Sunday, July 12, 2009

Barack to meet Arroyo at White House. Why???

What's on the mind of US President Barack Obama when he invited Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for a state visit? The White House said Obama invited Mrs. Arroyo to be the first Southeast Asian leader to have an audience with the US President. The visit is scheduled on July 30, three days after her last State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The White House statement that announced the invitation said the two leaders will have “an opportunity to discuss ways to enhance US-Philippine cooperation on critical global issues including counter-terrorism and climate change, as well as further the traditionally strong alliance and bond between our nations.”

This is surprising since, last July 4, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney hinted of a meeting between the two leaders yet, there was still no definitive date. A week or so later, the White House announces a schedule, one that comes after a visit of the US chief spy. What a coincidence?

This is most perplexing since the US president actually scuttled a trip to Kenya, the country of his father, because of its government's increasing human rights violations record. Obama even gave a rousing speech entitled " A New Moment of Promise", a veritable condemnation of repressive regimes and lays the predicate for America's role in African political life. Now, Obama wants to be visited by Southeast Asia's most vilified and most hated head of state?

I once admired Obama for his staunch beliefs in human dignity and human rights. I am really doubting his true intention with this invitation to Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

First, what good would a visit be between a New president and someone who would spend just eleven months more in office? After the SONA, and if nothing happens with Congress convening itself into a Constituent Assembly, Mrs. Arroyo will just be a sitting duck, really acting as a transition leader on the way to retirement come June 30, 2010. If Obama still expects Mrs. Arroyo to do a miracle to change the human rights situation in the Philippines or repair a fast slipping economy, I'll probably now believe what others say that Obama's a sucker. What's so important that Obama can't wait to get his hands on, err, meet Mrs. Arroyo?

Is it because Obama wants to hear from Mrs. Arroyo straight that she'll honor her commitment to push ahead with the 2010 elections? That's so lame a concern for the busiest Chief Executive of the world. What really is the intention of the White House for the hurried scheduling of the visit?

The answer actually is coated in the "diplomatic language" of the invitation. In the letter of the invitation, it says that the visit aims to enhance bilateral relations in the area of "counter-terrorism and climate change" and also, "further the strong alliance and bonds of the two nations." What does this mean?

It means that the US now is most concerned about the worsening terrorism in the Philippines. I see this also as a visit, an attempt to repair strained relations. This visit can be likened to the one Obama did last April 17 when he visited Mexico, except that this time, it's the concerned Head of State (Mrs. Arroyo) that would do the visiting. A familiar scene if you think about it since on the eve of the Marcos regime, Ferdinand Marcos also did his "pilgrimage" to the US prior to being ousted from his office.

Obama met Mexican president Felipe Calderon over concerns with security issues caused by a worsening peace and order, drug trafficking and arms smuggling. Previous to Obama's 12-hour visit, the US government has voiced its concerns already through the mainstream media and through diplomatic channels.

The invitation given to Mrs. Arroyo is coated with the same language, " enhance US-Philippine cooperation" on the issue of "counter-terrorism." Is the US concerned that the Philippines, the leader in the fight against terrorism in the Southeast Asian region, is slowly losing the battle against Muslim terrorists?

This is the same thing with the Philippines. Washington has been voicing its desire to see the Philippines toe the democratic line, first from US Defense secretary Robert Gates, then from the US ambassador and lastly from the CIA Chief. Obama, as some very close observers say, is a hands-on executive. He wants to hear the problem and assurances straight from the source. Is this the same case, Obama wants to hear from Mrs. Arroyo what's happening and what she intends to do about it?

More than this though, this scheduled visit comes at a time when government intends to go back to the negotiating table, first with the MILF this July and later, with the CPP-NPA-NDF, two organizations considered as "terrorist organizations" by the Pentagon.

Since the 1990's, the US has indicated its desire to play a bigger role in brokering peace in the troubled Mindanao region. US interests in Mindanao remain very high in the defense department agenda in the Southeast Asian region. Both countries have maintained close cooperation in counter-insurgency operations since the abrogation of the Military Bases Agreement. The US military provides the Philippine military with arms, war materiel and technologies. Relations were momentarily strained during the Daniel Smith rape scandal but both sides immediately repaired it with the release of the American serviceman.

This is the best time for the US to again, try to play a bigger role in peace negotiations. The US knows that Mrs. Arroyo is at her most vulnerable, what with her administration on its last few months in office and there's a brewing peace and order situation that she needs to attend to. The timing is perfect for the US to probably get concessions, possibly to secure commitments that the Philippine government would honor the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) or that the government allows the continuation of the US military facility inside the Western Mindanao command.

If this is the case, then, what is the concession? For Obama to do a Richard Nixon and give a blessing to Mrs. Arroyo to go ahead with martial rule? I hope this is not included in the agenda.