Philippine News - Malacañang Palace

Obama, Aquino and the Usual Suspects

Editorial, Opinion – US President Obama attended a state dinner last week, with President Benigno Aquino and a cast of characters that would have graced the finest Hollywood thriller.

Two ex-presidents (one, a convicted plunderer), a dictator’s son, a martial law enforcer and a serial military coup plotter were amongst those on the guest list.

President Obama paid tribute to Aquino’s father, Ninoy, who “offered his life so that the nation might be free” referring to the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, ousted by the People Power Revolution in 1986. Seated nearby was the dead dictator’s son, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Also in attendance was Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, infamous for being the Marcos family’s enforcer. Enrile is currently being prosecuted for his alleged involvement in a plot to steal billions in “pork barrel” funds. Marcos Jr. is also being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman for an alleged part in the same crime.

Obama praised Aquino, saying, “you bear the scars of those who would have taken this nation backwards,” referring to the bullet wounds Aquino suffered during a coup attempt in 1987.

The revolt was led by another of the dinner guests, Senator Gringo Honasan, the mastermind of many bloody military uprisings. Obama also greeted former President Fidel Ramos, who pardoned Honasan for the coup attempt in which President Aquino was shot! The coups were attempts to install Juan Ponce Enrile as president.

The guests were joined by another former president, Joseph Estrada, who was thrown out of office by a second People Power revolution in 2001 and invited back to Malacañang for the first time since. Estrada, now the elected Mayor of Manila, was tried and sentenced to 30 years for plunder, though pardoned by another ex-president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Unfortunately, Ms Arroyo had to decline her dinner invitation, as she’s been under hospital arrest since 2010, herself charged with the crime of plunder.

Perhaps not surprisingly, President Obama avoided further comment on Philippines politics in his speech, preferring to concentrate on their other shared interests. “There is our mutual obsession with basketball, there is our mutual admiration for Manny Pacquiao, even if sometimes he’s fighting against Americans and it doesn’t turn out the way we’d like,” he said. Pacquiao was not present at the dinner.

Entertainment was provided by local artists and three cabinet members –– Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson. The trio played one of Obama’s favourite songs –– Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic “What’s Going On?”. The irony was lost on many.

Maarten Maputi