Illusion of U.S support
Gloria Arroyo’s issuance of Executive Order 731 two weeks before her trip to the United States last month gives credence to talks that she was anticipating trouble that would be caused by soaring gas prices and she sought the support of U.S. President Bush in case she would have to resort to measures akin to martial law..
E.O. 731, issued June 7, 2008 but made public only last week is titled “Activating and Reorganizing the Energy Operations Board into the Energy Contingency Task Force Under the National Food and Energy Council”. It is based on the premise that “global clouds on the horizon are driving the cost of oil and food.”
Head of the task force is Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and operations officer is Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes. Both are just two of the many retired military officers helping Arroyo run the government.
Included as member of the task force is the commander of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with a specific job to “ issue timely intelligence assessments of political and security developments related to the oil price issue and alert government offices on the same. It shall provide advice on matters affecting national security.”The current ISAFP commander is the soft-spoken Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza whose previous assignment was Arroyo’s chief of security officer.
Prestoza has already issued an assessment that food riots happening in other countries are unlikely to happen in the Philippines because of the Filipino’s passive culture and that the situation has not reached “the extreme” .
Nevertheless, the public’s simmering rage against the galloping cost of living must not have escaped the monitoring of ISAFP because last week oil companies offered a one peso per liter roll back on gasoline prices which only angered motorists calling it a sham. “Why would they roll back when the the price of oil in the world market continue to increase. That has always been their reason for raising oil prices here. It’s a sham because we know that next week they will again increase their price double,”a perceptive motorist said.
Reyes was perplexed by motorists’ reaction to the rollback which reflects his lack of appreciation of the extent of the public’s anger and mistrust of the Arroyo administration.
A Malacañang source who was part of Arroyo’s entourage in her recent U.S. visit said there was no mention by Arroyo of any plans to implement martial law or authoritarian measures in her meeting with Bush, the first since she fell out of his grace after she pulled out the Philippine military contingent in Iraq in exchange for the release of kidnapped Filipino truckdriver Angelo de la Cruz in July 2004.
But he admitted that increased military assistance was top in her agenda in her talks with American officials.
The source was amused that Philippine media covering Arroyo’s U.S visit followed Malacañang’s spin about the near passage of the Veterans Equity when they know very well that it has a slim chance of passing in the House of Representatives despite the approval of the Senate.
He said the real reason Arroyo wanted to meet with American congressmen was to explain to them the government’s side on extra-judicial killings. Like in the Philippines, the appropriation bill originates in the House of Representatives. That’s the reason behind the idea of giving the newly- minted Order of the Golden Heart Award, which is different from the traditional Order of Sikatuna awards given to diplomats or nationals of other countries who have made outstanding contributions to strengthening of relations with the Philippines. According to press reports not all awardees showed up during the conferment affair in Washington D.C. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came very late.
Foreign Affairs officials lobbied hard to get a meeting for Arroyo with Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific. It will be recalled that Edith Burgos, widow of press icon Jose Burgos and mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos, met with Boxer last March.
In the hearing that she conducted on alleged extra-judicial killings perpetrated by the military, Boxer said, “We do not want blood in our hands.We do not want to use US taxpayers’ money to train their (Philippine) military and police to kill their own people.”
Arroyo was able to meet with Boxer, the source said. The meeting must have been so insignificant that it didn’t merit a line in Boxer’s website. Not even Malacañang reported it.
It was unfortunate for Malacañang that whatever propaganda it wanted to generate domestically for Arroyo’s U.S trip was negated by typhoon Frank which struck on the eve of her departure, sank a passenger ship and devastated many parts of the country. Compounding the stigma was the junket of 63 congressmen whom Arroyo brought along with her as part of her pre-2009 impeachment payment.
But the source said, despite the bad press that Arroyo’s US visit got, she feels that she accomplished her main objective which was to impress the military that she still has the support of the U.S. establishment.
It maybe a meeting of lame ducks but it was still a White House meeting, the source said. Add to that was her meeting in Pentagon with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
She may not have gotten categorical support for the things she might do in case her unpopular administration is shaken by the wrath of a long-suffering people, but it is good enough for Arroyo that she has given the military the illusion that the U.S is behind her. With that, she believes that her presidency, whatever questions about its legitimacy, is safe.
For her, it’s all a game of illusions.