MANILA, OCTOBER 18, 2003  (STAR) FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa  - Of course, there is a political background to the Bush visit that cannot be denied. President Bush’s visit favors President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo but that would be true whoever is president of the Philippines at the time with whom he would have to forge an alliance against terrorism. We have a paradox that can brighten or cloud her political luster. Oppositionist Aquilino Pimentel Jr. (PDP-Laban) says Mindanao and GMA will benefit from the visit. Depending on how you look at it, such benefits may or may not be just political. If Mindanao and GMA benefit from the trip, that is not such a bad thing. Filipinos, even oppositionists, unless they are so unpatriotic and destructive, can see good of it. Whatever, Bush’s motives for making the visit, it is what we do that will make the visit worthwhile for the country.

Even more cheering are talks that the peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is being hurried for the visit. The Philippine president is expected to have a peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) before or on the day of the Bush visit. It is said Bush would like to witness the signing of a final peace agreement between the government and MILF when he comes to Manila today. That would boost propaganda for him with a new resolution before the UN that he hopes would put an international stamp to the reconstruction of Iraq.

The overarching fact is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the Philippine president today. If we are up to our duty as citizens of the Filipino nation, then we must make sure the visit turns out well for the country regardless of how it turns out for candidate Arroyo. We should adopt a frame of mind that focuses on the visit as visit, as we would that of any other guest, more so a very important one.

The American president’s visit should not be looked at as a platform for election campaigning for or against candidate Arroyo. There will be another time and another place for the contentious issues of May 2004. A good metaphor is how we, or at least most of us, would comport ourselves when we have visitors in our own homes. We put our best foot forward even if we feel like wringing the necks of other family members.

After the guests leave, the fireworks can resume. If we don’s then we may fall into a trap. Self-proclaimed nationalists in their attempt to portray the country’s independence only highlight its dependence by asserting that its presidential campaign will be decided by the visit of an American President.

My erudite colleague, Alex Magno derides radical left groups who will burn a hundred American flags during the Bush visit. I agree with him that would be ‘pure gimmickry’ and as silly as political grandstanding that does nothing good for themselves or the country. Unfortunately the leftists and their allies seem to have successfully inveigled Vice-President Teofisto Guingona to head their opposition. But that only reveals their weak hand. Neither can help promote the other. Moreover, I would put them in the same basket as bootlickers and social climbers who will push and shove to get into what has been described as a lavish Filipino fiesta in his honor. It is pathetic. Both are trivialities, concerned with form rather than with the substance of our relations with America and how we can make the best use of this rare visit of a US President. What is wrong with a dignified demeanor? We welcome the guest, exchange pleasantries and make his visit as comfortable as it can be while he is here. We are better advised if we maximize on the capital of goodwill that can be generated by the visit. We can resume the debate on what we believe or don’t believe about Bush or his politics, or what we agree or don’t agree with GMA or her government the morning after.

For my part I am gratified that President Arroyo is receiving President Bush just after the ASEAN summit in Bali where Prime Minister Mahathir, true to form, rebuked the Americans and their policies towards Islamic countries. The image of her presence in the summit gives an even-handed perspective. Her lieutenants should promote that image in the days to come. It is an important symbolism necessary in the conduct of our foreign affairs. We may be America’s friends but we are Asians, first and foremost.

In any case, the American president is in the same boat as Candidate Arroyo. He, too faces an election and his popularity has dipped since the intractable problems of peace in Iraq. His fate as president of the United States might be imperilled but his re-election is not for us to decide, but for the American people. With these attitudes firmly in mind then we are ready to welcome visitors, President and Mrs. George Bush, today.

Having said the foregoing we must be aware of political analysts around the world who warn against creeping American militarism. Americans might have won the war in Iraq but they are not winning the peace. Whether from the United Nations, Congress or US allied countries or some citizens of Baghdad and Tikrit itself, President Bush is blocked from securing and rebuilding Iraq. With these problems and looming elections, the American President is in a fix.

The comparison between the collapse of the Roman republic in 27 BC and the United States in the 21st century is tempting. Like its ancient predecessor, there is a feeling and it is pervasive around the world, that "the United States has failed to adjust to the unintended consequences of its military power.’ The same militarism of Rome’s imperial projects which slowly undermined its constitution as well as the political and human rights of its citizens may be also happening in the United States.Political pundits are looking beyond the Bush presidency for that to happen. But if present policies continue the American empire will end up in the same dust bin as the Roman empire.

It will come to pass that democratic checks and balances will be incompatible with maintaining a large empire of over 725 military bases in other countries, a huge standing army and the huge expense such incur. America’s leadership as the world’s lone superpower can play an important role in the 21st century but recent events show it may be unprepared for that role. The Bush administration may be imperial in its wish for a world peopled by democratic nations but how it does it especially if domestic liberties are put at risk may not work in the long run. * * *


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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