Friday, May 7, 2010


As the Philippines holds its first-ever automated elections, it seems inevitable that eyes would turn to look at the United States which continues to wield wide influence on its former colony.

Fil-Am leaders have actively courted the support of top US officials to ensure this Monday’s polls is clean, fair and credible. New York-based Loida Nicolas Lewis sought an assurance from State Secretary Hillary Clinton that the US would keep its eyes and ears open amid suspicions that President Arroyo would rig the elections to fail so she can hold on to power even after her Constitutional mandate ends in June.

An article by Mong Palatino on “The Diplomat” noted how this election cycle’s crop of candidates have embraced the message of “change” that helped catapult President Obama to the White House in 2008.

“That Filipino politicians want to adopt the styles of leadership of successful US politicians reflects the enduring power of colonialism and the hegemonic appeal of the US brand of politics,” he wrote.

That perception is fueled in part by how Philippine presidents appear to put premium on the US “stamp of approval”. That may be rooted in Philippine history as the early pillars of the Republic worked as much in Manila as the halls of Capitol Hill and the White House to negotiate the grant of independence.

The “man of the masses” President Magsaysay was said to have been an American creation. And as the masses rose up to oust the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, he took his final cue from US officials who told him “to cut and cut cleanly”.

President Arroyo underlined her American education and the fact former President Clinton was a classmate.

Perhaps more importantly, the US “stamp of approval” is as much political currency in the Philippines as it is social and economic. With about four million Filipinos in the US contributing more than half of the dollar remittances sent home to buoy up the economy, there is a critical audience that keeps a close, steady watch on the goings-on in the Philippines.

The blunt expressions of concern over the coming polls aired by some US lawmakers to the Arroyo administration is testament that Filipinos are a power bloc recognized in American politics.

Presidential candidates Gilberto Teodoro and Manny Villar gave American audiences an opportunity to size them up, trooping to Washington DC just months before they announced their candidacies. Front-runner Noynoy Aquino III admitted he was “interviewed” by US officials in Manila.

Former President Estrada may have carried that task to an extreme when overzealous aides were caught receiving classified reports from a sympathizer in the White House.

But the Obama administration has been intentionally silent, keeping a studied distance from the political drama in Manila. There is some debate on whether they had earlier misjudged the situation because of rosy reports coming from their Manila listening post.

Any notion by this or that candidate that he has America’s “blessings” is of course a figment of his imagination. If the Obama administration has any preference, it would certainly not advertise it – but one can be sure they will make it known after May 10.

America’s overriding concern is that the Philippines “not become another Thailand”, in reference to the current political turmoil in Bangkok. That much was said by Scott Thompson, a former State Department official, during a recent visit to Manila.

Former National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told us in an interview how American interests are tied up to the continuing development of Philippine democracy because it is the most effective way to preserve stability in the country and the region as well.

The Philippines and Thailand are America’s only treaty partners in Southeast Asia.

Thus, it is not as important for the United States who wins the May 10 elections as how well the people will receive the results and the eventual winner. They’re concerned about the process, not the personalities.

For the US, the real test for success or failure of the coming elections is credibility.

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