Monday, September 27, 2010


“I’d rather have thin hair,” President Aquino said in San Jose, “than have a thick face”, using a Pinoy idiom for arrogance or callousness.

“Kapal ng mukha” is so widely used, it’s even earned the ultimate Pinoy compliment – the slang, “kapalmuks” that virtually cements a place in the Filipino vernacular.

President Aquino is back from a week-long visit to the United States, bandying a $2.8 billion “pasalubong” and the promise of thousands of new jobs.

He addressed the United Nations General Assembly, met with top US business executives, sat next to President Obama at a meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), mingled with Fil-Ams in New York and California, and fielded questions from Pinoys around the world in a televised town hall meeting at The Filipino Channel (TFC) studios in Redwood Shores, just outside San Francisco.

Oh yes, he also chomped on a hotdog (which is as much a New York fixture as Times Square at the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 45th Street, talked with President Obama for all of 7 minutes (more or less), and didn’t notice the inverted Philippine flag.

President Aquino’s US sortie had all the trappings of a well-planned, heavily packed business trip. Without an official White House invitation, it was all it could be.

Despite the wide gamut of RP-US relations, there were very few subjects Presidents Aquino and Obama could have tackled seriously amid the highly charged political environment of Washington DC.

Even a side trip to Capitol Hill would have been nothing more than a photo-opportunity (something a certain former Philippine president was wont to do) because lawmakers are in a hurry to finish their business and get back home to campaign for the November midterm elections.

He witnessed the signing of the $434 million Compact agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). He didn’t have to be there, but he did get the chance to hear an unusually candid State Secretary Hillary Clinton.

“I’m not sure there’s any group of people anywhere in the world that work harder than Filipinos. Too many of them feel that they cannot progress in their own country…there’s not much room for someone who’s hardworking, but not connected. Too many of them believe that even if they get the best education they can, that there won’t be an opportunity for them, and so they take that education and help build someone else’s economy, very often here in the United States,” she declared.

President Aquino had correctly set his agenda in the US and realized his goals – raising only those expectations he could deliver, steering clear of controversy – a no-frills, no-nonsense maiden foray in the world of international diplomacy and business.

I’d give his US trip a grade of 90 percent.

We’re not sure if there wasn’t a side, albeit undeclared, agenda to President Aquino’s US trip.

The hotdogs, the lean delegation, the tack of a nation “open for business” appeared aimed at delivering the message change has come to the Philippines.

It was stark contrast to bloated delegations laden with politicians prone to scandalous dinners. That’s one reason why “kapalmuks” gained so much currency back home.

There were no self-serving platitudes in the brief encounter with President Obama; instead, they talked about how the US can clean up the ordnance it left behind on Corregidor over half a century ago.

He obliquely reminded America it had responsibilities in the Philippines; that Filipinos face serious problems but ready to work themselves out of the hole, with a little from friends; that the Philippines is a land of opportunities.

He tried to show the “kapalmuks” regime is over and there’s a new management in the Philippines. The President comported himself like a typical businessman out to close a good deal.

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