BOO CHANCO: TIME TO TALK TURKEY WITH THE U.S.
MANILA, March 30, 2006 (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - There has to be more to RP-US relations these days than the VFA and horny US Marines who get themselves caught in a rape case. The worst part of it is a news report from Washington that our small military assistance budget had been cut some more. Given the sorry state of our armed forces today in terms of modern logistics to deal with a secessionist movement fueling an al-Qaeda supported terrorism threat and a persistent communist insurgency, one wonders if America still cares for this supposed ally in the Pacific.
Things must have been really desperate because there was a point when Ate Glue herself, announced in a public forum (MOPC Forum held at La Dolce Fontana in Greenhills), that she has instructed her Secretary of National Defense to go to Beijing to discuss possible increased cooperation with China.
Ate Glue’s use of the China card didn’t endear her to Washington, as could be expected, specially after the Angelo dela Cruz abduction in Iraq that resulted in the pullout of our small contingent there. With her own political future as shaky as it is now, Ate Glue can’t really complain too much about America’s less than lukewarm appreciation of her military’s lack of logistical preparedness.
On the other hand, I am told that the Chinese are very eager to help. A recent case cited by administration officials as an example is the need for some bulldozers, trucks and other heavy equipment by the local armed forces. Desperately without an adequate budget, the DND reportedly asked China if they could send some over. The Chinese promptly responded with a few dozen, very quickly. This was just last month.
Presumably, the Chinese would be just as eager to help with the real stuff the AFP needs, notably, some decent fighter planes for our Air Force whose fleet had been reduced to nothing more than a few trainers and some hand-me-down OV Broncos from Thailand. We only need to ask. But Ate Glue cannot appear to be moving too close to China because the reality is, the Americans may just get unhappy enough to listen to her political enemies.
That’s just the thing that confounds me. Somehow, our importance to America has grown in tandem with China’s increasing influence on the political, economic and probably even the military balance in Southeast Asia. If our military ties with China develop, the South China Sea could become a Chinese lake. The Americans should be lavishing us with military and economic assistance to make sure the balance is not tipped in the other direction through sheer neglect.
Or, in lieu of direct budgetary assistance for the armed forces, the US should be rushing a special trade deal that would help our exporters earn enough foreign exchange to create jobs here and keep social unrest from simmering too dangerously. That’s not happening either.
When the US Deputy Trade Representative visited recently, he didn’t say much more than the usual generalities, nothing he said could be taken to the bank. In direct contrast, I was just told today at the Tuesday Club by an Arroyo administration official that in the next three weeks, China will announce a $10-billion aid package consisting of very soft loans at three-percent interest, 10 years grace period for anything we might need.
It certainly didn’t help that the US didn’t have a permanent ambassador here for quite a long time. But now that she’s finally here, it is perhaps time for Ate Glue to talk turkey with her… something along these lines… Ano ba talaga ang gusto ninyong mangyari? Our already small military assistance budget that won’t even buy one Apache attack helicopter, was cut some more. We need help, one way or another. We can ask China but you wouldn’t want that. The leftist demonstrators aside, the country’s still more comfortable with America. So, here we are, bearing the burden of being America’s vassal state in the region and what have we to show for it? Give us something to take back to our people to show some tangible benefits to this alliance with America.
Actually, an American reader of The Philippine Star wrote me to propose an excellent idea. Barry Williams is suggesting a US Worker Program.
I find it too obvious to be not noticed, but why are there over a million Filipino overseas workers in the Middle East and not in the US? I am 100-percent sure that there are millions of families in the US that would welcome having a full-time maid or a live-in yaya?
The US family often has both parents working, or maybe a single mom as head of the household, and having a maid or yaya at home would be of great benefit. Why are there no discussions going on at the highest levels between the US and the Philippines about this opportunity?
Obviously, systems could be developed to have medical exams, security checks, paperwork, contracts, overseas healthcare benefits, etc... Maybe my math is a little off, but if there were five million Filipino maids/yaya’s workers in the US and they made an average of $150/week that would calculate out to $39 billion/year!
Who benefits from such a work program? The US worker, the Filipino worker, the Philippine tax base, and the Philippine economy. You may say you can’t get visas from the US. That excuse is old and weak. Have Gloria call George... cut through the tape. This program could be up and running within a year if there was the will to get it done. Maybe you can borrow the Dept. of Tourism’s WOW marketing theme and turn in into "Wonderful Overseas Workers".
So there you have it. Two very obvious ways to generate billions of dollars of income within a short period of time and without having to manufacture anything. Tourists from all over the world, and American families will be providing all of the income you will need to turn the Philippines into the paradise it could be.
Then again, as I wrote Mr. Williams, while this is a good idea, it is probably never going to happen. The mood in the US today is anti-immigrant, to the point that immigrants came out in the hundreds of thousands in a record demonstration over the weekend against proposed draconian immigration measures coming out of the US Congress. President Bush has a worker program along the lines proposed by Mr. Williams but not even his staunch supporters are with him on this.
The other problem is the Philippine government too. Ate Glue and her foreign secretary are too scared to propose anything out of the ordinary. The DFA is next to useless in terms of being innovative and proactive. In fact, during last weekend’s massive demonstrations, Filipinos in the US lambasted the Arroyo administration for not taking a position against that new anti-immigrant law the Mexicans and other nationalities were demonstrating against.
What got the ire of some US-based Pinoys is the failure of our diplomatic officials to join 11 foreign ministers from overseas remittance-receiving countries in Latin America, who embarked on a massive lobbying campaign against that particular bill, the Sensenbrenner-King Bill, and fighting for a path to legalization and upholding of civil rights for undocumenteds, instead of criminalizing them.
In a press release, a group of US-based Pinoys observed "The Philippines has the most overseas-remittance dependent economy in the world and ranks third amongst the highest labor-exporting countries. Earlier this year, Philippine Ambassador Albert del Rosario was praising Filipinos in the US for churning in a total of $5.3 billion in remittances to the Philippines in 2005 alone, comprising 60 percent of the total worldwide remittances back to the Philippines. And yet, when it comes to protecting us from the backlash of anti-immigrant laws that the US Senate is debating on, they are nothing but deafening silent."
The release continues: "Arroyo prioritizes the dollars that we send home, but could care less about our rights and welfare. Doesn’t she realize that if the Sensenbrenner-King Bill passes, as well as other anti-immigrant bills that are taking a clear enforcement-only position on curtailing immigration in the US, the Philippines stands to lose-out in reaping from their top dollar earners, who will be jailed, convicted as felons, and/or deported without due process?"
Well… there is no doubt that RP-US ties had been somewhat neglected in recent years. The time has come for both governments to do something really significant in terms of impact to ordinary Filipinos, while there is still some residual goodwill left that could be nurtured.
Ate Glue and the new Ambassador certainly have a lot of work to do in the months to come… with the pressure to produce quick results as well.
This reminds me of a classic US Pinoy joke.
A Filipino lady was taking the exam for US naturalization and citizenship. She aced the test. The examiner said, "Now, the last part of the exam is a vocabulary test. Can you spell the word ‘Window?’"
The lady said, "W-I-N-D-O-W."
"Ah, very good," the examiner said, "Now, use it in a sentence."
"WINDOW I get my citizenship papers?"
Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is email@example.com
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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