It was my distinct impression that President B. S. Aquino 3rd would be capping his five-nation trans-Atlantic tour with a triumphant embrace with US President Barack Obama at the White House, and a speech at the UN Summit on Climate Change in New York. That’s only half-right, it turns out. He will be at the UN, but not at the White House.
According to a report quoting Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Andrelita Austria, Aquino will arrive in Boston from Berlin, his last stop on his four-nation European jaunt, on Sept. 20. There he will meet with Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (4th District, Massachussets), who had called on him in Malacanang earlier during a recent visit to the Philippines. This appears to be a “return visit,” an observable diplomatic practice among officials of equal rank.
The two personalities are not equals: Aquino is a head of state while Kennedy is a mere member of Congress. But “he is only an Aquino, while the other is a Kennedy,” to put it in the language of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who told Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez, “you are only a Romualdez while the President is an Aquino,” one day after Haiyan/Yolanda flattened Tacloban and tore through Eastern Visayas on Nov. 8, 2013.
In Boston, Aquino will speak at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, before proceeding to New York. In New York, he will join 139 other heads of state and government at the UN climate change summit. After that, he will have a business roundtable with the US Chamber of Commerce, the US-Asean Council, and the US-Philippine Society. He will also speak at the “World Leaders Forum” at Columbia University.
On Sept. 24, he leaves New York for San Francisco on his way home.
It is a full schedule, but there is no mention even of a chance meeting with Obama on the margins of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. Obama will be speaking at the UN Summit, which the presidents of Russia (Vladimir Putin) and China (Xi Jinping) and the Prime Minister of India (Narendra Modi) will skip. He may also deliver a statement on the ISIS-instigated Iraqi-Syrian crisis, or on the situation in Ukraine, which has prompted him to slap dynamic economic sanctions on Russia.
But even if a chance meeting happened, Obama may have no time for anything more than a short handshake with his Filipino counterpart. This might disappoint Aquino, whom has recently criticized for his “political mischief” against the Constitution. But it shouldn’t disappoint us. An extended Obama-Aquino meeting can only be dangerous for us, given Obama’s primary concerns at this point. He has escalated his aerial bombardment of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, after Sunni radicals had beheaded two American journalists–James Foley and Steven J. Sotloff—in Iraq. Although he hopes to destroy ISIS without any ground warfare, his top military adviser, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has just told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would not foreclose the possibility of asking the President to use ground forces should the aerial bombardment of ISIS suffer any reverses.
Meanwhile, Yale professor Bruce Ackerman, who teaches law and political science in the university, has written in the to say that Obama’s declaration of war against ISIS marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. “Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris,” he writes. Under the US Constitution, the power to declare war solely belongs to Congress.
“Bush gained explicit congressional consent for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq,” says the professor. “In contract, the Obama administration has not even published a legal opinion attempting to justify the president’s assertion of unilateral war-making authority.”
Besides ISIS, Obama is also preoccupied with Ukraine, where he wants to defeat the pro-Russia rebels supported by Putin. He is trying to break that support by imposing sanctions on Russia, which he has also recently expanded. With such problems on Obama’s plate, meeting with him could only present unforeseen difficulties, should Aquino decide to involve his government in Obama’s foreign conflicts.
This is not far-fetched, given his character and state of mind, his total misunderstanding of the constitutional limits of his power, and his by-now apparent obsession to remain in power after the end of his term in 2016, despite rising demand from the National Transformation Council and others that he step down now. So we lose nothing from Aquino not being received by Obama on this visit, except for the foregone “photo op.”
But Aquino’s real problem begins at the UN Summit, if and when he decides to speak. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has described “climate change, and our response to it,” as the defining issue of our time, although perhaps temporarily overshadowed by ISIS. Although the UN has been holding climate change conferences on a yearly basis, this is the first time that the Secretary General has invited not only heads of state and government but also leaders of the private sector and civil society to the Summit.
Everything about climate change has probably already been said. The UN must now draw up an action plan, which could form the core of a comprehensive legal agreement by 2015, 20 years after the first UN conference in Berlin on climate change. But the proceedings are hardly expected to move forward without reviewing the most important occurrences of climate change. For 2013, the biggest such occurrence was the Haiyan/Yolanda super typhoon, which hammered the whole of Tacloban back to the Stone Age.
Aquino will have to say something about this, especially since many of the governments represented at the Summit had extended financial and other humanitarian assistance to the Yolanda victims, and the Aquino government has failed to make a public accounting of how much money has been received, and how much of it has been spent, and where, since the intended beneficiaries have not seen any of it. In fact, the latest media exposes have revealed that at least close to one billion pesos has been placed by the Secretary of Social Welfare and Development into questionable bank accounts.
Aquino will need very little persuading to claim credit for non-existent accomplishments in managing the crisis. CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera have fully documented the Aquino government’s incompetence and its effort to blame everything on the city government, whose mayor nearly died from the surging waters that killed some of his policemen, along with the several thousand other fatalities. But since that was nearly a full year away, Aquino might be tempted to believe those who had watched the disaster on TV have already forgotten, and that he could now make whatever claims he wishes to make to recreate his tarnished public image.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Ban Ki Moon also invited Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez to the Summit. Romualdez is the most credible witness to talk about Aquino’s execrable performance from the first day of the Tacloban crisis to the present. “I invite you to bring ambitious announcements and actions to the Summit,” Ban Ki Moon wrote Romualdez. And I understand the mayor is prepared to rise to the challenge.
However, for the sake of all that is good about our country, it is to be hoped that Aquino will not lie too much about what he supposedly did and is supposed to be doing in Tacloban and for Tacloban, so that Romualdez could still act the diplomat and the gentleman, and find himself under no strong moral obligation to embarrass his own president, in a foreign country, with the naked truth.