In a move that actually took many interested observers by surprise, recently-installed US Ambassador Harry Thomas and a coterie of Embassy officials paid a courtesy call to presumptive President Noynoy Aquino last Friday, prompted this bit of nausea-inducing “analysis” from his personal press agency, the Philippine Daily Inquirer:
“The new US ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Thomas Jr., emphatically stamped Washington’s recognition of the legitimacy of results of the May elections with his Friday visit to the home of presumptive president-elect Benigno Aquino III on Times Street, Quezon City….
“Thomas left no room for doubt that, in congratulating the Filipinos for conducting an election that overwhelmingly reflected their popular will, the Obama White House had recognized the primacy of the electoral process as the cornerstone of a democratic republic.
“Flowing from this fundamental premise, Thomas’ visit implicitly recognized the result of this credible electoral exercise—that Aquino had won an overwhelming mandate, in fact, a landslide victory, in the first automated election count system in this country’s history.
“The fact that Thomas’ call on Aquino came in the midst of the congressional inquiry into the allegations made by the “koala bear” witness in a videotape and ahead of the official canvass beginning on Tuesday, sent the unstated and powerful message: Don’t delay the proclamation and tamper with the results reflected by the results of the automated system.
“Or, to those with intentions to disrupt the successful process: Don’t mess up the results that have already won widespread domestic and international applause as a credible election, a result that has lifted the Philippines from the ranks of basket-case democracies in developing societies.
“Diplomatic recognition is an essential element in endowing legitimacy to a new regime, in addition to its winning an incontrovertible mandate in a relatively free and honest election.”
Good grief. Is that why Noynoy looks like he’s trying to cover a boner in that picture?
ABS-CBN, which is ordinarily another none-too-thinly disguised part of the Yellow Propaganda machine, to their credit reported on the visit in cautiously objective terms, quoting Thomas as saying that “the visit should not be seen as an indication that the US is already recognizing Aquino as the next president of the Philippines” and that “Thomas said they respect the election process and would wait until the official canvassing by Congress and the formal proclamation of the winners in the presidential and vice-presidential elections before issuing any statement.”
To be fair to the PDI, their sense that there was more to Thomas’ visit than mere diplomatic courtesy is not mistaken, but the gushing assessment that the visit was made for Aquino’s benefit comes across like a schoolgirl’s crush and totally misses the point. Despite Thomas’ careful, pro forma remarks that the visit did not amount to an official recognition of Aquino by the US, that is essentially what it was – in a sense, a signal of intent. Noynoy Aquino is, at least in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, the obvious winner of the election. The general assessment of US observers at this point is that while the elections were apparently seriously flawed, the irregularities appeared to be mainly directed at lower offices, and probably did not materially affect the outcome of the presidential contest. In other words, the degree of Noy’s win might not be what it appears, but not the fact that he won. The ongoing ‘crisis’ over the election results is pretty much par for the course – it’s taking a slightly different form this time because of the poll automation, but is basically an expected part of the Philippine election routine. The mild qualification that the “official” endorsement is still forthcoming will allow the US to drop Aquino in the unlikely event that becomes necessary, but in the meantime the stronger probability is already covered.
What is obvious to everyone except, apparently, the PDI and Noynoy Aquino, is that Ambassador Thomas’ visit was done for the benefit of US interests and not Aquino’s. US policymakers are keenly aware that Aquino is a weak leader — he’s a minority president, the degree of his so-called “overwhelming mandate” might be questionable, and he will be facing an opposing legislature. His policy goals are long on sentiment and entirely bereft of specifics, and he clearly believes his own press about “his parents’ legacy” and his Mom being “the icon of democracy”. That would be “the icon of democracy” who presided over a chaotic period in the country’s history that most people remember for its occasional coup attempts and regular brown-outs – far from being a “stamp of approval”, then, the unusual early endorsement reveals a serious US concern of further instability in the Philippines under another Aquino’s watch. That the PDI would make an “analytical” statement like “Diplomatic recognition is an essential element in endowing legitimacy to a new regime,” shows that the powers-to-be obviously have the same sorts of doubts.
The irony is that a more paternal relationship between the US and the leadership of the Philippines is a step backwards, from the American point of view, in long-term policy objectives. Despite what critics who adopt the fashionable argument against US “neocolonialism” might believe, US interests are not best served by greater involvement in Philippine domestic policy. The institutional and economic stability that would make the Philippines what the US wants it to be – a strong political and economic partner in the Southeast Asian region – are not things that can be imposed from outside the country. Yet Aquino – still more than a month from even starting the job – seems content to behave like the office lackey who can’t get anything done unless he invokes the name of his more influential higher-up. Were it not for the fact that the Philippines is a key part of this much larger picture, US interest might not be so keen; on its own, the Philippines is a marginal import source, a complete zero as an export market, is rapidly pricing itself out of and degrading the quality of its outsourcing potential, and slavishly adheres to laws and social conventions that discourage innovation and outside investment. But since the state of the Philippines affects US relationships with the rest of the region, the US will do what it needs to do. Unfortunately for both sides, that might be quite a lot – but the country’s having elected a president that does not understand that the highest ‘endorsement’ of any sort should be through sovereign initiatives and not derived from external interests leaves the US little choice.