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The Obama-Arroyo Summit (At Long Last)/ Updated With Transcript

July 31, 2009


I’m not sure if President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo keeps a personal diary but her note-keepers are surely marking July 31 in red highlighters given how GMA’s 45=minute one-on-one with US President Barack Obama went.

By all accounts, the American leader was a warm and engaging host and his Filipino visitor reciprocated with the most sincere smile and agreeable persona she could muster.

Hey, this was after all THE meeting that Mrs. Arroyo had assiduously pursued as soon as the election of the former Illinois Senator as President of the most powerful nation in the world became certain.

Who wouldn’t have, given the historically close ties between Manila and Washington D.C. the 3 to 4-million-strong cross-generational presence of Filipino-Americans in the United States, and the strategic importance of the Philippines in America’s security, and economic interests in Asia Pacific.

So it was that Presidents Arroyo and Obama appeared oblivious of the 4th quarter admonitions of Filipinos urging that the Oval Office meeting give notice to unresolved allegations of corruption and human rights violations spanning the nearly 9-year-long reign of Mrs. Arroyo that in its final 10 months.

One must indeed accept that Mr. Obama like all the other POTUSes before him will embrace their Filipino counterparts purely on the basis of what is in America’s interests.

The pleasantries in the just-concluded summit aside, the Obama administration will surely not stand idly by if and when those American interests are imperilled by reckless actions that alienate citizens from their government.

I’m an optimist and I hold to the belief that Mr. Obama did subtly communicate Washington’s desire for next year’s Philippine elections to be devoid of the tag ’fraud-ridden’ unlike that of 2004.

I take at face value Pres.  Obama’s description of how his meeting with Pres. Arroyo went:

Although the Philippines is not the largest of countries, it — using a phrase from boxing — punches above its weight in the international arena.  I am very pleased that President Arroyo has made such good progress on dealing with counter-terrorism issues. She has initiated a peace process in Mindanao that we think has the potential to bring peace and stability to a part of the Philippines that has been wracked by unrest for too long.

We are very grateful of the strong voice that the Philippines has provided in dealing with issues in Asia – ranging from the human rights violations that have for too long existed in Burma, to the problems that we are seeing with respect to nuclear proliferation in North Korea. We are going to have a busy agenda together, working to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, improving the multi-lateral partnerships in Asia that can create greater security and greater prosperity for all countries.

The U.S. President would do well to keep his fingers closed.


Ahead of today’s Obama-Arroyo meeting, the American Institute for Policy Studies think tank Foreign Policy In Focus published a thoroughly informative peace analyzing the importance of the meeting.

It counseled Mr. Obama thusly:

This meeting marks a first opportunity for Obama to push the reset button on U.S. engagement toward the region. The administration is poised to move beyond the Bush team’s narrow focus on counter-terrorism, its dismissal of regional institutions such as ASEAN, and its reliance on the Pacific Command as the dominant face of U.S. policy in the region.

The Obama administration should use the meeting with Arroyo to begin laying the foundation for a new relationship with the Philippines, one that addresses the immediate human rights violations as well as long-term efforts to resolve the political and social conditions underlying insurgencies. This would require addressing concerns over the long-term presence of U.S. troops, ensuring that military aid doesn’t fuel repressive and unaccountable military institutions, and providing aid that strengthens democracy and respect for human rights.

The Obama administration can also ease suspicions over long-term objectives of U.S. policy by renouncing plans for the establishment of bases of any type and setting a timetable for withdrawal of the several hundred troops based in the Philippines. What was presented as a short-term deployment of U.S. advisors in early 2002 has now mushroomed to a de facto permanent presence of Special Operations forces in Mindanao, as well as a dramatic increase in other training efforts and military assistance. This task force doesn’t benefit the long-term interests of the United States if such assistance reinforces unaccountable and repressive tendencies within the military and the police, weakens civilian control over the military, and contributes to erosion of the space for popular participation and citizenship.

Obama should resist calls for an expansion of aid and emphasize the importance of respect for human rights and positive steps toward addressing the political roots of insurgencies.

The Obama administration should “walk the talk” on democratic and accountable governance by making U.S foreign aid the cutting edge of transparency, accountability, and participation, ensuring that U.S. military assistance doesn’t strengthen unaccountable and repressive military institutions and political elites. These would be valuable first steps for a new relationship.


