The timing could not have been more off. President Barack Obama will receive President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the Oval Office two days from now. Even before the meeting, damage control is being done by the two sides.
After the Washington Times came out with its scathing editorial on the Arroyo visit–accusing the Obama administration of “sanitizing” the Arroyo administration, US ambassador Kristie Kenney came out with the accusation that the newspaper is linked to an erstwhile Arroyo ally–now bitter critic–former Speaker Jose de Venecia. After doubts were still raised about Arroyo’s stepping down from power based on her SONA, her own family and speechwriter came out in the media with a full-court affirmation of her intention to step down from presidency next year.
It must be remembered that Ambassador Kenney took advantage of the embassy celebration of the American independence last July 2 to make a rare political statement: that the 2010 Philippine elections must be held as scheduled and produce credible results. The implication was also clear: that charter change before the elections is not favored by the US and that president Arroyo must step down from power.
However, there are indications that the stated agenda–cooperation on anti-terrorism campaign, combatting recession, and regional issues–do not cover all the topics to be discussed. The very public and intriguing visit of CIA chief Panetta did not help squelch speculations that the real issues are being negotiated under the cover of the “working” visit.
What are some of these speculations? They may not be necessarily true but they are distinct possibilities under the current scenario.
One is that the Arroyo administration is trying to sell the idea of a “strong” Republic as necessary to the holding off and defeating the twin threats of communist insurgency and al-Queda and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorism. This means either the US permitting an Arroyo retention of power beyond 2010 on the ground that there is no one that can replace her just yet. This is the charter change via a state of emergency scenario. A variation is to permit GMA to choose her successor, possibly through election manipulation if necessary. The sweetener is supposed to be the guarantee given to US to have temporary bases or access to shore-based facilities in Mindanao and Palawan.
Another is that the US is offering guarantees of effective asylum to the Arroyo family in exchange for hands-off treatment of the 2010 elections or even for a premature stepping down to normalize the political situation leading to a credible elections. Regular elections as proof of Philippine democracy is thus upheld.
Even so, the “working visit”–low profile as it is–already becomes problematic. It is expected therefore that the Obama administration will make it as low profile as possible, something which the Arroyo administration will make sure to be the opposite here in the Philippines. The real picture however will come out in the next few weeks after the visit. Who will be more uncomfortable?