Monday, April 9, 2012

Noynoy the new Amboy

All of a sudden President Noynoy Aquino has awakened from the stupor of “noynoying” to become the newest spokesperson for the U.S. State Department and the free world. Travelling to Phnom Penh for the ASEAN summit must have an invigorating effect on the sluggish president who seemed to have been sleepwalking in his job since day one.
Looking more presidential, Noynoy Aquino spoke before ASEAN leaders about
 North Korea missile threat. Photo courtesy of Asia News Network. Click link to
view "President Aquino Gets Kudos from U.S. President Barack Obama,"
First, he challenged North Korea to focus on feeding its people instead of developing nuclear weapons. President Aquino has urged North Korea to scrap its plans of launching a rocket to place a satellite in orbit. The U.S. and its allies in the region fear that the launch is a disguised ballistic missile test, which would amount to a breach of a United Nations ban on North Korean missile launches.

It’s no secret that North Korea has been trying to develop its nuclear capability to enhance its military capacity to strike at its enemies, which the United Sates’ government has claimed it would the most likely target. So, here is the Philippine President sharpening his rhetoric and attacking North Korea for endangering its neighbouring countries of falling debris from its planned rocket launch. Presumably, on behalf of the U.S. government, who in turn must be applauding Noynoy Aquino’s for standing up to its interests in the region.

According to President Noynoy Aquino, experts have told him that debris from the launch could fall in the waters off Aurora province north of Manila, thus posing a threat to populated areas in the main Philippine island of Luzon. Aquino has already ordered the Philippine civil defence agency to have all flights to and from Japan and South Korea rerouted during the expected rocket launch between April 12 to 16.
A rocket launches in Musudan-ri, North Korea, in 2009. Satellite pictures suggest
 fuelling has  been completed ahead of a 12- 16 April launch date. Photograph/AP.
What an ingenuous move from a president not known for thinking about the safety of the people first, as he told reporters that “we are preparing for any eventuality.” Of course, nothing serious will come of this North Korean gambit or even close to threatening the lives of millions of Filipinos. This is another of those feeble attempts by North Korea to exact favourable treatment from the West, whether to get the world attention it has been craving for or to get more assistance such as food aid, a staple that North Korean people direly need to quell the famine that has ravaged their peninsula.

Second, President Noynoy Aquino has called on his fellow summiteers in Phnom Penh to support the lifting of punitive international sanctions imposed on Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) following the election of pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi to a seat in parliament during the April 1 by-elections.

Aquino said that Myanmar needs to be rewarded for reforms. “We really have to show the people who are reforming in Myanmar that the road they chose is the right road,” President Aquino told reporters.

It resonated like the “straight path” (“tuwid na daan”) which was Noynoy Aquino’s prescription for a graft and corruption-free Philippines. And he sounded very much like Secretary Hillary Clinton who earlier praised the Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi for her tireless efforts in fighting for democratic reforms in her country.

Aquino said he was thoroughly elated at the election of Suu Kyi who reminded him of his late mother, President Cory Aquino, who also led the restoration of democratic institutions in the Philippines after the Marcos repressive era of martial rule. He hoped that Suu Kyi’s election will “lead to more and more participation and vibrant democratic practices in Myanmar.” If only President Noynoy Aquino could be as optimistic with his presidency now that he has led the most serious assault on the constitutional foundations of the country an issue unheard of after his own mother helped restore democracy in 1986.

Third, President Aquino has also been bullish lately about the claim of the Philippines over the Spratlys in the South China Sea. In Phnom Penh, Aquino once again endorsed multilateral negotiations between China and members of the ASEAN regarding their simmering territorial claims to the mineral resource-rich Spratlys archipelago and its surrounding waters, instead of flexing military muscle that could flare up in violent hostilities in the region.
China claims the highlighted portion of the South China Sea. Many other
 governments also claim all or part of the South China Sea. Photo courtesy
 of University of Southern California.
Aquino has proposed a legally-binding Code of Conduct among the disputing states, a step-up to the existing declaration which was also signed by the ASEAN members in Phnom Penh 10 years ago.

A display of diplomatic leadership on Noynoy Aquino’s part on an issue that affects the whole region seems to be a far cry from his usual timid performance as Philippine president in times when the southern island of Mindanao is being enveloped by power outages and transit workers and students in Metro Manila are marching on the streets in protest of Aquino’s inaction over skyrocketing oil prices.

Apparently, President Aquino is voicing the concerns of the U.S. government and its Asian allies over the growing Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea, which is seen as a threat to American strategic military interests not only in that region but also in the whole of the Pacific as well. Aquino is being the obedient American boy who will take the podium and speak on behalf of the U.S. government on its military and economic interests in Asia and the Pacific.

And fourth, during the visit of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Manila, Aquino has asked his counterpart for aircraft, boats and other military hardware to help the Philippine military in its territorial dispute with China over the Spratly Islands. This is in addition to the recent military equipment supplied by the U.S. government that would beef up the military capability of the Philippines in case the territorial dispute with China escalates into a violent confrontation.

Fresh from scathing criticisms that he was a do-nothing President, Noynoy Aquino is quickly transforming himself into a diplomat and a warrior at the same time when it comes to the affairs of the region. While he appeared to have embraced the road to peaceful negotiations over territorial disputes, he has also shown equal readiness to go to war if necessary. If only he could be as keen and more upbeat when it comes to matters closest to his heart; by this, we mean not his dating concerns, but the myriad problems that face the nation.

There is something unnatural about Noynoy Aquino’s sudden emergence as an ASEAN leader or spokesperson for the pressing issues that confront the region. Either this is simply the result of manipulating media coverage to make him look good or Aquino has assumed his role as an Amboy in earnest.

All the pronouncements President Aquino has made at Phnom Penh or during his talks with the other ASEAN heads of state seem to have come straight from the page book of a U.S. State Department manual. Whether it is about praising Myanmar’s democratization or solving the South China impasse through multilateral negotiations, the U.S. government has found no better spokesperson for its interests in the region. Of course, Aquino expects more military assistance from Uncle Sam in return and this could translate in more joint exercises between the Philippine military and the U.S. visiting forces and delivery of supplemental warships to augment the Philippine navy.

In exchange for more U.S. military and development aid, President Aquino would be more than willing to promote U.S. President Obama’s American pivot foreign policy, a publicly stated strategy of shifting the American military’s long-term focus toward the Pacific and an increasingly assertive China. Thus, the newest American boy in the Pacific has spoken and is starting to earn his stripes.

For a timid and apparently uninterested President who would rather play with his computer toys than govern, Noynoy Aquino has found a new role and he is relishing it. In the meantime, the country continues to suffer—from increasing oil prices, power blackouts, widespread poverty and unemployment, and a developing distrust of the people to a President they thought would deliver them to the Promise Land.

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