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Clinton makes pitch for VFA

President Aquino welcomes former US President Bill Clinton during a courtesy call at Malacañang yesterday.

MANILA, Philippines - He may be out of the government but former US President Bill Clinton still pitched for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as a source of military assistance the Philippines needs to cope with the constant threat of global terror.

Clinton made the pitch at the start of his 35-minute speech yesterday at the Tent City of the Manila Hotel where he spoke about “Embracing our Common Humanity” as founding chairman of his William J. Clinton Foundation.

Clinton’s pitch for the VFA came amid renewed calls for the abrogation of the accord. However, President Aquino earlier announced the desire of his administration to call for a review of the VFA instead.

The former American president laid claim to the VFA’s signing while he was in office at the White House for two consecutive terms from 1993 to 2001. Clinton said the VFA was among the important agreements the two countries entered into during his administration.

“We formulated the Visiting Forces Agreement, which permitted operations between our military and called for greater military assistance from the United States,” Clinton said.

“And now the ambassador (US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr.) told me that President Obama and the secretary of state – the only member of my family that has any influence anymore – that (military assistance) has been increased,” Clinton disclosed, referring to his wife, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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The VFA took effect in May 1999 after ratification by the Philippine Senate during the administration of former President Joseph Estrada. The VFA came about a few years after the Military Bases Agreement with the US was abrogated by the Philippine Senate in September 1991 during the administration of former President Corazon Aquino, the late mother of President Aquino.

Clinton’s pitch for the VFA was made before an audience that included key members of the Senate foreign relations committee who would pass upon the proposed review of the VFA, namely Senators Loren Legarda, Ralph Recto, Francis Escudero, and Ramon Revilla Jr.

Legarda, who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee, earlier concurred with the desire of Mr. Aquino for a review of the VFA,

Clinton enumerated in his speech the major global challenges that the Philippines faces, including the lingering effects of the financial crisis that first broke out in the US, coping with the threats of global terrorism, and climate change.

“The world is too unstable for sustainable development and we have seen this in the financial crisis that started in the banks of the United States and spread to the rest of the world. We have seen this also in the threat of terrorists who do not respect global borders,” Clinton warned.

During his speech, Clinton walked down memory lane, saying he visited the Philippines twice during his term. “I like this country very much,” he said at the start of his speech, but noted that he has always come in the month of November.

He first came to Manila for a brief state visit in 1994 during the term of former President Fidel V. Ramos and again in November 1996 when he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in Subic, Zambales.

Ramos, along with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was Clinton’s Georgetown University classmate, were among those in the audience and their presence was duly acknowledged by the former US president.

Also present were Vice President Jejomar Binay, former first ladies Amelita Ramos and Imelda Marcos who is now Ilocos Norte congresswoman, and other top government officials and business and industry leaders and society personalities.

In the short question and answer session that followed his speech, former ABS-CBN vice president for news and public affairs Maria Ressa, who moderated the affair, asked Clinton about his impression of the new Philippine President whom he met for the first time yesterday.

Clinton said he found President Aquino a very “energetic” leader.

“One thing I like about him is he has lots of energy. I asked him about a lot of things and he seems to be well informed,” Clinton said, adding that they discussed education, agriculture, energy, and even the issue of private armies.

Before his program at the Manila Hotel, the former US president met with President Aquino at Malacañang in a courtesy call hastily arranged by the Palace with organizers of the Clinton event.

Asked by Ressa why he thinks the Philippines has not reached its potentials despite regaining democracy after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, Mr. Clinton conceded that the country’s colonialism by Spain and the US may have something to do with it.

“I think, first of all, on the whole, it is not a big advantage to have been a colony of Spain and the US,” Clinton pointed out.                               

In a light vein, Mr. Clinton admitted he may no longer have much influence in the US government since he stepped down from office.

“When you are a former president, you can say what you want but people don’t care what you say – unless you are the husband of the US Secretary of State,” he quipped referring anew to his wife, Hillary.

The former US president flew in and out of Manila in less than twelve hours. Clinton’s schedule was kept secret, with the US embassy saying it had nothing to do with the visit. 

It was only earlier yesterday morning that presidential aide Ricky Carandang announced Clinton’s meeting with Mr. Aquino at Malacañang.

Clinton’s entourage reportedly sought 27 individual exemptions from the gun ban of the Commission on Elections, imposed during the period of the just concluded barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections. The gun ban officially lapsed last night.

US embassy spokesperson Rebecca Thompson reiterated yesterday the visit of Mr. Clinton was completely a private sector undertaking.

Except for the security provisions for the former American president, Thompson explained the US embassy had nothing to do with the arrangements of the Clinton visit.

“The security personnel composed of the US Secret Service men who are with him (Clinton) are with government like us in the US embassy here, so in that sense, perhaps we’re involved,” she pointed out.

Clinton told the audience that he recently met in Las Vegas with a “great boxer” from the Philippines, world boxing champion Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, whom he thanked for having campaigned for his fellow Democrat Party member Harry Reid who ran and won in the last US Congress elections.

“I’m sure he won because Manny Pacquiao campaigned for him,” Clinton said to loud applause.

Clinton and his small delegation quietly flew out of Manila on a private jet last night at the US hangar of the Manila Domestic airport.

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