What to expect
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - April 28, 2014 - 12:00am

Some people are actually asking, “What can we expect from the visit of US President Barack Obama?”

It has been quite a while since an honest to goodness “World Leader” actually set foot on Philippine soil and a number of people don’t know what to make of it. If the visitor were a Pope or a major rock star like Bono or Bon Jovi I think today’s Filipinos would be quite comfortable and would know what to expect. But in the case of the US President, things are not so simple.

To begin with today’s US President is no longer the “Supreme Leader” of the World and today’s United States of America is no longer the most powerful and mysterious force on the planet. Adding to their diminished state is the fact that people and nations around the world are no longer ignorant about world politics and have learned that what US leaders may say is often far from what is delivered. Putin has in recent history put Obama in his place during their standoff over Syria. Today they are once again playing “Chicken” or who blinks first over Russia’s interference in Ukraine. To be fair Obama did get Osama and I doubt if he will let Putin off if there is a rematch in Ukraine.

Thanks to 24-hour news networks, cable and satellite (mostly based in the United States), the world is keenly aware of the financial mess and weakness of the United States, their problems with unemployment, illegal immigrations, as well as indebtedness to countries such as China. In other words the political awe that used to hold Filipinos transfixed and nodding affirmation is no longer there. Those who watch international news know only too well how the US consistently fails to respond immediately to the needs of their allies. They maybe the first to speak out against aggression, injustice, or political interference in the Middle East, Ukraine or the Pacific, but they can no longer send in the Marines with John Wayne at point while Iron Man still remains a prototype. So what is left, what can we expect?

We can expect a lot of talk, a lot of back patting public display of admiration and maybe, just maybe a boat or two, a helicopter maybe and a plane load of spit on how the US and the Philippines are committed partners and “brothers.” I can only guess that the Philippines not just the PNoy administration will be milking this visit as “proof” of confidence and respect that the US has for the Philippines. It will be this month’s “Good Housekeeping” seal that the administration will be waving around like a trophy until 2016. For PNoy, Obama’s visit will be used as further proof that even the American President is showing his support concerning our feud with China, by visiting the Philippines. If it were a TV show someone might title it: Big Brother comes to the Philippines!

For the American’s the visit is “step two” on what some diplomats hope will be a journey of re-establishing “the bond of brothers” that the US and the Philippines had before their faulty political choices and mistakes in the ’70s and ’80s earned them the moniker of “Ugly Americans.” It is “step two” from their glorious return to Tacloban after Typhoon Yolanda where American military forces showed their outstanding humanitarian commitment and capabilities to the people of the Philippines. Their experience and the reception they received revealed that there is still a warm place in the heart of many Filipinos for “GI Joe” and that with a sincere and consistent effort, the US and the Philippines can rebuild not just ruins but relationships to their former glory. It goes without saying that having come all the way to the Philippines, the US President is making US intentions clear: They’re moving back into the neighborhood.

As a result of the visit we can expect a change of heart or a change of tack on the part of politicians who will find themselves pressed to facilitate the formal presence of US forces in Philippine territory. Perhaps this is what all the charter change squabbling is all about? While many of us were supporting changes for economic and social alignment, charter change could also “realign” provisions to today’s present military and security concerns in the region. The current Constitution is so stuck up on Nationalism that it has effectively taken away our option to “Call a friend.” The question is: how will President Obama sell the idea to his Filipino hosts? Will he remind us of the “devil” in our backyard? Will he sweeten the pot by sharing some toys in the form of firepower or Humvee mounted radars for our domestic airports? Or will he use his charms as well as throw an invitation to come visit? Even more interesting to see is how will PNoy respond? Will he eat humble pie and support limited charter change in order to get back at the Chinese or will his personal pride get the better of him and complicate US security assistance?

From what little we know, the very short visit will be highlighted by a formal dinner, invitations to which, are now being displayed in media like the unpopular selfie that an athlete took with President Obama that was commercialized by some corporation. To be honest, I think President Obama would get more mileage and popularity points if he had scheduled a pick-up game one on one with Many Pacquiao at the MOA Arena or even inside the US Embassy compound covered by national TV. Lessons from Tacloban has shown us how Justin Bieber and David Beckham scored in the hearts and minds of Filipinos through sports diplomacy. Failing to do that, chances are Obama will probably rely on the joint press conference scheduled during the visit. In which case what we can expect is someone will probably ask him why he supports same sex marriage and why he supports the gay lifestyle?

After dinner and after the guest of honor has left, what we can expect is to go back to regular programming featuring the Pork Barrel Queen, the Empress of Press Conferences, and a long hot summer!

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com


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