Monday, August 16, 2010


Barely a month before he’s scheduled to attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Aquino has yet to receive an official invitation from the United States government.

He is scheduled to be in New York on Sept. 20-22.

It appears only logical the next stop should be Washington DC – after all President Obama himself reportedly asked President Aquino to see him while he’s in the country, an invitation repeated by other ranking US officials visiting Manila.

Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa told us today they still haven’t received the invitation from the State Department, which arranges the meetings of foreign leaders with top US officials, including President Obama.

“The meeting with President Obama will surely happen, we just don’t know when,” he explained.

That casts a cloud if President Aquino will even fly to the American capital.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo is reportedly on his way to Washington DC to thresh out a schedule.

But insiders say both sides will have to fix that schedule this week or President Aquino might as well fly back to Manila after the UN meet. The available time slots for a possible pow-wow in the White House is closing fast, we’re told.

President Aquino doesn’t need a US invitation to attend the General Assembly meeting.

The US can not stop world leaders, even the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from going to New York.

President Aquino is also slated to attend the signing of the $434 million Compact agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and break bread with the top honchos of the powerful American Chamber of Commerce. Both institutions are based in Washington DC.

The President’s presence at the MCC is largely ceremonial because it will be Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima who will sign the accord on behalf of the Philippines. And US business leaders can always fly to New York if they really want to meet the new Philippine president.

Insiders say that if President Aquino travels to Washington DC, it would be the equivalent of a diplomatic slap-down if he can’t meet with President Obama – considering the close, historical ties between the two countries. There are also about four million Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in the US.

Officials blame President Obama’s tight schedule due to the mid-term elections here.

As the President’s Democratic Party faces the prospect of losing both chambers of Congress, he is under increasing pressure to help in the campaign. But this is coming at a time when his popularity is waning, according to various surveys.

He was travelling to Wisconsin and California today, capping the day with a star-studded fund raising dinner for the California Democractic Committee in Los Angeles. President Obama’s expected to do much of the same in the days leading to November.

“They are really focused on domestic issues right now,” Ambassador Gaa observed.

But other sources say a planned US-ASEAN summit in Washington DC was added complication to the visit.

The White House reportedly wants to make President Aquino’s visit part of that “engagement”.

President Obama had made the Philippines America’s “point-man” in dealings with the 10-nation alliance and now the State Department reportedly wants ASEAN to take a more concerted position against Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea – a stance the Philippines, based at least on recent declarations, is apparently hesitant to join.

The Philippines has the most obsolete military equipment in Southeast Asia – reason perhaps why the US is eager to sell them missiles. Without even the semblance of deterrence, Philippine external defense is anchored largely on being friendly with all the bullies in the yard, especially China.

Yet, the Philippines, Vietnam and China are the only countries with permanent outposts in the disputed Spratly Islands.

State Secretary Hillary Clinton’s remarks at the recent ASEAN summit in Hanoi offered a new tack at how the US sees the overlapping claims in the Spratly Islands, and the South China Sea in general.

The US has reportedly asked the Aquino administration to clarify its position vis-à-vis China.

Invitations can be tough, especially if you’re the president of a country that every powerful neighbor wants to pull their way. Makes one wonder if President Aquino should even take it at all.

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