Unstatesmanlike

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (JGL) – It’s now over a month since President Obama visited the Philippines but the handling of some portions of the reception leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

I voted for President Aquino during the 2010 presidential elections. In fact, I even contributed a small amount of my money to his campaign when dual-citizen Filipino American Loida Nicolas Lewis held a fund-raising for him and vice presidential candidate Mar Roxas in Chicago area, as they were practically unprepared when the clamor for their candidacy snowballed shortly after the death of Tita Cory. Besides because of their “tuwid na daan” (honest) slogan, I believed his campaign needed the money of the voters because they have no money to buy votes.

But I still can’t figure out how amateurish and boring the way President Aquino handled some portions of the state visit. Perhaps, this is one reason I will think twice to support whoever Aquino will endorse in the 2016 presidential elections.

It has been a tradition that whenever a foreign leader, like the president of the United States (POTUS), visits the Philippines, he usually lays a wreath at the monument of national hero Jose Rizal at Luneta (now Rizal Park) in Manila.

If the Philippine Congress were in session, the U.S. president is usually invited to speak before the joint session of Congress at the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City as did President George W. Bush.

In the case of the visit of President Obama, the wreath laying at the Rizal monument was set aside. I surmised the U.S. Embassy was afraid President Aquino could not guarantee the security of Obama in case anti-U.S. rally participants create a nightmare for the most powerful man in the world.

But Aquino could argue that why would the handlers of Obama be scared of the rallyists when Filipinos are still grateful for the help of the American government in rehabilitating the hundreds of thousands of victims of super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)?

If Filipinos would like to watch Obama’s wreath laying, they would be there just to take a glimpse of him or perhaps to shake hands with him for this once-in-a-lifetime event to thank him for helping the typhoon victims.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY BY THE U.S. EMBASSY

It was simply a missed opportunity by the U.S. Embassy staff, which was overprotective of Obama. Besides, the U.S. Embassy also made itself inaccessible to the accredited media who covered the Malacanang leg of the Obama visit. I tried to call the U.S. Embassy press staff so I can cover the speech of President Obama at Fort Bonifacio but the phone numbers given to Malacanang-accredited reporters, like me, were landlines where you could not leave a message. Nobody even answered the phone. They did not even list a cell phone number or an email address as contact information.

During the state dinner, Aquino invited his supporters and some opposition leaders. At first glance, it was like statesmanship gesture on Aquino’s part.

But why would President Aquino not introduce my friend, former President and current Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, by name to Obama? If Aquino did not want to introduce Estrada to Obama why would he invite Estrada to the state dinner at all?

Estrada told me that Aquino introduced him to Obama but Aquino did not even mention his name to the U.S. president. “Ano ba ang magagawa ko kung hindi binangit ang pangalan ko.” (What can I do if my name was not even mentioned?).

This reminded me of a joke by the late Manila Bulletin night editor, Ireneo “Totoy” Torres. He told me that in Cavite province, where he lived, the military allowed his neighbors to vote under martial law. When the voters returned for the night to watch the canvassing of votes at the precinct, the military told them, “Kayo pinaboto na kayo, gusto pa niyong bilangin ang mga boto niyo. Sige, umuwi na kayo.” (Folks, you were already allowed to vote and yet you want your votes counted. Get out of here. Go home.)

AQUINO LIKE MARTIAL LAW ADMINISTRATOR

This is exactly what happened to former President Estrada. Like the martial law military administrator, President Aquino invited Estrada to the state dinner but Aquino felt no obligation to introduce Estrada to Obama by name.

Aquino should understand that the expenses for hosting the state dinner did not come from his personal pocket but from the taxpayers’ money. The state dinner is a public event, where guests could interact with each other.

Even in the privacy of the home in the Philippines, if you have several guests, as a host, it is your obligation to introduce one another. If not, there is no point inviting them to your home.

But as president, Aquino is the father of the nation, whose duty is to unite opposing factions in the community. If you cannot even reconcile political differences by not opening the lines of communication with the opposition and listening to them, you have no business running for president.

This reminds of my conversation with the late Pasay City Mayor Pablo Cuneta when I asked him why he was having two wives. “Joseph,” he told me, “if I can unite the thousands of Pasayenos, why can’t I reconcile the differences of my two wives?”

Perhaps, the “spouselessness” of President Aquino is taking a toll on his skill to observe household protocol as he has no experience in carrying real-life husband-wife-and-child relationships.

If not, then, I can buy the argument of Estrada’s handlers that the real reason there was no wreath laying at the Luneta and Mayor Estrada was not introduced to Obama by name is purely political.

As an anti-U.S. bases advocate, Estrada had drawn the ire of the U.S. Embassy, which I was told, had required Estrada to appear at the U.S. Embassy when he applied for a U.S. visa even now that he is the Manila mayor.

When Estrada was president, he was able to obtain his visa without showing up at the U.S. Embassy.

If it is true that Estrada is now required to show up at the U.S. Embassy to apply for his visa, as mayor of Manila, where the U.S. Embassy is located, I would suggest that Estrada order a review if the U.S. Embassy is paying its real estate and other taxes to the City of Manila properly.

I notice in my recent visit to the Philippines to cover President Obama, the U.S. Embassy has not only expanded but added buildings to its existing ones. I wonder if the U.S. Embassy is exempted from applying for a building permit from Manila City Hall.

I have a feeling if Mayor Estrada will start to inquire if the U.S. Embassy is paying proper taxes to the City, President Aquino will now be prompted to introduce the U.S. Ambassador to the Manila mayor by name.

(lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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