CHICAGO (jGLi) – From the early fifties, after every time a Philippine president visited the White House in an annual ritual, he would get home to the Philippines always with a largess (U.S. foreign aid) to brag around.
As a result, Filipino politicians got the impression that the Philippines and the United States really had “special relation.” But in reality, there was really no such relation to speak of because at that time any U.S. President was in default to help any Philippine president no matter how bad or how good he handled the human rights or labor rights issues in the Philippines. Why?
Because the Philippines was at the time hosting twin U.S. naval (Subic Bay) and air force (Clark Field) bases.
That situation changed in 1992 when the Philippine Senate shut down the two huge U.S. military bases in response to the clamor of Filipino nationalists that those bases were intruding into the Philippine sovereignty.
Since then, when a Philippine president would go to the U.S., the President would no longer be hosted to the usual state or official visit. A new word was introduced into the political lexicon: a “working visit,” which is extended to a chief of state or head of government at the invitation of the U.S. president. A working visit normally consists of a meeting with the president at the White House, but without a luncheon, dinner or formal press availability. There is no gift exchange and spouses do not attend the luncheon. This happened with the last visit of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the White House.
PH, ONE OF 142 COUNTRIES
There were only a couple of state dinners hosted by President Obama lately: for the heads of state of Great Britain and emerging superpower India.
Just like any of the 142 nations, which receive foreign aid from the U.S., the Philippines will now have to stay at the back of the line with its empty hat waiting for donation.
Despite the absence of its U.S. bases, the Philippines can still avail of other foreign assistance: bilateral development aid, economic assistance supporting U.S. political and security goals, humanitarian aid, and multilateral economic contributions.
The Philippines should never entertain thoughts of getting that generous military aid despite the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Most of the aids available for the Philippines have what Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario calls ties to the so-called “conditionalities.” The Philippines, like any other countries, would now have to go thru the eye of the needle to get these U.S. foreign aids. No more VIP treatment.
For instance, at the tail end of the 2+2 meeting by Secretary Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and their U.S. counterparts U.S. State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Mr. Del Rosario was asking publicly for the release of the whole $30-million Foreign Military Financing since only $3-million or 10 percent of total has so far been released.
In other words, if Mr. Del Rosario would like to get the whole pie, his government has to “earn” it. It is not going to be presented to him in a silver platter.
The $30-million could not just be released by the U.S. State Department. These monies can only be released if the Department would be satisfied with the human rights situation in the Philippines.
NO HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES MEAN RELEASE OF FOREIGN AID
If the U.S. State Department stops receiving human rights complaints in the Philippines, then, the U.S. State Department would have no recourse but to release those foreign aid in full. Complaints that reach the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines are forwarded to the U.S. State Department, which usually makes annual country reports about the human rights situation in the Philippines and other countries. Sources of complaints are usually Philippine mass media, the human rights victims themselves, non-government organizations (NGO’s), etc.
Bases of human rights reports are internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements. The U.S. Department of State submits reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974.
So, next time the Philippine government will make a pitch for U.S. foreign aid, it should first do its homework by making sure that its security forces, like the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the National Bureau of Investigation, etc. are properly trained to prevent human rights violations in handling people under their custody.
A “foreign aid” that President Aquino could gift wrap from his upcoming visit to the White House would have been the passage by U.S. Congress of the pending “Save Our Industries Act” (S. 1244). If not, he can ask Mr. Obama to issue an Executive Order that contains provisions of the bill.
But Mr. Aquino might run into opposition from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative if it resolves that there are widespread labor rights violations in the Philippines, notably the union busting of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) by PAL management, the Philippine Labor Secretary and Malacanang.
The Save Act had been endorsed by Secretary Clinton to the U.S. Congress. But U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk, who also holds a cabinet position, could have the last word on the bill. Mr. Kirk is mandated to “review pending country practices related to concerns about internationally recognized workers rights,” including 1) the right of association, 2) the right to organize and bargain collectively, 3) freedom from compulsory labor, 4) a minimum age for the employment of children, and 5) acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work and occupational safety and health.”
Even if Ambassador Kirk was President Obama’s official representative to the inauguration of President Noynoy Aquino and even if Save Act had picked up the endorsement of Secretary Clinton, Mr. Kirk cannot betray his mandate by giving the Philippines “special or preferential treatment” if he finds labor rights violations in the Philippines.
I just hope President Aquino will not be going back to the Philippines empty handed after his White House visit. (firstname.lastname@example.org)