MANILA, OCTOBER 17, 2003  (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno - The Bush visit / China now space power:

US presidents have come and gone. They have visited the Philippines in the time-honored ritual of Uncle Sam bestowing its blessing on a favorite and ever loyal, ever accommodating nephew. This was so during the times Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton came over and enjoyed this nation’s open ended hospitality. We were and probably still are a nation "in the image of America", the only nationals in Asia referred to as "the little brown brothers." Critics here and abroad depicted us the ward and vassal of the US, ever ready to do Washington’s bidding, carry the buckets if need be for the Great White Father trudging the woods.

That wasn’t such a flattering portrait of the Filipino.

Things changed when in 1990-91 the Philippine Senate booted out America’s largest overseas bases stationed in Clark Field and Subic Bay. In the geo-political or strategic chessboard of Washington, the Philippines fell, better still crashed to 45th or 16th position, when formerly it was – because of the two bases – positioned among the top seven. Afer all, Subic and Clark constituted the devastating one-two military punch of America’s military establishment in Asia, radiating US power to all points of the continent during the Cold War, particularly to Vietnam and China.

Again, things changed.

When on Sept. 11, 2001, a handful of international terrorists shattered the centuries-old "invulnerability" of America by converting the Twin Towers of New York and the Pentagon in Washington to smoking rubble, the Philippines in an instant slid back to "pride of place" in America’s war against international terror. Afer the US had pulverized great portions of Afghanistan to the Stone Age in retaliation for 9/11, Washington designated the Philippines as its "second front" in the anti-terror war. This means, when the so-called "forward planning" of America unravelled, the Philippines would wolf in thousands if not tens of thousands of American combat troops. Here, they would be repositioned. From here, they would strike at terrorist targets in East and Southeast Asia, if not seek to interdict a China grown bold to eventually challenge US hegemony in the Pacific. And trump a North Korea now bristling with the beginnings of a nuclear arsenal.

It is in this light that we Filipinos must view the approaching visit of George W. Bush.

Make no mistake about it. The US wants the Philippines to remain secure as an ally under America’s new strategic doctrine of "preemptive war". And, corollarily, the US – without saying so – wants Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to remain in power beyond 2004. So watch it. Watch George W. Bush closely. Every word, every utterance, every gesture will subliminally communicate this desire. Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, so goes the ditty. In the same manner, whatever the US wants, the US gets, even if this means the coronation of GMA as Queen Nefertiti of America’s strategic operations in this part of the world.

I could be wrong, of course.

Whatever it is, the US president’s Philippine eight-hour sojourn, before he attends the APEC summit in Thailand, will telescope America’s unfolding strategy in a post-Iraq invasion period, where the world’s only superpower faces an Asian continent seething with change. It is this change, the Islamic world closing ideological ranks against America, gorgon heads of terror lurking in Islamic East and Southeast Asia, a China-led Asian continent bidding fair to emerge as the 21st century’s superpower, that faces Mr. Bush in his much ballyhood first foray to Asia.

And for the Philippines, it comes a time President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is seriously embattled. The Fraport charges swung at her like an iron ball, opening up what looks like a huge cesspool of corruption indulged in by her closest Palace collaborators. Tens of millions of dollars, damme! It will take a long time before this Fraport scandal settles down. It comes in the wake of the Jose Pidal brouhaha where Sen. Panfilo Lacson pulled down the pantaloons of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, and charged that, presumably in cahoots with his wife, he had salted campaign contributions amounting to about P150 million in several bank accounts in the name of Jose Pidal.

This latest Fraport flap could bring GMA down flagrantly in the presidential surveys. And who knows, the republic will be hanging by a thread. Will she be impeached? Will the Americans stand by her? And if America does, what other huge political balloons will be punctured?

As we said earlier, and we repeat, the Bush visit will send political fire engines clanging all over the place. The nation teeters. So watch.

* * *

If may not be headline news here, but all over the world it is. This is China’s feat of launching its first manned space mission, becoming the third country in history to send a human into orbit. Just about fifty years ago, China was coolie and commune country, its hundreds of millions of citizens living in poverty, its ragged million-man army clumsily robotized to kill and be killed.

In 1973, I was in Beijing. Our journalists’ hotel overlooked the wide expanse of Tian An Men. There was hardly any automobile in view. Bicycles by the tens of thousands moved about like hordes of beetles bearing Chinese in Mao Zedong garb, the women undifferentiated from the men, everybody drab as drab can be.

And yet, you felt a throb. The Chinese had a vision of a future as they pedaled with might and main to their destinations, driven by a fanatical communist leadership to go forward, to excel, to produce, to light flares and end them heavenward. A new China was coming, so many of our Chinese acquaintances told us. A sick and hobbled Mao Zedong was beginning to fade. The inimitable Chou en-Lai took temporarily over. In his wake there was the diminutive Deng Xiaopeng, exuding power like a broken fire hydrant pistoling water in all directions. All he said at the time was that it didn’t matter whether a cat was red or white, so long as it was catching the mice.

From the statement emerged the reforms that turned communism upside down. Deng this "capital roader" held the sky above China by his lonesome. He became, as Henry Kissinger said, "the greatest reformist" of the 20th century. Deng was probably destined. He could blow his spit bull’s eye at a spittoon 12 feet away, chain-smoked cigarettes even in bed as he thought up his reforms, refused to read Das Kapital. As a young student in Paris, he reportedly owned and operated the neighborhood’s most successful croissant bakery. When I got to meet him in Beijing at the Great People’s Hall during President Corazon Aquino’s visit. I couldn’t get a word in as he tootled the five principles ofPantja Sila with great relish amidst a small group of admiring Party leaders.

China today?

When just recently, during my 30-day leave, I came across a copy of the Financial Times, the front-page headline just staggered me. Across six columns, it read: "Why Europe was the past, the US is the present and a China-dominated Asia the future of the global economy." It was the first of five installments. Gahd, it was not the Ta Kung Pao! It was the Financial Times, the financial bible of the West, saying so. And when it says so, that’s it – holy scripture.

The lead paragraph states: "Asia’s rise is the economic event of our age. Should it proceed as it has over the last two decades, it will bring two centuries of global domination by Europe and subsequently, its giant North American offshoot to an end. Japan was but the harbinger of an Asian future. The country has proved to be too small and inward-looking to transform this world. What follows it – China above all – will prove neither."

Read again: "Asia is waking up. Japan roused first, in the second half of the 19th century. After its defeat in 1945, it achieved a stunning ascent to developed nation status. Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore followed in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Suharto’s Indonesia pursued a similar course from 1966, with some success. But the two giants, China and India, traumatized by foreign intervention, used their regained independence to pursue socialist autarky."

"I feel good," China’s first astronaut Air Force Lt. Col. Yang Liwei, 38, said exulltantly as he soared into orbit." Then he added with aplomb: "I’ll see you tomorrow." I had just finished my first decade in journalism when Russia’s Yuri Gagarin stunned the world by hurtling as the first human into space April 1961. Then the United States followed with Alan B. Shepard Jr. And less than a month later, the ebullient John Glenn became the first American to orbit in 1962. A huge celebrity, John Glenn became a US senator, and his name rings a bell everywhere.

As a Filipino, I feel hurt, jealous, saddened that we’re stuck in the mud. We looked down at the Chinese in the ’50s and ’60s. Now they’re up in space, and we’re still atop our carabao.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved