BABE ROMUALDEZ: LET'S HAVE A THOUSAND BUSH VISITS

MANILA, OCTOBER 19, 2003  (STAR) BABE'S EYE VIEW By Babe Romualdez  - I joined Vice President Tito Guingona, DFA Secretary Blas Ople, Ambassador Frank and Mrs. Ricciardone, DFA Chief of Protocol Ambassador Zaide, and Karen Brooks of the White Houseís National Security Adviserís Office at the Aegis hangar in Villamor Airbase. The backup presidential aircraft arrived first with White Houseís chief of staff Andrew Card at about 12:05 in the afternoon. Karen Brooks, who worked tirelessly to make this trip happen and who came ahead, told me how Bush was so eager and anxious to come to the Philippines. Shortly after, Air Force One carrying US President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush arrived at exactly 12:30 pm. with National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice.

Since six yesterday morning, the airport was totally sealed off, and owners and pilots of private aircraft were not even allowed to go to their private hangars for the duration of the eight-hour visit. Somehow, this arrival of Air Force One brought a very different sensation than all the times Iíve seen this aircraft come and go here and in the US. Air Force One came to the Philippines carrying Richard Nixon in 1969, Gerard Ford in 1974 and the new 747 aircraft carrying Bill Clinton in 1996. I guess, itís because of the immense preparations that were put into place for this visit of Bush that gave a different feel to it. Apparently, the relationship of the Philippines and the United States has come full circle with this trip, and I have no doubt in my mind that it would continue to improve in the next decade. No matter what critics in this country say against the US, the majority of the people just have that special affiliation with Americans. Probably because we have almost three million Filipinos living and working in the United States. A large percentage of these Filipinos in some form or the other have friends or relatives in the Philippines. It was simply hilarious to see a protester holding a placard that said "Bush, go back to America and take me with you!"

Only in the Philippines.

There are many "tools of the trade" that the US President uses Ė his fleet of bulletproof cars, choppers, executive jets, his "doomsday" plane (the so-called National Emergency Airborne Command Post), and the presidential yacht Sequoia, which Iím not sure if itís still around. Nixon used to enjoy riding the Sequoia up and down the Potomac River in Washington. Air Force One, called sometimes as "The Flying White House," is probably the most visible and most expressive of the "imperial" power and authority of the President of the United States. Itís been said that most newly elected US presidents ask to be toured inside Air Force One even before going into the Oval Office.

At a dinner I had with some people of the advance team of George Bush the other night, in particular the Secret Service Intelligence division, they told me how happy they were with the kind of cooperation they got from their Filipino counterparts, beginning with Gen. Ebdaneís group, and Philippine National Police and the Presidential Security Group (PSG). They said they never experienced the level of cooperation in any country that the US President has visited. An intelligence official from Langley actually briefed GMA the other day about the security situation. They were very pleased with how GMA readily responded to their proposals, which made the job of the US Secret Service so much easier. This only goes to show that itís always been very natural for Filipinos to deal and work together with Americans Ė if we want to. They even had a stunningly beautiful blonde undercover agent as part of Bushís security team.

Security preparations began at the NAIA, and even right there the security people of both countries got along very well. At the Rizal Park where Bush laid a wreath before the monument of our national hero Jose Rizal, to Congress and then MalacaŮang Ė all preparations went smoothly and without a hitch. Itís actually amazing how both groups fitted together. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone was able to persuade the Bush party to swing by the newly renovated and highly-secured grounds of the US Embassy before the US President proceeded to Rizal Park. The embassyís Filipino and American staff, about a thousand of them, were able to say hello to the US President and have a few photo-ops. Many of the embassy staff were part of those who worked hard for many hours for this visit.

The sprucing up of the Palace, in spite of very strict security measures, went virtually without any problems. The new garden setting is lovely, not to mention the restored pink marble fountain and the red carpet, which captured the eye of everyone that attended the cocktail reception at the Palace grounds. The Premier Guesthouse, where Executive Secretary Bert Romulo used to hold office, and whose idea it is to have it renovated, was brought back to its former elegance, which was perfectly fit for state guests like George and Laura Bush. Hopefully, Bert will allow it to stay as a guesthouse for future state visitors.

For the state dinner and the "Barrio Fiesta" atmosphere, one must admit Social Secretary Betina Aboitiz worked hard to make it almost perfect. Needless to say, the state dinner was the highlight of this entire visit by George W, and as expected, both presidents came in their very best. GMA herself was looking quite radiant that evening, and very pleased with the preparations. Bush himself looked very pleased with the trip, so was Assistant Secretary of State for Asia Pacific Jim Kelly, whose been here many times before and was also part of Bushís entourage. If George Bush gave GMA a "love feast" during her visit to Washington, GMA gave Bush nothing less, and even more because he was really warmly received by a majority of Filipinos. By nine in the evening, the US President and Laura Bush were gone. So, the US Embassy staff, who were all totally "Bushed," went back to the embassy to celebrate the success of the trip.

If it would take a Bush visit to get our act together Ė for our congressmen to be all present during the joint session of Congress minus perhaps a few renegades, for Manilaís streets to be cleaned up and spruced up by Lito Atienza, whoís probably the only mayor thatís really serious about cleaning up his turf, for the Palace to be kept spic and span, for the intelligence community and the police to work in synch with one another, for the tight security checks at the airport by NAIA General Manager Ed Manda, and for all of us feeling totally secure for eight hours Ė then darn it, letís have a thousand more Bush visits. Who knows, by the 999th visit, we might get used to having cleaner streets and things working more efficiently in this country of ours.

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E-mail: babeseyeview@hotmail.com


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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