No Permanent Friends or Enemies, Only Permanent Interests

by Joseph G. Lariosa


CHICAGO (jGLi) – In his first official act following his re-election, President Obama decided to visit Thailand, Cambodia and Burma. This gesture of  excluding the Philippines from his itinerary has confounded political opinion makers in Manila.

There is no doubt the Philippines is the U.S.’s oldest ally in the region when it became part of the U.S. colony at the end of 19th century.  In fact, natives of the Philippines at the time are considered U.S. Citizens because Philippines was a U.S. Commonwealth, like Puerto Rico, and the Philippines had no sovereignty to speak of.

But why would Obama give countries, like Thailand, an opportunity to witness his victory lap at the expense of an ally, which is only two hours or less away on board his Air Force One?

President Obama had shown that in the country where he had a close affinity, he made sure that it would be given priority of his visit when he included Indonesia in his first Asian tour in October 2010. He will make another sentimental trip to Indonesia when he attends the APEC Summit in Bali in 2013. Indonesia was Obama’s boyhood home when he moved there at seven years old and lived there for four years.

Meanwhile, it is easy to figure out that the Philippines had been visited by some past U.S. presidents, like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, before martial law when the Philippines was recovering from the ashes of World War II and had hosted two huge U.S. military bases. But after the dismantling of those bases, the Philippines was paid its first and last visit by another U.S. President – Bill Clinton – who attended the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation)  Summit in 1996 at Subic.

While every Philippine president after World War II would pay a visit to the White House during their term of office instead of taking a beeline to the United Nations’ annual events, U.S. presidents are never the type to return the favor to visit Malacanang.

This is a given because of the Philippines’ decision to shut down U.S. military bases, which were the first targets of attack, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, whose 71st anniversary will be observed this Friday (Dec. 7th.) But if one has to go further back into history, it will be noted that Thailand when it was still known as Siam (remember the “Siamese Twins,” who were born of Thai-Chinese father and a Chinese-Malay mother in what used to be province of Siam and they would later become U.S. naturalized citizens?) was an enemy of the United States during World War II.


During World II, Japan demanded the right to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan (now Malaysia) frontier. Japan invaded the country and engaged the Thai Army for six to eight hours before Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram or (Pibul Songgram) or simply Phibun (Pibul), Prime Minister and virtual military dictator of Thailand from 1938 to 1944 and 1948 to 1957, ordered armistice. Shortly, thereafter, Japan was granted free passage and on Dec. 21, 1941, Thailand and Japan signed a military alliance with a secret protocol wherein Tokyo agreed to help Thailand regain territories lost to the British and French.

While Japan was attacking the Philippines and U.S. Army later known as the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East, Thailand declared war on the United States and United Kingdom  (England) on Jan. 25, 1942.  After the war, however, Thailand also became an ally of the United States.

This gesture of President Obama of visiting a former enemy territory while bypassing an old ally, like the Philippines, is putting into play the popular line spoken in Godfather II movie by Mafioso Michael Corleone to “keep your friends close and enemies closer.”

This line was, however, said to be attributed to another Italian philosopher, Nicollo Machiavelli in “The Prince,” which means you always want to keep your friends close to you because they are people you can trust and rely on. On the other hand, enemies are always going to be out there seeking to harm you so you want to keep an extremely close eye on them in order to make sure that they are not going to hurt you.


In fact, Obama has also pulled the same strategy on one of his critics – Los Angeles, California Filipino community leader Bobby Reyes of, who received an early season’s greeting card from Mr. Obama for the first time.  Reyes had tried to twist my arm to change my support from President Obama to Governor Mitt Romney a few days before the Nov. 6 elections, saying the Romney landslide was inevitable.

I told Bobby that’s fine with me if I don’t get any card from Obama since a friend and supporter do not expect a favor in return of his support.

But I had early brush with this consequential theory of conducing relationship from my former source of news in the Philippines – the late Mayor Nemesio Yabut of Makati. Note the name “Nemesio” must have been derived from “nemesis” (enemy).

Mayor Yabut told me that whenever his personal and political enemies would come within the confines of Makati, he made sure that the Makati police would be there to secure them from getting harmed.

The mayor told me, “Joseph, if my enemies, like the Trinidad brothers, whom I refused to grant a permit to put up beer gardens in Makati, would come to Makati, I would provide them Makati police escorts. If they were injured or killed in my city, I will be the first to blame. So I had instructed the Makati police to protect my enemies.”

Fair enough. I hope, when the Philippines hosts the APEC Summit in 2016, President Obama will not find any reason not to show up in Manila. Unless, he would be actively campaigning for the election of his successor.  After all, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. (

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