ANA MARIE PAMINTUAN: A TWO-WAY STREET

MANILA, OCTOBER 17, 2003  (STAR) SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan  - Politicians and militants of all colors are yapping about what the Philippines should get from the United States when President George W. Bush visits Manila tomorrow.

No one is asking President Arroyo what the Philippines is prepared to commit in return. Being a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States is not a one-way street, although it could look that way since the poorer country will often be the recipient of US military aid.

Philippine presidents, upon returning from a foreign trip, enumerate investments signed, business deals closed, friendships forged and foreign aid committed. This justifies the massive public expenditures for such trips.

The US president is no different; American taxpayers expect some accomplishment from their leader’s foreign trips. Bush, who is said to be averse to foreign travel, maps out objectives before embarking on an overseas trip.

In this case, Americans weary of the almost daily killings of their soldiers in Iraq and the mounting cost of US occupation of that country will see if Bush can get more support for his war on terror from the 20 other leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Bush will also press China and Japan to let their currencies rise to more realistic levels – a demand of American exporters who are hurting from competition posed by the two Asian countries.

Bush is off to a bad start; Southeast Asians are miffed about his description of Australia as Washington’s "sheriff" in the region. Let’s hope he doesn’t follow in his father’s footsteps by barfing his dinner into the lap of his APEC host.

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Washington is asking its allies to send more forces to Iraq. Oh yes, the Bushies are determined to stay there for as long as it takes to put a working democracy in place. That’s what we’re getting from unrepentant Bush administration officials, who have embarked on an offensive in recent weeks to counter rising criticism of the war and its aftermath.

The latest statements from Bush should give us an idea of where he’s headed on Iraq — his plunging ratings be damned: "Our security will not be gained by timid measures… our security requires constant vigilance and decisive action… we will not be frightened."

Terrorists, he warned, "continue to plot against our country and our people."

So what’s the newest "major non-NATO US ally" prepared to commit in Bush’s war on terror? A "barrio fiesta" at Malacañang won’t be enough.

One of those special non-NATO allies, South Korea, is still considering Washington’s request for combat troops to help pacify those Iraqis who keep sniping at US forces. A Korean diplomat I talked with recently didn’t look too enthusiastic about the request. Iraq is a very dangerous place, he said; US troops are getting killed. Which US ally would want to put its boys in harm’s way?

The Koreans, for their part, are worried about the Americans downscaling their military presence in that country. Perhaps a quid pro quo can be worked out.

The Philippines has not been asked for combat troops, and our government has made it clear that we can send additional humanitarian personnel to Iraq only if someone else will foot the bill.

Will Bush settle for a strong endorsement from President Arroyo of the US occupation of Iraq? Don’t think that’s nothing but free saliva from the Philippine President in exchange for millions of dollars in US military and economic aid. Given the approaching general elections, will candidate GMA risk such an endorsement of an increasingly unpopular US military operation?

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Whatever commitments are in the works, critics should stop bellyaching about the preparations for Bush’s eight-hour stopover. We try to put our best foot forward, whichever head of state is visiting.

The leader of the world’s lone superpower also happens to have the most virulent enemies, and it’s only natural that security preparations for his visit have to be tighter than usual. The eyes of the world follow Bush, and they will be on us throughout his visit. Apart from the White House press corps traveling with him, other foreign media organizations are covering Bush’s Asian trip.

If we’re wringing our hands over travel advisories on our country, think of the alarm bells that will ring around the world if any harm comes to Bush during his Manila stopover.

The visit is only for eight hours; surely we can get our act together in that brief period.

And if it’s any consolation to those who think the government is going overboard in security preparations, consider what Thailand is doing to guarantee security when Bush and 20 other APEC leaders gather at the Thai capital for their summit next week. Stray dogs have been sent out of Bangkok, prostitutes have been told to take a break, many streets will be closed to traffic and even air space over the city will be closed.

Reports said Bangkok’s international airport underwent a security upgrade at a cost of $7.5 million, which included the installation of infrared alarm systems and the mounting of anti-aircraft missiles on armored personnel carriers. The nation’s flag carrier Thai Airways is deploying security personnel on all its flights throughout the summit.

Remember that one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Riduan Isamuddin, a.k.a. Hambali, was captured several weeks ago near the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya. Hambali, who is reportedly undergoing interrogation on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, has warned that his group, Jemaah Islamiyah, is planning more attacks on US and other Western targets in Southeast Asia.

Like Filipinos, the Thais are renowned for their hospitality, and they’re pulling out all the stops to make APEC participants feel that hospitality. This includes not only showcasing the best of Thai culture to the VIPs and international journalists descending on Bangkok, but also making sure that not a hair on Bush or any of the other APEC leaders will be harmed during their stay.

The Americans protected and feted our President when she visited Washington earlier this year. If only out of common courtesy, our government owes Bush the same treatment.

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MIKE’S AMBASSADOR OF GOODWILL: A team of medical volunteers, including doctors from the Malacañang Clinic and the Philippine General Hospital, will be in Bacolod from Sunday to Thursday as part of the cataract removal program of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo. The First Gentleman, however, will be with his wife the President at the APEC leaders’ summit in Bangkok. So standing in for him will be his controversial brother Ignacio Arroyo, who’s running for congressman in Bacolod in the 2004 elections.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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