MANILA (JGL) – From China’s “containment tour” to anti-corruption and human rights tour?
China’s aggressive behavior in Philippine Western Sea (South China Sea) may not be the dominant issue during the bilateral meeting between U.S. President Obama and Philippine President Aquino on Monday (April 28) after all.
In a briefing by Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes aboard Air Force One en route to Seoul, Korea on Friday (April 25), Rhodes said President Obama would touch on Philippine domestic political corruption when he holds a bilateral meeting with President Aquino on Monday.
Rhodes said, “(I)n the Philippines, they’ve made good progress particularly in an area of anti-corruption, and there I think the President will be able to talk about the connection between sound democratic governance and anti-corruption and economic growth, because cracking down on corruption not just accelerates and deepens democratic governance, but it also facilitates economic growth. And we’ve seen that in countries like the Philippines.”
The recent filing of plunder charges against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla and Janet Lim-Napoles involving the P10-billion pork barrel scam could figure in the discussion between the two leaders.
Even such unspoken issues as human rights committed by the Philippine military and police could also be thrown into the mix even as Obama described Japan’s wartime system of sex slavery as a “terrible” violation of human rights during his visit in South Korea.
This put Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the defensive, describing “comfort women” issue not a “diplomatic subject.”
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN THE PHILIPPINES
Obama can just cite the 2013 Country Report of U.S. State Department Secretary John Kerry on Human Rights Practices in the Philippines as being plagued by “extrajudicial killings (EKJ’s) and enforced disappearances undertaken by security forces (the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines); a dysfunctional criminal justice system notable for poor cooperation between police and investigators, few prosecutions, and lengthy procedural delays; and widespread official corruption and abuse of power.”
If President Aquino cannot check the rampant killing of journalists and other human rights activists, President Obama has an option to continue to withhold the release of the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for the Philippines believed to have been limited to five percent ($30M in 2012) for failure of the Aquino government to meet the human rights conditions mandated by the U.S. Congress.
Obama can also draw Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines towards “principled negotiations to thresh out the issues, unearth and address the root causes of the conflict” by reviving the Norway peace talks that broke down in 2013, provided he will remove then CPP-National Democratic Front from the State Department list as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
By doing so, the CPP-NDF should be encouraged to participate in political exercises by running for elective positions and should encourage its followers to renounce armed struggle.
When President Obama arrives on Monday, April 28, he and President Aquino will hold a bilateral meeting and hold a joint press conference. That night, he will attend a state dinner hosted by President Aquino.
The Asian trip will be Obama’s fifth but he was not able to make it to Malaysia and the Philippines in 2013 due to the U.S. government shutdown as well as two of the U.S.’s closest allies, Japan and Republic of Korea.
The new spin by the White House strategist on the agenda that could be covered by Obama and Aquino can even be altered if Obama follows the template of his visit in Malaysia.
Aside from “rebalancing effort that has focused on economic and security elements of this relationship that the US has with the region, Rhodes delved on “values, human rights and cultural connections” where such issues revolve.
Rhodes did not mention in his briefing if Obama will be meeting with leading civil society activists in the Philippines nor would Rice will be meeting with Filipino political opposition.
President Obama will go to Fort Bonifacio, where he will give remarks to an audience that will include American and Filipino service members and veterans to underscore “our deep security cooperation over the years, but also our security cooperation in the current environment in the Asia Pacific as we seek to build out and advance the relationship between our militaries.”
Rhodes said after delivering his speech, President Obama will lay a wreath at the American Cemetery, “which holds such importance to those who fought in World War II. And that will conclude his visit and will return to the United States on that Tuesday, the 29th.”