THAT, IN A SENSE, IS ALL THAT PRESIDENTS Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and George W. Bush will be able to do in what must inevitably be billed as a summit of lame ducks. To believe that it will be anything more than a lame-duck “quackfest” would be to succumb to the political quackery of the official propagandists of both nations. Ms Arroyo’s trip to Washington and New York is primarily a lobbying trip, an effort to buttress her sagging reputation by finding a way to appear to bring home some bacon.
That bacon, she hopes, will be in the form of a tangible effect of her lobbying on the prospects of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act. It was his irritation over American congressional inaction on the Filipino veterans’ benefits that originally drove Diosdado Macapagal to move Philippine Independence Day from July 4 to June 12. It would be of great personal as well as political meaning for her to claim partial credit for the US Congress’ inching closer to fulfilling its moral obligation to our veterans.
The Arroyo-Bush lame-duck summit will also mark the end of a relationship that began with great promise — and great promises — marked by George W. Bush’s state visit to the Philippines and Ms Arroyo’s return state visit to the United States in the days when she leaped onto to the bandwagon of the “Coalition of the Willing.” This relationship was transformed into a more ambiguous détente between the American and Philippine chief executives after her panicky abandonment of that alliance scuttled all future prospects of more graces and favors from Washington.
Washington settled for an essentially free rein in Mindanao, and an essentially hands-off policy toward the Arroyo administration — except when it intervened to prevent martial law by sending John Negroponte to Manila in 2005. Thereafter, the Philippines has been once again what it was after the withdrawal of American bases: yet another insignificant Third World backwater competing — and not particularly effectively — for American crumbs. (Ms Arroyo then tried to pursue Chinese aid and assistance to compensate for her failed bid for Washington’s affections, but that policy, too, has stalled in the wake of controversies surrounding how that aid was secured and spent.)
It’s just as well that the summit of the lame ducks is what it is, a tea-and-sympathy huddle between two presidents who’ve alienated their respective peoples and each other. The hands of both are tied in what they can commit to each other, though Ms Arroyo would be marginally more important, in that her final lame-duck months straddle the end of the Bush era and the beginning of whatever comes next.
Yet the biggest problem both sides face is that it is highly uncertain whether either chief executive could make an impact on the election of their successor. Even if they could — Bush helps elect John McCain and Ms Arroyo manages to swing the 2010 elections for a sympathetic or obliging candidate — Ms Arroyo’s alienation of the Republican establishment would be an albatross around the succeeding Philippine administration’s neck.
It will be more interesting to see if Ms Arroyo can manage to demonstrate a capacity to get a sympathetic hearing from the Democratic Party’s powers-that-be. If the current American opposition party gains power in November this year, it will still be Ms Arroyo’s responsibility to try to eke out some sort of a relationship with a new Democratic administration as it puts in place its priorities for a period that will cover the first few years of the next Philippine administration.
In this effort, she’s as handicapped as she is when it comes to the Republicans. If Republicans are contemptuous of the Arroyo administration because of Iraq, the Democrats have been critical of Ms Arroyo’s scandalous human rights record. A new Democratic administration will be far less tolerant of a Philippine administration that continues to sanction the shenanigans of a Norberto Gonzales; and if it begins to de-emphasize the war in Iraq, it may begin allocating diplomatic and other resources to Southeast Asia, which the Republicans basically ceded to Chinese influence.