Thursday, April 15, 2010
SAVING A LAMEDUCK PRESIDENT
There were signs that much of the world see Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as a lameduck president – or if she still didn’t get that, drilled down that point – at the recently concluded nuclear security summit in Washington DC.
Working at the summit’s international press area in the Washington Convention Center, the first thing we noticed was the list of bilateral meetings scheduled in the historic two-day gathering of world leaders.
There were 38 heads of states or heads of governments in attendance, and it seemed only logical – if not expedient – for side meetings to be arranged. After all, very rarely could you get a smorgasbord of top decision makers under one roof.
And yet there was not a single meeting with President Arroyo in the long tally that ran continuously on a big projector screen in the center of the press center. That was Monday. But by Tuesday, diplomatic officials apparently found someone willing to meet with the Philippine leader – Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas el Fassi.
We can understand the country’s desire to work more closely with the Organization of Islamic Countries, but really? We understand she just came from an ASEAN meeting before flying to the US, but really? China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, etc. were there.
We’ve seen how diligent Philippine foreign affairs officials are at their work. So it's more plausible why no one wants to spend time with Mrs. Arroyo is simply because they know that she’s on her way out and is in no position to commit to any possible agreements with other nations.
Could it be possible that only President Arroyo is not aware of this? Or that she chooses not to?
For some reason, the President looked like she was in a foul mood the moment she stepped down a chartered Philippine Airlines jetliner that landed at Andrews Air Base in Maryland last Monday afternoon.
She held tightly to the ramp rails, appearing to be unsure of her steps going down. That could very well be the story of her final days in Malacanang.
An honor guard bearing the Philippine and US flags met her on the tarmac. And watching from the TV monitor in the press center that carried the dignitaries’ arrivals live, we sensed Mrs. Arroyo was looking for someone. After a slight delay, the presidential entourage was finally on its way to the Convention Center.
A smiling President Obama strained to greet her (height disparity) as she arrived at the summit. But President Arroyo looked sullen, haggard and a bit hostile until President Obama said something to her, which finally opened a slight smile – labored and accommodating – and she soon walked sadly to the far end of the summit backdrop.
We can understand if President Arroyo is no longer able to conduct serious diplomacy, but if she cannot even be a gracious guest, then what’s the point of making the trip at all?
An opposition vice presidential candidate alluded to the billions of pesos spent by President Arroyo for her foreign travels.
Are the honors bestowed on Mrs. Arroyo – for promoting the environment and another for amity from one-time colonial master Spain – given to her personally, as it appears to be, or for the Filipino nation? If the awards are merely trophies to add to her resume, why is the Filipino taxpayer footing the bill?
It seems obvious from the President’s appearance that eight years of running the country – accused of stealing an election, surviving both coup attempts and impeachment proceedings, hounded by charges of corruption and human rights abuses – has taken a heavy toll.
The fact that President Obama or even at least State Secretary Hillary Clinton (an old Arroyo friend) did not meet with President Arroyo separately seems like another signal that they do not expect to see Mrs. Arroyo living in Malacanang after June 2010. On top of other signals sent, the silence of not talking to one another is perhaps the loudest, bluntest message that can be given in the world of international politics and diplomacy.
But perhaps we should be kinder in our spin. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are among President Arroyo’s best friends – so after seeing how worn and exhausted she appeared at the nuclear security summit, they just want her to get a good, long rest. In fact, they want it so badly for Mrs. Arroyo that they have to absolutely insist on it.