Buencamino is the resident satirist of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph). This piece was published in the March 18, 2009 edition of the Business Mirror, page A10.
Dear Secretary Cerge Remonde,
Your official statement on US President Barack Obama’s call to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was good. It was concise.
“We thank the US President for the courtesy of his call and we look forward to continuing to work together with him on issues of common interest.”
That plus a reprint of the 84-word White House “readout” or summary of the phone conversation would have sufficed.
Unfortunately, you could not leave well enough alone; when the press prodded you for more, you obliged with spin. And that’s where you screwed up.
You went on to surmise that Obama finally called Arroyo because “he has found more time to look at the larger role of the United States now that he has addressed the internal problems of his country. Maybe he has finally realized the importance of maintaining good relations with us.”
From what part of your anatomy did you pull out the supposition that Obama was too preoccupied with domestic affairs to call up foreign leaders? The White House website posted about 20 readouts of Obama’s calls to foreign leaders from January 23 up to March 14.
In addition, a recent article from The New York Times –“To keep in touch, Obama picks up the phone”—reported:
“Mr. Obama’s first (call) came barely an hour after stepping into the office for the first time on the morning of Jan. 21, as he reached out to four Middle Eastern leaders to talk about the peace process.
“Since then, according to an official record, Mr. Obama has called the presidents of China, Lebanon, Colombia and South Africa. He has talked to the prime ministers of Japan, Australia, Canada and Iraq, and the king of Saudi Arabia.”
So, what were you thinking when you said Obama was too busy with internal problems to attend to “the larger role of the United States?”
Now, as to why Obama called. He called just when the clamor to revisit the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was turning up. It could not have been a pure coincidence, but you wanted us to believe it was.
“It’s not necessarily because of the VFA. That’s one of the high points of Philippine-American relations, and talking about it is unavoidable,” you said.
Here’s an excerpt from the White House readout of Obama’s call to Arroyo:
“The President called President Arroyo of the Philippines this morning. They reaffirmed their commitment to the long-standing U.S.-Philippines alliance, including the Visiting Forces Agreement, which remains critical to the bilateral relationship and our strategic interests.”
The timing of the call and the specific mention of VFA in the second sentence of the White House summary indicated it was at the top of Obama’s agenda. Ano ka ba naman, Mr. Remonde, ginagago mo na ang taong bayan.
You want the public to believe Obama called Arroyo from out of the blue to renew their bilateral vows for no reason at all? Why would Arroyo and Obama have to reaffirm their commitment to the VFA if all was well?
Besides, what is the point of denying that the VFA has turned into a sore point in Philippine-American relations?
Mr. Remonde, the critical aspect of that phone conversation was Arroyo’s response to whatever Obama told her about the VFA. Did she tell him she would do what she thought was best or did she tell him what she thought he wanted to hear?
Her response is what you must pass on to the public. They have a right to know.
And now for an unsolicited but caring piece of advice: Don’t try to outdo your predecessors Toting Bunye and Jess Dureza; that would be going from bad to worse.
Hugs and kisses,