Philippine President holds presscon on Washington Sidewalk (tacky)
July 21, 2008
By Antonio C. Abaya
Written on June 30, 2008
For the Standard Today,
July 01 issue
When was the last time you saw a head-of-state or head-of-government
holding a press conference on the sidewalk of a foreign city that
he/she is visiting in her official capacity?
I honestly cannot recall any such incident, except perhaps in Eastern
Europe as the Communist regimes collapsed in November 1989, or in
Manhattan after the attack on the World Trade Center in September
Yet, on the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer of June 25 – a
perfectly normal day in the US- is a color photo of our very own
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo holding a press conference on the
sidewalk of what appears to be a downtown street in Washington DC..
There are two stand-up microphones, into one of which she is talking,
standing up There is no lectern, no chairs, no tables, no presidential
seal. And in the background are motor vehicles moving about in city
The caption of the Inquirer photo is: “LIKE SHE NEVER LEFT HOME.
President Arroyo briefs Philippine media about search/rescue/relief
efforts back home in the wake of deadly Typhoon ‘Frank’ in Washington.
With her (from left) are Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte,
Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and Press Secretary Jesus Dureza.”
The photo is credited to Malacanang Photo.
“Like she never left home.” Why, does President Arroyo hold press
conferences on the sidewalk outside Malacanang? Weird.
The Inquirer does not explain why the press conference was being held
on a sidewalk, al fresco. Was the hotel where she was staying fully
booked? Surely as a visiting head-of-state and head-of-government, she
was entitled to pull rank over the other guests and be accommodated in
a function room or the hotel lobby.
Or was this sidewalk outside Negroponte’s office at State? What a
bigger insult that would be.
Deputy Secretary Negroponte was one of the bigwigs that President
Arroyo was supposed to meet with during her 10-day working visit – as
listed in a Malacanang-produced schedule – with whom she was supposed
to discuss the “war on terror,” and other weighty matters of state.
Presumably, they carried on their discussions inside his office, and
not on the sidewalk, standing up.
One other Washington bigwig that President Arroyo met with was Defense
Secretary Robert Gates, with whom she spent, according to the
Inquirer, 30 minutes in his office in the Pentagon, discussing US
military aid to the Philippines. This I find also weird.
She is head-of-state and head-of-government. He is only a department
head, albeit a very powerful one. Shouldn’t it be Sec. Gates visiting
her at her hotel, instead of she calling on him at his office,
assuming he really wanted to meet with her?
If President Bush were to visit Manila before his term expires, or if
his successor (Obama or McCain) were to do so in 2009 or 2010, would
he go out of his way to visit Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro in his
office in Camp Aguinaldo? That would be weird.
In fact, I would say that President Arroyo’s trip was weird, in the
sense that it was not necessitated by matters of state, only by some
personal psychological reasons.
After all, George W. Bush is on his way out. He, in fact, was recently
visiting several countries in Europe earlier in June, precisely to say
goodbye to the political leaders with whom he had been officially
liaising in the past years.
Why would President Arroyo go out of her way to visit Washington and
see President Bush who has been saying goodbye to European leaders.
Was she afraid he wasn’t going to say goodbye to her? Weird.
And if he wasn’t going to, so what? After withdrawing from Bush’s
Coalition of the Willing in Iraq, after signing an agreement with
Beijing for the joint exploration for oil in the Spratlys, after
personally endorsing (by her physical presence at the signing) a
graft-ridden contract with a Chinese firm – one of 29 contracts with
the Chinese – for a national broadband network (a contract that was
subsequently scrapped after the scam was exposed) that would have
given the Chinese an electronic ringside view of American military and
political moves in the Philippines …..does President Arroyo really
believe that President Bush and the neo-cons would have a soft spot in
their hearts for her?
Good for her that the exiting Bush was gallant enough to give her 50
minutes of his time. Not quite the two hours that Malacanang had said
had been allotted for her. But those 50 minutes should assuage her
bruised ego for earlier snubs and earlier 20 minute one-on-one
‘summits’ that were unilaterally cancelled by the Americans or had
inexplicably shrunk to seven-minute pull-over photo-ops.
But John McCain, the presumptive Republican heir to the presidency,
who has been adopted by the neo-cons, gave President Arroyo only 15
minutes of his time, according to the Inquirer, in a hotel lobby in
Washington on June 28, which should be considered a measure of the low
regard that the neo-cons have of her
At this point, it has to be assumed that both McCain and Obama have
Fil-Ams in their staffs, and that both candidates know all about the
2004 elections, the Hello Garci tapes, the ZTE contract, the Spratlys
oil, the Chinese connections, plus revelations from electronic
intercepts of the National Security Agency, Joc Joc Bolante and
FBI-spy-turned-double-agent-for Erap, Leandro Aragoncillo.
Some observers have suggested that President Arroyo has a schoolgirl
crush on Barack Obama, to meet whom face-to-face was the real reason
for her trip. If so, she is not alone. Even the likes of Caroline
Kennedy and Scarlett Johansson are swooning over Obama.
And so are tens of millions of other white American girls and women.
But Caroline and Scarlett are merely celebrities, Gloria Arroyo is a
sitting head-of-state and head-of-government She is expected to
behave with more dignity Which she has done, as far as Obama was
concerned. She did not meet with him on a sidewalk or in his office.
In fact, she did not get the chance to meet with him at all. He was a
no-show at their only scheduled ‘possible’ meeting. And he kept on
being somewhere else whenever she went to New York or to Washington..
Was he avoiding her? But he did call her on the phone and they talked,
according to Malacanang, for 30 minutes.
Not being an expert on schoolgirl crushes, I do not know if the sound
of his voice on the telephone was sufficient compensation for the long
trans-Pacific and trans-continental journey.
But from the geo-political perspective, I would say that if her goal
was to protect her flanks in 2009 or 2010, as I had speculated last
week, the bare-bones welcome that she got from McCain and Obama
suggests that neither The Great White Father nor The Great Black
Brother will look with favor on martial law in the next two years.
And probably no asylum in San Francisco either. Perhaps, Guam. *****
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