President Obama’s visits to Tanzania (population: 46 million) and Senegal (13 million people) last week, together with President Aquino’s transiting to his term’s second half is a sad reminder of the messed-up, pathetic state of our foreign relations.
Despite the yoking of our foreign policy to that of the US, Obama has ignored the Philippines as a nation he has to visit to send his country’s clear message of support.
In the community of nations, the visit of the president of the US, the most powerful nation on earth to a country—especially a developing one—is the clearest signal that that nation considers it as an important country.
Obama has not visited the Philippines and it is unlikely he will do so under Aquino’s term.
The Philippines is not in the list of other nations to be visited by Obama for the remainder of the year, although he would in the neighborhood — in Indonesia (his third visit) for the APEC summit and to Brunei for the ASEAN meet both in October.
The Philippines will join Vietnam and Laos as the only countries among the ASEAN that Obama has not visited.
Most US presidents – for practical reasons —have visited the Philippines only during the first half of a President’s term, and not in the second, nearly lame-duck period: Lyndon Johnson in 1966 right after Marcos assumed power; Bill Clinton in 1994 in the second year of Fidel Ramos term; and George W. Bush in 2003, also in President Arroyo’s second year in office.
Aquino will likely suffer her mother’s fate. Neither Ronald Reagan nor George H. W. Bush cared to visit Cory Aquino in Manila, despite America’s idolization of her as democracy’s saint and her pro-American stance.
But why would in this realpolitik world Obama bother to go to the Philippines when Aquino and his top diplomats have already been so subservient to America’s wishes, acting as Asia’s high-profile acolyte for its “pivot to Asia”?
There are seven countries disputing China’s claims to the South China Sea, all questioning its so-called infamous “nine-dash line” as a demarcation of the territories it claims as its own. Taiwan uses the same demarcation to make its own claims.
China even violently seized the Paracel islands from Vietnam in 1974, killing more than 70 Vietnamese troops. There was another clash between the two countries resulting in 50 more Vietnamese sailors killed. China and the third (or fourth) biggest economy in the world – Japan – are also locked in serious territorial disputes, with the Japanese all riled up over China’s declaration that Okinawa belongs to it.
But what country is at the forefront of the gang telling China to back off? What country has become the US’s main, and loudest, mouthpiece, to put down China and weaken its standing in Asia, and thus assisting it in its pivot to Asia? The Philippines under Aquino.
It reminds me so much of my youth, when my friends and I would persuade the most insecure and most intelligence-challenged kid to pick a fight with somebody we didn’t like.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario indeed has become the US’ reliable debater to confront China in ASEAN forums, even as Obama last month became buddy-buddy on a first-name basis with Premiere Xi Jinping in an unprecedented informal resort setting in Sunnylands, California.
This president has even been so brash as to risk a constitutional crisis by giving the US the right to base its troops and warships in their old bases in Clark and Subic, with the implicit goal of frightening China.
US troops were given temporary stations in Mindanao during President Arroyo’s term, since we were fighting a very real enemy, the Abu Sayyaf and the local operatives of al-Qaeda. By offering the US a similar arrangement in Luzon, is Aquino saying that we will soon go to war against China over the Spratlys?
Can’t Aquino and our foreign secretary see that they are being made the stooges in America’s tactic of demonizing China while it itself draws closer to it?
Even our top diplomats talk and appear so pro-American and so anti-China. Secretary del Rosario served seven years as our ambassador to the US, a post that so brainwashed him as to embrace Washington’s either-you-are-with-us-or-against-us world view, excusable certainly since he was there when America occupied the high moral ground after 9/11.
Our current ambassador to the US, Jose Cuisia, is known to have spent years as an executive of the Philippine branch of AIG, the failed insurance giant. He even looks American that I am told he often risks the embarrassment of being asked in diplomatic functions in Washington: “Are you from the State Department?”
And who does Aquino send to China to represent us?
While she is definitely a nice lady, Ambassador Erlinda Basilio is a 69-year old lola taken out of retirement. She is so loved by foreign affairs’ corps that they call her “Tita”, but she doesn’t have the stature to convince the Chinese that we are considering China as an important country.
China is becoming both a huge source of investments and of official development assistance. Cambodia’s foreign investment figures zoomed up in the past few years solely because of Chinese investments. It received a $500 million ODA infusion from China this year, obviously because of its pro-China stance in ASEAN meetings.
Our country on the other hand has practically closed its doors to Chinese investments and ODA, at a time when we need help most.
Yes, we have to fight for our territorial rights if we are to maintain our integrity as a nation.
The six other countries with territorial disputes with China have also been doing so, but with such finesse and diplomacy that they aren’t antagonizing China and appearing to be so much America’s lackey.
We have become the world’s laughing stock. After Aquino declares “We will defend our territory to the last man”, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin broadcasts to the world: “
We cannot stand alone. We need allies. If we do not (seek allies), we will be bullied by bigger forces and that is what is happening now. China is already there, staying in our territory.”
Expectedly, a writer of the China’s People’s Daily pounced on Gazmin’s stupid remark:
“The Philippines, knowing that it’s weak, believes that ‘a crying child will have milk to drink’.”
The sad aspect is that we’re not even getting much from the Americans for our subservience.
As proof, check out the table in this article to see how small US official development to our country has been, compared to Indonesia, where China has its biggest investments in Asia. Indonesia, by the way, has an independent foreign policy.
A Filipino journalist in Brunei attending the ASEAN-US ministerial meeting noted in his Facebook account that US State Secretary John Kerry was formal with other foreign ministers, but was extremely warm with del Rosario.
I certainly am not surprised. “Our boy in Asia,” the thought bubble above Kerry’ s could have been in a photograph of the towering US official, with his hand on del Rosario’s slumped shoulder.
www.rigobertotiglao.com and www.trigger.ph