MANILA, OCTOBER 18, 2003  (STAR) FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno  - For the life of me, I could not understand what those leftist cults are fussing about.

The past week, they have been marching about everyday, burning fancy effigies and the American flag at every instance when news photographers are available. The protestors, for maximum media effect, initiated skirmishes with crowd control units by the mock drama of charging against the American embassy.

This is all very charming. So very sixties.

They’re so retro as well. Here, in this country, on the fringes of modern civilization, survive ideological groups that are vainly trying to revive the Cold War.

For want of substantial issues to hang on, the nostalgic cadres of anti-Americanism have nitpicked on everything: the cost of the state dinner, the clean-up of our streets, the security procedures being observed and the generally warm reception of the majority of our public.

If the leftist cults derive pleasure from their orgies of retrogression, they have every right to do so. My problem is that the colorful ceremonies of hysterical anti-Americanism is that they drag down the level of public appreciation of the issues at hand.

Even our scandal-driven mass media is party to what seems to be a conspiracy to avoid the issues of substance. Media attention the last few days has been focused on the trivial: the clothes the President would wear, the restoration of parts of Malacañang Palace, the sprucing up of Rizal Park and the complaints of the leftist groups.

I have not encountered, not even in the talk shows, any sober discussion on the strategic aspects of our bilateral relationship with the US. The ranting of the leftist groups poisoned the entire atmosphere of public discourse on this. Public discussion has been dragged down to the shockingly low grade of sloganeering and ideological gobbledygook.

The visit today of US President George W. Bush is, on the face of it, pretty routine. He was going to be in the neighborhood anyway, traveling to this part of the world to attend the APEC leaders’ summit in Bangkok. Since he was in the region anyway, common politeness dictates he calls on the homes of his friends.

But the brief visit here today also has its historical dimensions. It is a rich gesture of solidarity with an ally of long standing.

Our bilateral relations with the US, through the last century, may be compared to a turbulent love affair. At times, we fought and died for each other. At other times, we either despised each other or tried very hard to ignore the other.

In 1990-1991, a truly tragic thing happened to our bilateral alliance.

An act of nature, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, buried much of Central Luzon and the two major US bases here in ash. It was a calamity for the nation, an event that by some great accident happened at a time when the fate of the US bases was being negotiated.

At the time the eruption happened, the two sides were negotiating the disdainful aspect of remuneration for the continued stay here of the American military facilities. When US troops were forced to withdraw from Clark Airbase to the relatively more functional Subic Naval Base, the American panel likewise cut their compensation offer in half.

In a strict business sense, that did not seem like much of an issue. But it struck the wrong emotional chord among the Filipinos. It seemed to the more emotional Filipinos that their staunchest ally was being stingy precisely at a time that the country desperately needed all the assistance it could get.

Consequently, compensation negotiations broke down and the Philippine Senate – by a close vote – struck down the military bases agreement, forcing the rapid and awkward exit of US forces from the country.

For their part, the Americans too felt betrayed. The unceremonious shutting down of the US bases simply was not something done by a close ally.

This event, in a more encompassing coincidence, happened just as the Cold War drew to a close. The Soviet Union collapsed. Her satellite states rushed to join NATO. And China, without formally admitting it, joined the capitalist bandwagon – and as a strong player at that.

For a decade, the Philippines and the US simply did not know what to do with their shipwrecked bilateral relations. The Cold War, which defined the functionality of that bilateral relationship, evaporated. There was no encompassing framework within which to revive an old partnership.

Then September 11 happened. Both the Americans and the Filipinos found themselves fighting the same terrorist threat. The victim of a savage terrorist attack, the US took it upon itself to lead the world’s democracies in destroying the bases of organized international terror. Itself a victim of terrorist attacks, the Philippines was the staunchest Asian nation in the campaign against terror.

It was in this context that we rediscovered the partnership we nearly forgot. We are both wounded democracies facing a scourge that threatened modern civilization, that militated against the vision of open and free societies that Filipinos and Americans valued dearly.

We rediscovered the strength of our shared values and uncovered the urgency of our shared concerns. There it was: the framework for reinventing and reviving our partnership to mutual benefit.

Like lovers estranged during a moment of confusion, we rediscovered the value of our partnership in a new moment of clarity. And in the last two years we worked feverishly at rebuilding our bilateral relationship like reconciled lovers scrambling to make up for lost time.

And so it is that George W. Bush comes not just as an incidental visitor. His gesture of a state visit completes the process of rediscovering a partnership too valuable for us both.

The significance of this event is much larger than the political personas of George W. Bush and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This is a partnership not of two leaders but of two nations.

It is a partnership defined not by the momentary interests of individual statesmen who happened to be there when the relationship cried out to be reassessed. It is a partnership defined by the complementary interests of two countries linked by shared values and a historical familiarity with the other.

If only the senseless noise of the leftists and the insane threats of the terrorists would subside for a moment so that the public could look at the significance of this visit with the eyes of statesmen.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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