POTUS comes to Manila!

The whole stretch of Roxas Boulevard, the main thoroughfare from the international airport to Malacanang Palace was cleared of traffic. A no-fly zone was imposed and some international and local flights had to be delayed. Left-wing militant groups with their effigies and usual chants were confined to a freedom park, too far away to be a cause of concern for the US Embassy and POTUS, himself.

President of the United States Barack Obama received the warmest of welcomes, not just from the president and his Cabinet but also from Filipinos in cyberspace. Singer and activist Leah Navarro (@leahnavarro) tweeted: “Welcome to the Philippines, President @BarackObama!” Popular TV anchor and broadcast journalist Karen Davila (@Karen_Davila) tweeted: “Obama is such a COOL President! Friendly, easy hand gestures, seriously cool!” On Facebook, Filipinos also used their status feeds to welcome the US president. The first American black president has Asian roots having grown up in Indonesia and studied there from ages 6 to 10.

The reception line at the airport had undertones of 2016 as main political contenders Vice-President Jejomar Binay and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas each had their turn to welcome the commander-in-chief of the United States. Obama rode a private chopper from the airport to the vicinity of Malacanang Palace where the lush green Palace grounds were subdivided by a long red carpet. The two heads-of-states marched together with a 21-gun salute in the deep background, and key members of the Cabinet lined up to shake the visiting dignitary’s hand.

His handwritten message in the Palace guest book affirms the goodwill between the Philippines and the United States: “I thank President Aquino and the people of the Philippines for welcoming me. May America’s oldest alliance in Asia always be renewed by our friendship and mutual respect.”

President Aquino’s meeting with his American counterpart sends a strong signal to the rest of the world that while quite small and not as economically and militarily strong as its neighbors, it has found a dependable ally in the US.

However, both countries need to make full use of this alliance to bolster each other’s strengths, in a mutually beneficial way. Gone should be the days of misbehaving American troops and piecemeal military assistance to a faithful but less wealthy ally. Dignity and fairness must come into play and the United States of yore is much different from today’s more humbled economic power. In the same way, the Philippines of the past is vastly different from the more assertive country that we have, under the present administration.

Of course, the actual diplomatic work had been done weeks, if not months, before. A few hours before President Obama arrived in Manila, there was an official signing of the Philippine-United States Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg. A primer on the EDCA was released to the media but without the actual copy of the agreement itself attached.

Based on the primer, the expanded defense cooperation will include construction of facilities and infrastructure upgrades; and storage and prepositioning of defense and humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) equipment, supplies, and materiel. The US will need Philippine consent for all activities to be undertaken under the EDCA and both parties will have to agree on which designated areas within Philippine military camps or bases can the construction and prepositioning take place.

President Obama’s tour of Asia as an act of “rebalancing” will result in a great deal of discussion in the four countries he visited: Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. Such discussions are vital in framing the right response to America’s offer of renewed ties.

Email: toots.ople@yahoo.com

Arab News Link: POTUS comes to Manila!

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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