Thursday, May 31, 2012

Philippines seeks broader influence with Aquino-Obama meet

WASHINGTON D.C. - The Philippines seeks to broaden its influence here as it looks to the United States to expand military and economic assistance to the country when President Aquino calls on President Obama next week.

Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. revealed the two leaders will hold an afternoon meeting at the White House that will involve the “full gamut” of US-Philippine relations. But he indicated regional security and trade issues are likely to dominate discussions.
President Aquino is scheduled to arrive at Andrews Air Base in Maryland Wednesday (June 6) evening but his first major events will begin the next day.

Cuisia said one highlight of his visit will be the launching of the US-Philippine Society that is jointly chaired by businessman Manny Pangilinan and former State department official and US ambassador to Manila John Negroponte.

Former US Ambassador John Maisto is president of the society.

Other countries have also formed similar groups in Washington DC, primarily to promote their specific interests in the vast US government bureaucracy.
Cuisia revealed the society has invited key US executives, lawmakers and business leaders to join the group.

According to the brochure, the US-Philippine Society aims to “strengthen educational, cultural, tourism and people-to-people ties, with emphasis on educational exchanges.”
But in this town, “education” is usually a euphemism for “lobbying” or trying to influence decision-makers in and outside the US government. The Philippines, for instance, is trying to push the SAVE Act, potentially the first trade agreement in nearly half a century, and greater access to surplus military equipment.

The Aquino-Obama summit is also expected to build on agreements forged during the series of top-level meetings including last month’s 2x2 conference of State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with their Filipino counterparts, and the US-Philippine Strategic Dialogue last January.

Those meetings reiterated US commitment to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), setting the groundwork for expanded military assistance for the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Cuisia challenged the view the MDT cannot be invoked if the Philippines is attacked in disputed isles like Scarborough Shoal or the Spratly Islands.

He was reacting to a May 15 editorial in the Manila Mail, the longest-running Fil-Am newspaper in the Metro DC region that argued they were not parts of the Philippines when the MDT was ratified 60 years ago and therefore excluded from the reciprocity guaranteed by the military pact.

Cuisia cited a January 1979 letter from then US State Secretary Cyrus Vance that said an attack didn’t have to occur only in Philippine metropolitan or island territories as long as it falls under the definition of “Pacific Area”. A subsequent letter from US Ambassador to the Philippines Thomas Hubbard 2 decades later expanded the definition of “Pacific Area” to the South China Sea.

These, along with other official declarations, bolster the Philippine’s belief that the US would come to its aid if attacked in Scarborough Shoal, the Spratlys or other parts of the South China Sea where the Philippines have legitimate territorial claims, the envoy indicated.

Cuisia told ABS-CBN News the White House meeting was important as the Philippines stakes its place in America’s strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.
Although merely a working visit, the White House encounter has been over 2 years in the making.

This meeting also almost didn’t push through because of President Obama’s tight schedule as he campaigns for a 2nd term.

There are about 3.4 million Filipino Americans according to the 2010 Census, making them the 2nd biggest Asian American group in the US. Although traditionally conservative with a history of backing Republican candidates, over 58 percent of Fil-Ams went for Democratic Barack Obama in 2008.

Philippine officials here have tied a campaign to push absentee voter registration for the next polls back home to urging Fil-Ams to register and vote in the US November elections.
President Aquino does not have scheduled meetings with the Fil-Am community here but will instead meet with them in Los Angeles, California after the June 8 White House meeting, Cuisia said.

Rodney Jaleco | ABS-CBN North America | May 31, 2012 | Article Link

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