Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Absent President

Given the timing, one can't help but suspect that the real reason for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's state visit to the United States is to root, ringside, for Manny Pacquiao when he goes up against David Diaz. The courtesy call to President George W. Bush happens as formal necessity when a state leader visits another country. All this is mere speculation, of course, but in light of the circumstances and behavior, it makes one wonder.

The circumstances are these: the Philippines has just been badly hit by a powerful storm, and while the aftermath nowhere near the magnitude of Myanmar, it's the worst that's happened in the last two years. Many towns in the Visayas region, in particular, Iloilo and Bacolod, are badly affected. Worse still is yet another maritime disaster that claimed close to 800 lives.

Much has been said and will continue to be said of Arroyo's absence in this moment of crisis. The proper, polite, and politic response, one thinks, would be to rush home and take charge of the situation. Her business and diplomatic appointments would have understood in light of the tragedy. But Arroyo is beyond that, it seems, and the most that we can hope to get is a televised tongue-lashing via videoconference. How so very presidential!

The response is largely in keeping with Arroyo's mode of behavior. She is more reactive than visionary, and even then, the reactions are calibrated towards insubstantial and shallow populist posturing. Rice crises? Go after rice hoarders. Oil crises? Go after the petroleum companies. Power crises? Go after Meralco. Maritime disaster? Go after Sulpicio Lines. All well and good, so long as she's not at the center of the controversy; for when she is, the response is to stay mum and dig in behind the impious fetish of "rule of law."

Even before 2010, Arroyo already has the distinction of being the longest sitting president of the Philippines since Ferdinand Marcos. What will she have shown for it? Whatever economic gains we have, if not offset by global crises, are largely either the result of policies in place before her term or the survival response of individual Filipinos. The last time Arroyo showed any semblance of vision was in 2005 -- before the election scandals -- with her program of BEAT THE ODDS, now conveniently forgotten in light of the dismal record.

Arroyo, it seems, is happily content with backhanded compliment from Bush, that he is reminded of the great contributions of "Philippine-Americans" whenever he eats dinner at the White House: in short, that we are a nation of waiters and cooks.

And she would be, for after all, she is already thinking of Sunday, when she is at that ringside seat in Las Vegas, all ready to share in the klieg lights of adulation that are meant for Pacquiao.


  1. I think it takes a whole lot of cynicism and boneheadedness for you to reduce GMA's US visit to such simple terms.

  2. Cynicism, yes. Boneheadedness? Wait till after the match.

  3. Hi Dom,
    You think you have Presidential problems? President or Jelly Donut?

  4. hi! quick question:

    why does Bush's comment imply we are a nation of cooks and waiters?

    First, from the transcript, he was complementing fil-ams generally, and the chef specifically. How did he imply what u say he does (nation of cooks and waiters)?

    Second, The whitehouse chef isn't a fry cook at some fast food restaurant. He/she (i don't know the gender) is skilled food artisan, and can work any place in the world, and is in charge of huge banquets. Service should be a point of pride. Would it have been better to name a doctor, "my doctor reminds me..."? a lawyer? mathematician?

    thanks, i'm completely confused about why people think this way. of course, bush's delivery is far from perfect, but we already know he's not eloquent, so this is not news..

  5. Hi, Gabby: for more on that, read the comments in the Huffington Post article.

    Inky Horizons has this to say:

    I mean, what does he say when he meets with a Chinese representative? "I am reminded of the great talent of the Chinese people every time I get my laundry back."

    Or an African representative? "I am reminded of the great talent of the African people and their ability for rhythm every time I hear drums."

  6. Inky Horizons comment from

  7. ah, but isn't being a chef in the white house a point of pride? its not like what inky was saying, comparing it to a laundromat or a drummer. Its clear that bush can't be eloquent 2 save his life, thats why people interpreted his words so negatively.

    But we all know that being a chef is a skilled occupation, and white house chef is akin to managing a hotel restaurant.


  8. If Arroyo stays on until Sunday, then i think your analysis is the correct reading.

  9. hi dom, if I may be bold, lemme try to explain to gabby:

    the fact of the matter is two things:

    (1) the implications of bush's statement is what matters: his impression of filipinos is that they're behind the front lines, serving the rest of the world. and admitted that not filipinos are like that, his statement still does leave a bad taste in the mouth;

    (2) and this leads us to the essential part of bush's statement: he is the u.s. president and no matter how jon stewart can laugh and point, bush is STILL the u.s. president, the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. (and this is why there is such a thing as a prosperous business as public relations for powerful people: because words from them have power.)

  10. Thanks, Joey. Gabby's comments (vis-a-vis the reaction of others) have given me some food for thought regarding this. More next time on another post. Maybe. :-)

  11. It is VERY clear that Bush's comment is insulting to anyone who has EQ high enough to understand sarcasm when they hear one.

    What is incredible is that Philippines, as a nation is not in uproar about this. If this happened to Korea, they would be up in arms. Bush once said to the past president of Korea, "My Man here is really XXX(I forget what)". The important part is "My Man". Koreans thought for bush to use this term was insulting.

    It's funny. Filipinos went crazy when desperate housewives mentioned something about filipino doctors.

    But on this, there is nothing. I actually just found out about it on this blog!

    What shameful president we have.

  12. Gabby,
    To individuals, chef can be a noble profession.
    But as a nation, it is insulting.
    Unfortunately it is apparent most Filipinos, including yourself, don't get this.
    Because you are blinded by this OFW being national hero bullshit. OFWs are heros to individual families, but is a NATIONAL DISGRACE.

  13. thanks everyone for the explanations, and to anonymous for telling me i have low EQ. You have no idea! I can't stop myself from eating the candies right now (this is a joke btw, from the children's EQ studies)

    That said, its perfectly clear that i think Bush is mocked daily for his 'bushisms' (to put it lightly), by both filipinos and americans.

    I'm starting to understand why people/societies react this way in general, when there is even a whiff of a possibility that it may construed as derogatory when there is a history of actual racism.

    i guess i didn't see it coz my position is that we can be proud of ourselves as people, and we've won our independence decades ago. We don't have to defend ourselves from speech from what some guy (even the US president or some actor in US TV) says about us.

    but i dunno, maybe we should be sensitive to these things. i'm still thingking about it... thanks!

  14. read this from professor te's blog about prospero nograles' reply regarding the absent president... "In response to the clamor for Gloria Arroyo to cut short her U.S. trip because of the severe damage inflicted by typhoon "Frank", he is said to have texted to those who were asking that Gloria Arroyo cut her trip short because of typhoon "Frank" that Gloria's US trip had long been scheduled and that typhoon "Frank" didn't have a scheduled arrival date."

  15. I didn't know Philippines WON the independence as much as it was GIVEN, much like Korea and the rest of asia.

    If we dont get pissed as a nation about what therest of the world thinks of us, we will always live in squalor. This is exactly what the gov't is trying to brainwash us into thinking. That everything is ok, and we should be proud, even if we are poor and ignorant.

    You have been brainwashed, Gabby.