Here’s the full transcript of the two leaders’ exchange with reports at the end of their tal:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me express my thanks and appreciation for the visit from President Arroyo. As we discussed during our meeting here and our delegations, the relationship between the United States and the Philippines dates back many years. It is a friendship that is forged not only in treaties and trade relationships and military relationships, but it is also strengthened by very personal ties that exist between our two countries. We are proud to have 4 million persons of Filipino ancestry contributing to our country each and every day, in all walks of life. The fact that we have Filipino veterans who have fought side by side with American soldiers on behalf of freedom — all those things have strengthened the relationship between our two countries.

I am very pleased that President Arroyo has made such good progress on dealing with counterterrorism issues. She has initiated a peace process in Mindanao that we think is — has the potential to bring peace and stability to a part of the Philippines that has been wracked by unrest for too long. We are very grateful of the strong voice that the Philippines has provided in dealing with issues in Asia ranging from the human rights violations that have for too long existed in Burma to the problems that we’re seeing with respect to nuclear proliferation in North Korea.

I am looking forward to my travels to Southeast Asia, and the Philippines will be the coordinating country in the U.S. relationship with ASEAN, the primary organization — strategic organization for Southeast Asian countries. And in addition, the Philippines will be sharing the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference that will be taking next — place next year.

And so we’re going to have a busy agenda together working to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, improving the multilateral partnerships in Asia that can create greater security and greater prosperity for all countries. And in addition, we continue to be grateful for the outstanding contributions that the Philippines has made with respect to U.N. peacekeeping around the world.

So although the Philippines is not the largest of countries, it, in using a phrase from boxing, punches above its weight in the international arena, and we are very grateful that President Arroyo has visited us here today, and we are looking forward to using this meeting as a way of launching even greater cooperation between our two countries in the years to come.

PRESIDENT ARROYO: Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for inviting me to have this very important conversation here in the White House.

The U.S. is very essential to the economic, diplomatic, and national security of our country. We are very thankful for the U.S. as an important ally in helping to professionalize our military and making it more effective.

Just as important, we are thankful to the U.S. for being such a good ally in our — working on soft power by helping us build bridges, roads, schools, not only in Mindanao but across the nation. And this assistance of the U.S. has gone a long way in helping us to achieve what we have been able to achieve in the peace process in Mindanao in southern Philippines, and also in our fight against terrorism.

I was very happy to let President Obama know that the Muslim secessionists have agreed, together with a Philippine government panel, to work towards a resumption of formal peace talks, and we’re very thankful for the international community, including the U.S., for their assistance in bringing us to this stage.

Internationally, we stand foursquare behind the United States on the position that it has taken with regard to Burma and with regard to North Korea’s nuclear adventurism.

We also applaud President Obama for his leadership on climate change, which is so important to the Philippines because we are an archipelagic country and severe climate change is going to be disastrous for our country. We are already feeling the weather pattern changes in the rising seas.

We are also — finally, may I say that I bring the thanks also of our Filipino veterans for the inclusion of the veterans’ benefits in the fiscal stimulus package, something that we have all waited for as a country for the last 60 years.

So I’m very grateful for this opportunity. We thank the Obama administration for the new engagement in our part of the world, and we look forward to a stronger relationship between the U.S. and ASEAN and, bilaterally, a stronger relationship with our two countries.

Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much.

Okay, we’re going to take two questions, one from a Filipino reporter.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes. This gentleman right here. Is this a good — (laughter.)

Go ahead.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President, and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. I am from the Philippine media, sir. It’s noted that you’re the first Asian head of state to be afforded by President Obama this — such an invitation. As much as this is your first time to see President Obama in person and you have talked to him, could you kindly share to us, Madam President, your impressions of the American President? (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m sure she thinks I’m much younger looking than she expected. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT ARROYO: Well, as a person, President Obama is very cordial, warm, and welcoming. And I’m really very impressed about — of his deep understanding and knowledge of the Philippines and the Filipino people — the understanding of the close relationship within the Filipino people and the American people.

And we — I think we connected very well also on our position with regard to Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, with regard to North Korea and nuclear proliferation, with regard to human rights and terrorism. And we welcome President Obama’s reaching out to the Muslim world, and also we are very pleased about his — the importance that he accords to engagement with our part of the world.

Q Is it considered to be ungrateful if I will not get your reaction? It will be greatly appreciated if you can also give your impression of our President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, obviously, President Arroyo has done outstanding work on a whole range of issues. She mentioned the areas where the United States and the Philippines are of one accord, but as evidenced here today, she’s somebody who knows the issues. She has experience leading the Philippines through some very difficult times. She has expressed a great friendship towards the United States, and aside from her great personal charm — (laughter) — we are very appreciative of the concrete ways in which her administration has pursued strengthening ties with the United States. So I’m very grateful for that.

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