New era of intervention

New era of intervention
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:03:00 11/06/2008

Conservative commentator Christopher Hitchens put it simply. “This is a zeitgeist moment,” he said on BBC, referring to times when the entire spirit of the times changes suddenly, practically overnight.

Barack Obama’s election will mean, not a fundamental change in RP-US relations (admittedly pretty low on the American totem pole since the US bases in the Philippines closed), but significant changes in certain nuances concerning that relationship.

The Democratic landslide brings to power a presidency and a Congress possibly unsympathetic to the incumbent administration here at home.

When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo strove to cultivate both sides of the aisle in the American establishment, she received a frosty reception from congressional Democrats, and a non-reception from Obama.

This is a sign of the low standing, not of the Philippines, but of the present administration.

This is different from the way the Arroyo administration fell out of favor with the Republicans. The overall attitude of the Republicans has always been to leave well enough alone so long as their Man (or Woman) in Manila broadly stays in line.

In 1989, a Republican administration sent a few jets to save democracy; in 2005, another sent an official to warn Ms Arroyo that she could do whatever she liked except impose martial law.

Human rights

The Democrats, on the other hand, have in the past 30 years used the human rights issue to impose conditions on the military assistance that has been the primary obsession of Philippine administrations ever since the demise of the great Philippine sugar, cordage and garment lobbies.

What’s generally viewed as a plebiscite that rejected the Bush era and Republican hopes of being the ruling party for a generation, means that the Philippine equivalent of the old bases card, the war on terror card, has lost its value.

But this is not because that war will be abandoned; instead, it will be reevaluated and fought along the traditional Cold War line of “winning hearts and minds” rather than “shock and awe.”

The limit on Republican interests in the Philippines–the retention, militarily speaking, of a free hand for America in Mindanao, just as in the past it was the cultivation and protection of US bases–will no longer be enough.

Obama is, by affinity and experience, far less dismissive of Southeast Asia than the Republicans, who basically ignored the region for two terms.

“A new dawn of American leadership is at hand,” he said in his victory speech, and this harks back to the Kennedy Peace Corps: More bridges and schools for Mindanao, and not just free rein for troop exercises with a blank check for funding the Philippine military.

Narrowed window

So the essentially live-and-let-live Republican attitude toward our government–that it can do what it pleases, as long as the façade of democracy is retained–will be gone by Jan. 20, when the Obama presidency is inaugurated and the Bush White House’s blessings for the Arroyo administration to undertake Charter change expires.

This narrows Ms Arroyo’s window of political opportunity from now to January.

Together with human rights, we can also expect renewed official American support for family planning. This will dismay the Philippine hierarchy, just as it has worried the American and Vatican hierarchies who expressed support for the Republicans. Washington is poised to shift from a Crusader to a Secular perspective.

There is great trepidation in the Philippine BPO industry. But if a spokesperson from the Democratic Party is to be believed, Obama’s vow to bring jobs back to America refers more to blue-collar manufacturing jobs than the essentially white-collar BPO jobs increasingly crucial to our economy.

Which means that the economic impact of an Obama victory will depend more on his policies toward China, through which we export to America, than to any actual policies concerning us.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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