Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The Obama administration has an opportunity to move relations with the Philippines up a notch by starting off strong with the new administration in Manila.

Over lunch at the plush offices of The Heritage Foundation in the shadows of Capitol Hill, we discussed the recent elections in the Philippines with Walter Lohman and Nick Zahn.

Lohman is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center and counted as an expert on Asia.

A premier conservative think-tank, The Heritage Foundation promotes policies anchored on free enterprise, individual freedom, strong national defense and traditional American values to Congress, the White House and key decision-makers.

Lohman said who President Obama sends to represent the United States at the new Philippine President’s inauguration next month will give clear indication of where he wants to take RP-US relations.

Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino is the presumed winner of the May 10 presidential race; though still to be proclaimed, he nevertheless carries a seemingly unassailable lead over his nearest rival.

The names of State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden were mentioned as “ideal” representatives of Pres. Obama.

Sending high-level officials to Philippine inaugurations is nothing new.

Vice President Spiro Agnew led the US delegation at the inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1969 (but that's a distinction that Mr. Aquino may not especially relish).

US Agency for International Development (USAID) director Elaine Chao led the American delegation to the inauguration of President Fidel Ramos in 1992.

President Bush dispatched Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi to lead the US delegation at President Arroyo’s inauguration in 2004.

In contrast, Lohman noted that President Obama sent US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to the inauguration of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last October.

This despite the fact President Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, which also happens to be the 4th largest and most populous Muslim nation in the world.

But Lohman said the US and Philippines have a “special relationship” that demand a special approach, and perhaps even more with President-apparent Aquino.

“Americans love Cory,” he told us. Many in the US remember former President Corazon Aquino as the woman who restored freedom and democracy in the Philippines, inspiring other People Power movements around the world.

President Obama, he added, should extend an invitation for him to visit Washington DC as early as possible.

He believes there is plenty of residual goodwill from the American public for Mrs. Aquino’s only son and political heir.

He believes there are new opportunities in RP-US relations that should be explored and pursued, hinting at the need for the two leaders – who both campaigned on a message of change and share the same generation – to establish a personal relationship.

But he added they are also watching at how hard Mr. Aquino will go after outgoing Pres. Arroyo and how the tight contest for the vice presidency is resolved. They are also interested in seeing how the new president will consolidate his influence on both chambers of the Philippine Congress.

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