Obama is the winner
SPYBITS (The Philippine Star) - May 1, 2014 - 12:00am

Clearly the winner for the visit of the US President to the Philippines is no other than Barack Obama. From the moment the majestic Air Force One touched down on Philippine soil at 1:25 p.m. in the afternoon of Monday up until 11:28 a.m. on Tuesday when the Presidential aircraft took off, the American President reaped a harvest of goodwill from the majority of Filipinos who enjoyed monitoring or watching every minute of the visit that lasted approximately 22 hours and three minutes.

Now it can be said that all the massive preparations that were made months before paid off – the multiple traffic rerouting, the coordination with carriers for the imposition of the no fly zone schedules, the guest list, the menu for the state dinner, the security procedures with the intensity escalating in the last three weeks before the arrival of the US President – and finally a sigh of relief from the US and Philippine sides after the doors of Air Force One were closed with the American President  safely inside.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and his staff worked double time to make sure the visit would be as seamless as possible. One of those who worked round the clock to make sure every detail was down pat was US political affairs counselor Matthew Cenzer, in coordination with the State Department, the Secret Service and other US agencies involved in the preparations. Security arrangements were so massive and we were told the US military was on DEFCON (defense readiness condition) One, meaning the alert level is at maximum considering the Ukraine crisis with Russia issuing condemnations against America and the sanctions the latter imposed, plus the local situation here with the usual motley crew of anti-US protesters.

Since the US President is a natural high value target, US and Philippine security officials could not leave anything to chance. With powerful binoculars, high-tech and state-of-the-art sensors and scanners, even the slightest movement from an “ant” could possibly have been detected. Constant random monitoring was most likely made on landline or cellphone calls coming in and out of the country. Not many are aware but the massive communications requirements for the whole trip was supplied and handled by PLDT. My contact at PLDT told us the US team gave them a high “thumbs up!” at the end of the visit.

US Embassy personnel were also given a chance to greet the US President after Obama’s meeting with P-Noy in Malacañang. A private reception was held at Sofitel for the meeting with the 1,000-strong embassy staff and their families arranged by Ambassador Goldberg. The American President stayed at the $8,000-a-day Presidential Suite which was described by then Sofitel GM Bernd Schneider as the most luxurious ever in the country after it was completely refurbished during Bernd’s tenure.  

Sofitel (formerly the Westin Philippine Plaza) is really perfect for heads of state even in terms of security with a safe roof deck helipad. The presidential Marine One helicopters, however, had to land in the nearby fenced-off area owned by the PICC because they were too heavy for the Sofitel helipad. Our Philippine Navy secured the waters around the perimeter of the hotel. An insider in the hotel informed us Obama woke up to a hazy view of the bay with the pollution probably blown in from China.

The state dinner hosted by President Aquino in Malacañang was the most sought after invitation with only about 300 invitees. Only three known declines were received by the Malacañang Social Secretary’s office  – Manny Pangilinan and Gabby Lopez who were both abroad and the only other one was Senator Bong Revilla. Some of those present were balik-Malacañang personalities like former president Joseph Estrada, Senator Bongbong Marcos and former president Fidel Ramos.

Both Obama and P-Noy looked “happy” during the affair as the famous song by Pharrell Williams would put it. The Cabinet troika of Rene Almendras, Butch Abad and my classmate Babes Singson belted out the Obama favorite “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, while The Black Eyed Peas’ apl.de.ap who was one of our PeopleAsia magazine’s People of the Year awardees two years ago also gave a special number. Overall, it was one of the most well attended Malacañang affairs with the food catered this time by Shangri-La Hotel and the cocktails at the guest house provided by Gaita Fores. There were no “lumpia” or “adobo” served – apparently White House Filipino dishes familiar to the US President.

I have no doubt the whole trip was a huge success, where the main intent as far as we Filipinos are concerned, is to give a strong message to our “bullying” neighbor. Those who argue that the US president did not give any “categorical” statement regarding our territorial dispute with China are simply blind in seeing that Obama launched the best diplomatic way to assuage our concerns and reaffirm the strong relations between the Philippines and the US. The mere fact that he came here, and the first thing he did upon arriving was to meet President Aquino with the major event for the day being the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement by Ambassador Goldberg and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, was already a statement in itself.

Watching the springy happy walk of the US President as he boarded Air Force One, there was no doubt he clearly won the hearts of the majority of Filipinos. And if he were to run for the 2016 elections in the Philippines, Jojo Binay may just have a strong opponent. Barack Obama was sin duda the winner of this visit.


Email: spybits08@yahoo.com.

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