President Arroyo’s defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro is on a largely quiet mission in the United States, with the 2010 presidential contender scheduled to speak on “the US-Philippine alliance” in a forum organized by conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation.
The Philippine embassy has given clues on what he seeks to accomplish while in the US:
- Teodoro awarded medals to US defense officials “for their contribution in enhancing RP-US security cooperation, particularly on issues related to counterterrorism assistance and the Philippine Defense Reform Program”.
- Teodoro also sat down with Ambassador Willy Gaa “to consult and discuss on ways to further boost RP-US security cooperation”.
What else he is up to? Is he also going to sit down with US defense secretary Robert Gates to fix “kinks” on the issue of the Visiting Forces Agreement which a senator and cause-oriented groups now want to be abrogated for being patently unfair and one-sided? Lest we forget, Gates has recently ordered a 600-man US counterinsurgency force to stay in the Philippines.
Come to think of it, Teodoro’s visit to the US coincides with the 10th anniversary of the VFA which is routinely used by both Manila and Washinton DC as license to violate the constitutional prohibition on foreign military presence and intervention in Philippine affairs. A decade of US military presence in Mindanao, in particular, has not produced results insofar as “advising” and “assisting” the Philippine military crushing local bandit group Abu Sayyaf.
Still on the VFA which Teodoro avidly defends: Various group will mark the VFA’s anniversary with a public forum on Sept. 11 at the University of the Philippines. Speakers include Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, Atty. Evelyn Ursua and Prof. Roland Simbulan, an expert of US affairs in the Philippines.
Teodoro may also be on damage control with the Arroyo government consistently getting failing marks in human rights and governance issues. The US Congress has previously laid down human rights-related preconditions on US military aid to the Philippines after a worldwide uproar over extrajudicial killings of activists and other opponents of Arroyo.
In a statement, the Washington DC-based Katarungan Center for Peace, Justice and Human Rights in the Philippines expressed suspicions on Teodoro’s visit:
As part of President Arroyo’s Cabinet and inner circle, [Teodoro] cannot be separated from the massive corruption, human rights abuses, mismanagement of the country’s economy, and the selling of Philippine sovereignty that have been central to the Arroyo administration As a May 2010 Presidential aspirant, Filipinos living in the US and all US taxpayers who help support the Philippines through aid need to be aware of this.
For the Obama administration to happily exploit this weakness and willingness of Philippine leaders to put their personal interests and ambitions, and the desires of foreign nations above their own people, it goes against the promise to change the foreign policy of intervention in favor of a ‘new beginning.’ Can you truly call this a ‘partnership’ when the outcomes strongly favor one side?
Teodoro’s visit to Washington DC could also be his way of signaling to the US that he deserves its support going into the 2010 elections which he intends to join although it is not yet sure he will be crowned as the standard-bearer of the pro-Arroyo ruling coalition. It is an open secret that the US plays a key role in determining who ends up being President of the Philippines despite formal democratic pretenses of free elections. Cementing pro-US deals now and providing Uncle Sam assurances of his fealty and loyalty may be Teodoro’s wild card in the coming electoral circus.