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To be sovereign is to be mature

At the recent celebration of the 30th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, I found myself among a group of Filipino diplomats. One of them was once head of protocol for a former administration. We talked on how some media sectors had made fun of President GMA for trying to meet with US President Barack Obama. Since some of the diplomats were not exactly fans of President GMA, I expected they would agree with the articles that ridiculed the president when she dropped by at the National Prayer Breakfast where Obama was guest speaker.

Surprise, surprise. They agreed that President GMA was ill-advised if she had gone to the prayer meeting only to shake Obama’s hand and for a picture taken with him for the sake of Filipino Americanitos at home.

The protocol expert said the US president would certainly have been told that President GMA was present and that he or his advisers advised him chose not to greet her even if it might have taken only a few seconds.

US Ambassador Kenney explained he was too busy with American affairs to bother about foreign dignitaries. He came to the prayer meeting and returned to his work on domestic concerns immediately. That explanation would have been acceptable if it had it not been for later reports that belied the excuse. Obama met with other heads of state soon after (Mexico for one, as far as I know). State Secretary Hillary Clinton was sent to greet her instead. But this was soon followed by the announcement that the Philippines would not be in her itinerary in Asia. Curiously, Indonesia, being at the same level with the Philippines in Asia’s totem pole was. This was consistent with the snub — the Philippines was not important enough to America.

Philippine foreign policy makers must reexamine the diplomatic thrust of the government, largely based on the assumption that the US considers its former colony as its closest ally in this part of the world. The basis for the thrust is misplaced.

At the end of the freewheeling discussion, the diplomats gathered around that small table agreed that whatever the reason was for the snub, (some) local media might have done better to pass up insulting the Philippine president, however much they were against her. On my part, I would turn the tables around.

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It is the US President, not the Philippine President, who committed the gaffe for miscarrying protocol. Media could have helped to clarify on the demand of protocol instead of using it as another nail to bring down President GMA and her government. You’d think that Filipinos would have been more patriotic. Well, blame the colonial mentality that has been ingrained in our culture through long years of tutorials from former conquerors on how to shape our nation. We were shaped to be unpatriotic.

There you have it. It may be great for the Americans if they have now understood that an African-American should have an equal chance to be president of the United States, but I do not share the giddiness of others who think that American presidents, whether African or Anglo-Saxon, can do no wrong. Had President Obama been more farsighted, he should have spared the few seconds to greet the Philippine president for the effort she made to come. Oppositionist critics might disagree, but it makes sense that she should want to maximize on her trip that took her to Davos, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in search of job opportunities for Filipinos.

If we must criticize at all, I would blame the American president for snubbing the Philippine president. We are not better or wiser for criticizing our own president because she was snubbed. It would have been more mature to see the nuance of that snub. American colonials may have been right after all when they first decided to colonize the Philippines: Filipinos are not prepared for sovereignty. To be sovereign demands that we be mature. If we are not able to discern that an affront on our head of state is an affront on our country, whatever their political affiliation, then we do not deserve our sovereignty.

But to go back to our foreign policy makers, the snub is a cue to refocus so that our sovereignty is not taken for granted. With the snub, we should have every reason to reach out to other superpowers that have a greater regard for the Philippines. It also serves as a good lesson not to be offended by presidential therefore state snubs.

We, too, have greater, more pressing concerns than attending to America’s preoccupation with hegemony in the region and the presumption that the Philippines will always be there as its lapdog. The domestic concern for economic stability and continuity of government should be at the top of the Philippine agenda for the sake of its people. The criteria for friendship or closeness to other countries depend on how they help, not on how they deter us from achieving those goals.

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And here is this column’s Valentine story. Recently, the last of my sons got married in beautiful rites at a little chapel in Tagaytay. Weddings are important rituals, especially in the Philippines, to usher in a watershed of life — the starting of a new generation.

The wedding had been planned since last year when my late husband was ailing. He had what was then diagnosed as a mild stroke a day after New Year in 2008. We had all thought he would be well enough to be at the wedding. My son kept telling him about having a new suit made — even if he had several in his wardrobe — because the wedding would have a color theme. Each time he came from work my son would sit by his side and talk to him about the wedding plans and his work. His father would nod and shake his hand in a manly display of affection and approval as he had always done when talking to his sons.

For my children and me, the poignant one-minute silence during the wedding toasts was at the center of the celebration. Through our thoughts and wishes in that one minute my late husband, their father, as it were, had been as present.

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