POSTSCRIPT / October 19, 2003 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Bush was delivering message ‘urbi et orbi’

PUMPING ADRENALIN: The speech yesterday of US President George W. Bush before a joint session of Congress struck us somewhat like a papal message urbi et orbi (Latin for “for the city and for the world”) that the Holy Father delivered on some major feast days.

As the Pope sometimes used St. Peter’s basilica as his pulpit to the Catholic world, so did the Great White Father use the Batasan as his stage for rallying support for American policy in the Philippines, in Asia and the world at large.

At a time when we need it most, Mr. Bush also pumped adrenalin into this faltering nation, reminding us in his 19-minute address that we have so much to be proud of. At the same time, he gave assurance that the US stands with the Philippines in facing the future.

Paying tribute to the Philippines and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he described the country as a “rock of stability” in the Pacific.

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LIGHT TO THE WORLD: After a buildup recalling the two countries’ shared history and Filipinos’ capacity for greatness, Mr. Bush harked back to 1995 when Pope John Paul II came to Manila and delivered a message that has been almost forgotten.

He recalled that in the homilies of the Holy Father, he spoke of the goodness of the Filipinos people, the strength of our democracy and the example that the Philippines has set for others.

Mr. Bush recalled to his Filipino audience (sorry if our note-taking was not fast enough): Let the light shine from Manila to the rest of the world…like the star of Bethlehem. Let the Philippines shine as a light to Asia and beyond.

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GMA STOCK BOOSTED: Such leadership, he said, was demonstrated by President Arroyo’s being among the first world leaders to declare support for the US after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror bombing of New York and the Pentagon.

“She rose to the moment,” he said of Mrs. Arroyo. “The American people recognize and praise your principled stand.”

In an earlier press briefing in Malacanang after their one-on-one, Mr. Bush also lavished praise on Mrs. Arroyo, especially for her understanding America’s predicament and promptly deciding to stand against terrorism.

Intended or not, Mr. Bush’s kind words for his hostess are expected to boost Mrs. Arroyo’s political stock. Both of them, incidentally, are running for president in 2004.

Also, for better or for worse, the Philippines appears to have moved closer to the embrace of Uncle Sam with the visit of Mr. Bush.

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CHOICE HAS BEEN MADE: Carrying his anti-terrorism gospel that has seen American troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Bush said that every nation in Asia and the rest of the world now faces the choice of supporting terror or fighting it.

“The Philippines and the US have seen the enemy in our own soil,” he said. America has witnessed the murder of thousands in a single day, he said, and Filipinos have known brutal murder and kidnapping.

Faced with the enemy’s strategy of spreading fear and chaos, he said the two nations have made a choice: We will defend ourselves, we will defend civilization and the peace of the world.

“We will not be intimidated by terrorists,” he said to the applause of the congregation.

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WELCOME MEDDLING: Mr. Bush did what is not normally done, which is to comment on, in effect meddle, in domestic affairs. But what the heck — it is high time local hoodlums heard some tough talk from someone wielding a big stick.

Mr. Bush pinpointed the Abu Sayyaf band in the South as one face of terrorism, saying “they kill and torture, behead their victims, while proclaiming to act in the name of god.” He said the Abu Sayyaf must be brought to justice.

He called on the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front to reject terrorism and move to the negotiation table. Raising a carrot after that stick, he said the US was ready to give development assistance for Mindanao once the fighting stops.

In an unmistakable reference to the aborted coup attempt last July by junior officers operating with power-hungry politicians, Mr. Bush reminded the putschists that they were commissioned to defend freedom, not to grab state power.

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SEASONED POLITICO: Upon his arrival at 12:30 p.m. at the Villamor domestic airport, Mr. Bush again showed his being a consummate campaigner, many times caught by TV cameras putting an arm on somebody’s shoulder in an intimate gesture.

He scored heavily when he strayed from the red carpet at the Palace grounds to chat with children waving small flags. Spotting the granddaughter Mikaela Gloria of President Arroyo, he picked her up and kissed her to the delight of everybody.

He warmed up his Batasan audience, and the rest of the population watching on live TV, by going down memory lane.

He quoted the national hero Jose Rizal saying that nations won their freedom by deserving it. He recalled how Filipino and American soldiers had fought together, their blood commingling in the dust of battle.

“I salute your courage and your service,” he said. “Throughout the years, Americans have gained an abiding respect for the character of a nation and the decency and courage of the Filipino people.”

He pointed out that more than two million Americans have Philippine roots. They are in the civil service, in commerce and many of them even teach in American public schools.

We dare say that Mr. Bush’s whirlwind eight-hour visit has reaped for him not only goodwill but also votes of FilAms in America.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 19, 2003)

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