It’s now over a month since President Obama visited the Philippines but the handling of the reception has left a bad taste in the mouth.
I voted for President Aquino during the 2010 presidential elections. In fact, I even contributed a small amount to his campaign when dual-citizen Filipino-American Loida Nicolas Lewis held a fund-raiser for him and vice presidential candidate Mar Roxas in Chicago.
But I am disappointed over the amateurish way President Aquino handled certain portions of the state visit. This is one reason I will think twice if I am going to support whoever Mr. Aquino will endorse as candidate in the 2016 presidential elections.
It has been a tradition that whenever a foreign leader, like the President of the United States (POTUS), visits the Philippines, he lays a wreath at the monument of national hero Jose Rizal at Luneta (now Rizal Park) in Manila.
If the Philippine Congress is in session, the U.S. President is usually invited to speak before the joint session as did President George W. Bush.
In the case of the visit of President Obama, the traditional wreath-laying at the Rizal monument was set aside. I surmised the U.S. Embassy was afraid President Aquino could not guarantee the safety of President Obama in case anti-U.S. demonstrators create trouble.
It was simply a missed opportunity for the U.S. Embassy staff, which was overprotective of Mr. Obama.
Besides, the U.S. Embassy also made itself inaccessible to accredited members of media who covered the Malacanang leg of the visit. I tried to call the U.S. Embassy press staff so I could cover the speech of President Obama at Fort Bonifacio but the phone numbers given to Malacanang-accredited reporters, like me, were landlines and as such you could not leave a message. Nobody answered the phone. They did not even list a cell phone number or an email address as contact information.
During the state dinner, Mr. Aquino invited his supporters and some opposition leaders. At first glance, it was like statesmanship gesture on Mr. Aquino’s part.
But why had not President Aquino introduced my friend, former President and incumbent Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, by name to Mr. Obama? If Mr. Aquino did not want to introduce Mr. Estrada to Mr. Obama, why, in the first place, did he invite the mayor to the event?
Mr. Aquino should understand that the expenses for hosting the state dinner did not come from his pocket but from the government coffers. The state dinner is a public event, during which the guests could interact with each other.
This reminds of my conversation with the late Pasay City Mayor Pablo Cuneta. I asked him why he had two wives. “Joseph,” he told me, “if I can unite the thousands of Pasayenos (people of Pasay), there is no reason why I cannot reconcile the differences of my two wives.”
I can buy the argument of Mr. Estrada’s supporters that the real reason why there was no wreath laying at the Luneta and why Mayor Estrada was not introduced to Mr. Obama by name is purely political.
As an anti-U.S. bases advocate, Mr. Estrada might have drawn the ire of the U.S. Embassy which, I was told, requires Mr. Estrada to appear at the embassy whenever he applies for a U.S. visa even though he is the mayor of Manila.
When Mr. Estrada was President, he was able to obtain his U.S. visa without appearing at the U.S. Embassy.
Protocol dictates that the U.S. Embassy, which is located in Manila, should extend due courtesy to Mayor Estrada.