whole world to our side, but whose financial donations have gone undisclosed, unaccounted for and kept in shady bank accounts, while some of their relief items were allowed to spoil in transit or in storage or distributed to the wrong parties.
How will Aquino respond, if asked how he has cared for the Yolanda victims? One can only speculate.
If Aquino is looking for work for jobless Filipinos, he may have gone to talk to the wrong people in the wrong places. Except for Germany, whose economy remains more vibrant than the rest of Europe, the countries on his itinerary are in economic decline, with record-high unemployment rates. The only jobs available there are low-paying ones rejected by the natives. Filipino nurses and seamen are still needed, but the initial agreements are already in place, and high-level intervention is no longer needed.
If Aquino is trying to bolster the country’s dismal foreign direct investments standing vis-à-vis its neighbors—($9 billion from 2011 to 2013, to China’s $975 billion, Singapore’s $175.4 billion, Indonesia’s $56 billion, Malaysia’s $36.4 billion, Thailand’s $27.4 billion and Vietnam’s $24.7 billion)—he needs to be able to change investors’ perceptions overnight about the country’s worth as an investment site.
But how can he do it? The entire government is a mess, Metro Manila is a permanent traffic jam, getting to Heaven, quips a wag, is now easier for a reprobate than for a law-abiding citizen to get an MRT ride, power blackouts turn daytime into midnight, and local government officials can frustrate an important project approved by the national government. In its latest report, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks the Philippines as “the most restrictive” among 64 economies.
If Aquino had gone through Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal One when he left the country, as I did a week ago, he would have exploded in anger to see the facility named for his late father all boarded up like a refugee camp. It should have been withdrawn from public use while undergoing renovation, but this anachronism sits there to torment every passing investor or tourist.
Now, if on his way to Europe Aquino had made a stop in Doha, he would have wept in shame upon stepping inside Hamad International Airport, which now tops the world’s best in Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Korea. You’ve got to see it to believe it.
Upon his return, I would recommend that he deplane at the same NAIA-I terminal and stop by the comfort rooms before “immigration.” The first thing that would greet him there are a couple of uniformed middle-aged women, standing by the door of the Men’s and the Women’s, each with a broom and a dustpan, while a third woman stands close by, with an empty pail, a rag and a brush. We have just won, it seems, the race back to primeval times.
Aquino’s European-American jaunt had been planned much earlier to project him on the world stage as a statesman worthy of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize after signing a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. That was how his handlers had imagined it.
With a Nobel, he could safely procure a demand for his remaining in office for a non-existent second term. But the peace agreement, for which he appropriated P8.6 billion of the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program funds, has since run into trouble, and the dream of a Nobel Prize has turned into a nightmare. Thus at one point, he said he was no longer interested in a nonexistent second term.
But just before leaving the country, he gave fresh hints that he has not entirely abandoned the idea, and the latest report from Brussels fully trumpeted his renewed intentions. Since he controls the Congress, he could easily get his seconds to propose the necessary constitutional amendment, and since he controls the Commission on Elections and the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) voting machines that will be used in the plebiscite, such an amendment would pass, even if not a single voter should vote for it.
Banking on the “colonial mentality” of many Filipinos, Aquino could use his five-nation visit to procure the impression, no matter how false, of strong foreign support for his “continued stay” in office beyond 2016. No one can discount the possibility of Aquino telling US President Barack Obama after he crosses the Atlantic that his government supports without any qualification the US and European sanctions against Russia, and whatever action Obama chooses to take against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He could even propose that his government be considered a major non-NATO ally, just like Mrs. Arroyo did when President George W. Bush invaded Iraq.
This would add to Aquino’s numerous violations of the Constitution, which renounces war as an instrument of national policy, and vests upon Congress the sole power to declare a state of war against any country, by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses in joint session assembled, voting separately. But since obedience to the Constitution has never been Aquino’s strongest point, he could be emboldened to proceed if assured of foreign support for his desire to prolong his stay in office.
Of course all this is purely speculative, and I am hoping it would be proved totally baseless in the end. But should it ever come to pass, we should be prepared as one people, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, being the constitutional protector of the people and the State, should be prepared as an institution, to do what is right and patriotic under the premises.