SAN DIEGO (May 1) – Ranking Philippine officials on a tour to counter adverse publicity about the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the country is “still afloat” despite the global economic crisis and that the people had grown tired of resorting to popular revolt to effect change.
On a stopover in San Diego Wednesday night (April 29) on the last leg of a US-wide campaign, the officials claimed “democracy is alive and vibrant” in the island nation even in the face of protest rallies and agitation to oust Arroyo whom critics said was “the most corrupt” Philippine president, upstaging the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Danilo A. Consumido, an undersecretary in Arroyo’s office at the presidential Malacanang Palace in Manila, said people were more concerned with resolving economic problems than resorting to another “people power” revolt, the bloodless mass uprisings that had driven two Philippine presidents out of office.
“It seems that our people have allowed the government to tackle the most difficult economic issues,” he told a gathering of the different Filipino community associations in the San Diego suburb of National City, the small Navy town where the biggest concentration of Filipinos in America live and work.
The Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles headed by Consul General Mary Jo Bernardo Aragon hosted the event with a free buffet dinner at the Villa Manila Restaurant. About 50 people showed up, none of them the intended target of a sales pitch promoting the Subic and Clark economic corridors.
The attendees consisted mostly of the “usual suspects”, the same people herded to show their faces every time the community’s umbrella organization, the scandal-ridden Council of Philippine American Organizations (COPAO), co-stages an event.
Among those with Consumido were Secretary Edgardo Pamintuan, Philippine Presidential Adviser for External Affairs and Chair of the Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council, and a team from Subic Bay corporation.
Part of their mission was to convince investors to put their money in projects lined up by the Arroyo administration in Clark and Subic, the two areas previously occupied by the US air force and the navy.
“The Philippines is no longer the sick man of Asia from the time Arroyo became president,” declared Consumido, citing statistics to back up his claims. He said economic growth is projected this year to improve by 4.1 percent from last year’s 3.1 percent.
“The Philippine economy is fundamentally sound,” he stresses, and repeated what others had said earlier that the Philippines is an island of calm at the center of a storm.
Consumido explained the decision to “de-couple” from the United States — the Philippines was once a US colony — and trade with many countries, including China, had cushioned off the negative impact on the economy.
Adding to that is the growing money remittance from overseas Filipino workers which last year reached $16 billion. He appealed to Filipinos to continue their remittance, even suggesting they increase it by at least $20.
Consumido suggested that the current political instability in the Philippines was being fanned by the Senate.
“The Senate creates negative perceptions and then leaves the issues unresolved,” he states.
He also proposed that protestors go to the courts to settle their differences instead of marching in the streets of Manila. “Nagpapagod lang tayo. Dalhin na lang sa husgado,” he said in Tagalog.
Consumido also implied that the Arroyo government may use its extraordinary power when the need arises. Critics claimed Arroyo was poised to impose martial law to prolong her term, which ends in 2010.
“The President has been harshly criticized but she’s very focused on the economy,” Consumido added.
Guest Columnist: Romeo P. Marquez, Philippine Village Voice