IT’S AN interesting thing to do, to travel on a state visit with the President, the priority of passage through airports to hotels being just one of the benefits. Bonding with fellow businessmen is another. And although you’re sitting in economy (government takes over business class, don’t ask me why), Philippine Airlines looks after you extremely well. The cabin crew, particularly, was first-class.
There’s the inevitable hype about the success of the trip, and you’ve heard it all from government sources in the past week, so I won’t bore you with more. But much of it is justified. These visits to other heads of state are essential in today’s “global” world. And some business does get done that otherwise wouldn’t.
These state visits do an important thing: They establish personal relationships. In the real world we live in, not the make-believe ones of politics, knowing someone makes all the difference. Mr. Aquino has now met and spent time with John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand, and Julia Gillard, the prime minister of Australia. That time together is of great benefit when controversy arises, as it has at present with the contretemps with China over who owns what in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. China’s belligerence will have to be controlled, and that needs friends. Australia and New Zealand are now closer friends.
Next is for the President to visit Vietnam, even Taiwan, which are both contesting ownership with China. Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, he’s already met. And it’s certainly the good fortune of the Philippines to have a President today who is likeable.
A unified voice is going to be needed to force China to the negotiating table of international arbitration. That, in this case, is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). China must then accept whatever decision is handed down. To base its claim solely on (questionable) historical record doesn’t hold water (or give claim to that water). Geographical position and international law must also be taken into account.
So, in this regard, the trip was a success. On the business side, it was also successful. No great breakthroughs were achieved, or expected, but business relations were definitely strengthened. More importantly, an awareness of each other was achieved. Aussies, like others, had given little thought to the Philippines as a business destination. For many of the 70 or so Filipino businessmen, it was a first trip “down under.” And with the United States and Europe in dire straits today, discovering new markets is an essential strategy. So business will occur that otherwise wouldn’t. The five companies the President met with in Australia and the two in New Zealand were already committed investors, but it certainly didn’t hurt to meet them and reinforce the value the Philippines sees in their involvement. And it sends a good message to others, too.
What wasn’t good was his reluctance to discuss mining in any depth. Here is one of the great success stories of Australia’s growth, where much could be learnt on how to do it properly and considerately, yet he declined to listen. He expressed support for mining in his speeches, but that support is not evident in his actions back home. There’ll now be no new mining activity for at least a couple of years as the administration seeks higher taxes. Billions of dollars of mining investments (including Xstrata’s $5.9-billion Tampakan project) are now at a standstill. It is likely to stay that way while a misinformed government dithers.
I’d like to tell you more about what transpired in the various meetings the President had outside of the brief interactions with the business groups, but Ricky Carandang, who was present at these meetings, couldn’t be bothered to meet with me or even send me the official “meeting notes.” So I can’t.
In Sydney, heritage buildings must be preserved. Sydney is a beautiful city, in great part because the old buildings are still there with all their charm (the interiors can be modernized, but the exteriors kept). In Philippine cities, beautiful old buildings are torn down for skyscraper monstrosities. The beauty that once was Manila (or Baguio, or Laguna) is no more as greed holds sway. Maybe the President, having seen what can be done, can step in before the few buildings still left disappear, too. While he’s at it, he should add to that pressure to create parks that every city needs if it and its people are to breathe. Again, greed has meant we have next to none.
In Australia and New Zealand, they don’t use wang-wang either. In New Zealand, the police don’t even carry guns; how civilized. As I’ve so often said, you can’t shoot someone if you don’t have a gun.
A thought I had yesterday: Sen. Vicente Sotto has been accused of plagiarism. He sees nothing wrong with that, and he’s correct. His profession is acting; he mouths the words and thoughts of others. He’s not expected to have words, let alone thoughts of his own.
Isn’t it time we stopped electing actors into roles they’re so clearly unsuited for? They should stay where they belong—in the make-believe world of movies.