De facto president Gloria Arroyo’s visit to the United States amidst national tragedy wrought by Typhoon Frank shows she is more interested in her own survival than that of hundreds of thousands of Filipino families directly and indirectly affected by the calamity and that she considers the support of the US more important than the support of the Filipino people.
What is it in Mrs. Gloria Arroyo’s so-called working visit to the US that is so important that she could not put off the trip in light of the devastation in many provinces not to mention the sinking of the ferry MV Princess of the Stars with hundreds dead or missing and still unaccounted for?
The height of the visit was a 35-minute audience of Mrs. Arroyo with US President Bush wherein the two “reaffirmed … the close cooperation between the Philippines and the United States on food security, defense and economic development”.
What was that exactly?
According to the Malacanang press release, Mr. Bush expressed his condolences to the families of the victims of the sea tragedy and announced the sending of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan “and other naval assets” to help in the retrieval and rescue operations. He also lauded Mrs. Arroyo for her “strong position against terrorism.” Mr. Bush promised “food aid to help the Philippines with its rice supply problems”. He and Mrs. Arroyo took up “(their) mutual desire to advance … bilaterally and multilaterally in trade agendas.” For her part Mrs. Arroyo used the occasion to underscore that Philippine-US relations were “strong and healthy” and the two governments were working together “to establish a progressive Philippines, the torch of democracy in Asia.”
Nothing earthshaking if we go by the official reports. Nothing that could not have been achieved through the usual diplomatic channels or even videoconferencing. In fact, Malacanang claims that through the latter device, Mrs. Arroyo has managed to be “hands on” in the relief and rescue operations while being thousands of miles away.
The lack of substance in the agenda and the empty rhetoric that ensued from the Bush-Arroyo meeting reveal what Mrs. Arroyo’s trip was really all about: A beleaguered Philippine president again paying obeisance to the US overlord and getting that desperately needed public expression of continuing US support, be it coming from a much-reviled, lameduck president, facing a congressional resolution for impeachment on 15 counts, mostly relating to the illegal and immoral US war of aggression against Iraq.
But wait, one of Mrs. Arroyo’s apologists in Congress, Palawan Representative Antonio Alvarez says that “because (Mrs. Arroyo) was able to personally appeal for help to President Bush, a ship whose air assets are more than the ASEAN nations combined will now be helping in relief and rescue work.” Carried away by his logic that bigger is better, Mr. Alvarez further opines that since the US was sending a carrier group bigger than what it had sent to Myanmar and China, “whose cyclone and earthquake fatalities dwarf the loss of lives caused by Typhoon Frank,” then US President Bush must really have a high regard for his boss, Mrs. Arroyo, who made the appeal in the country’s behalf.
We would be impressed were it not for the fact that the kind of rescue and relief operations at this point obviously does not require an aircraft carrier much less the entire carrier strike group (CSG). The victims of the typhoon are reeling from the loss of family members in the storm and subsequent flooding, the destruction of their homes, farms and other small livelihood. They need food, shelter, health care and help to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the calamity.
Most of the affected communities are accessible unlike in other calamities like earthquakes, landslides or volcanic eruptions where victims require massive airlifting. The sunken passenger ferry on the other hand is near land and is already the object of coast guard operations to mainly retrieve the bodies of the dead and prevent a massive oil spill from the ship’s fuel tanks.
A quick check on the internet tells us that the CSG is composed of an aircraft carrier which is a “warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft” and one or two guided missile cruisers, a guided missile destroyer, a guided missile frigate, one or two attack submarines and a combined ammunition, oiler, and supply ship.
Senator Rodolfo Biazon, former Armed Forces Chief, questioned the US deployment of an aircraft carrier to help in the search for survivors of the sea mishap. “An aircraft carrier is not designed for salvage. The USS Ronald Reagan is a strategic and combat vessel whose main assets are aircraft, F-18s. What will the F-18s do for the recovery (efforts)?”
Furthermore Wikipedia states, “The CSG is intended for employment in any of a variety of roles, all of which would involve the gaining and maintenance of sea control such as protection of economic or military shipping; protection of a marine amphibious force; establishing a naval presence in support of national interests; and power projection.”
Rather than be effusively grateful for the grand gesture of Mr. Bush in sending an entire slew of sophisticated warships to help us out in the wake of a natural calamity, shouldn’t our political leaders be asking simple questions like: Is the help offered useful in doing what has to be done? If not, what are the reasons behind the apparent overkill in assistance?
It no longer comes as a surprise that humanitarian assistance in times of disaster is being used by the US government, with the approval of the Philippine government, to condition the public mind into uncritically accepting the presence and basing of US forces and war materiel within the country’s territory, including its territorial waters. This is apart from the all-too-familiar and bogus “war on terror” justification.
The US deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan and its accompanying escort warships constitutes nothing less than the cynical use of the country’s dire need for international aid and assistance in a time of crisis to pursue the strategic politico-military objectives of the US in the region and elsewhere.
The dire implications therefore are more than just the cost of Mrs. Arroyo’s publicity stunt in the guise of a “working visit”. Mrs. Arroyo is complicit in opening the doors wider and wider for an aggressive, jingoist Superpower to intervene militarily in the Philippines and outlying countries. Her regime is a party no less to the culpable violation by the US government of the Philippines’ national sovereignty and territorial integrity.#