POSTSCRIPT / November 23, 2004 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Wow! Arroyo and Bush chatted at 2-hour dinner!

DEFENSIVE AURA: Malacañang propagandists should be careful not to transfer to President Arroyo a defensive aura that could be misinterpreted as inferiority complex breaking through the official veneer of power.

In their stories out of Santiago, Chile, where President Arroyo sat with 20 other leaders attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, there was always an attempt to magnify small details to make our President appear bigger than she really is.

This is pathetic. Nakakahiya.

For instance, the Palace boys made a big to-do about President Arroyo sitting beside US President George W. Bush and being able to chat with him during the two-hour official dinner hosted for the APEC leaders.

Naturally, the two Presidents chatted. What would be big news is if they ignored each other for two long hours — or if Bush stood to go to the john (“comfort room” to Pinoys) while our Gloria was saying something.

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EVEN BETTER?: The spin masters claimed that the conversation at the dinner table, despite its being interrupted by Bush’s also having to chat with whoever was on his left, was better than a “bilateral talk” on substantive matters.

That is debatable.

The excitement over the table chat looks like an attempt to recover from the embarrassment suffered when the supposed one-on-one bilaterals with Bush — prematurely announced in Manila — did not materialize.

At one point, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo had to say when he could not confirm the vaunted Bush-Arroyo one-on-one that anyway they would sit beside each other and chat at dinner and “what could be better than that?” or words to that effect.

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GALLANT HOST: The host, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, is another point of reference. Siyempre, as host El Senor Don Ricardo would be gallant, all-smiles and brimming with superlatives and compliments with his VIP guests.

It would be naïve for any Malacanang functionary watching from a distance to then report to the Filipino media that President Lagos was so captivated by the visiting lady President from the Philippines.

Maybe he was, I hope so, but we should wait for President Lagos or his spokesman to say it.

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FLUENT SPANISH: President Arroyo’s pleasantly surprising the Chilean media — and I assume their readers and viewers — with her fluent Spanish, et cetera, was another matter since the reports and commentaries came from them.

Her Spanish and her being on the distaff side, plus her high-profile role in the fight against terrorism and our Hispanic past, made her one of the focal points of the local media coverage. Otherwise, summits are usually boring.

This time, it was the Chileans themselves saying they were impressed by President Arroyo. Such complimentary remarks weighed much more than our own awkward pats on our back.

Of course it would be all right if a Filipino columnist writing from Santiago said that, because he would just be giving an opinion. Official statements (and Malacanang news reports are quasi-official) are to be more carefully written than opinion pieces.

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DIPLOMATIC CHATS: Aside from complimentary remarks of official hosts, another oft-misunderstood item is the casual invitation usually made when heads of state meet at some global summit.

The naïve reporter covering the meeting sometimes reports with exclamation points that the President has been invited by President or Prime Minister Fulano de Tal and proceeds to give the “invitation” extended significance.

Projected state or official visits, which involve an elaborate preparation on both sides, must not be taken too seriously until they happen.

If simpler bilateral talks between two heads of friendly governments are that difficult to set up, what more with state visits?

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PANAMA SIDEBAR: The sidebar about President Arroyo and the rest of her delegation, including First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, rushing over to the Panama Canal to watch like excited tourists the passing through of a vessel manned by a Filipino crew was forgivable.

Some commentators said it was unseemly for the President — on her way to call on the Panamanian President — detouring to the locks like a tourist to ogle a metal hunk of a ship pass by and wave at the crew.

I would say “okay lang.” Let her and the rest of the group enjoy their trip while they could. If watching ships (and planes) go by improves one’s mental health, let us have more of it.

Tutal, nandoon na sila sa Panama Canal, e di let them absorb everything they could. Not just anybody could go that close to the locks, which I understand are in a restricted area.

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APEC TIDBITS: Emailing from Santiago, where he has lived for years after his retirement, former Ambassador Rodolfo Arizala has been sending us tidbits behind the big news.

Here is part of his report to POSTSCRIPT, boiled down to fit space:

Today (Nov. 21) is the last day of the Chile APEC Summit. The leaders gathered at Palacio La Moneda, the seat of the government, at around 8:40 a.m.

President Arroyo, in a light brown attire, was met by Chilean President Ricardo Lagos at the main entrance. Each leader was given a hand-woven brightly embroidered “poncho” for their souvenir “class picture” at the “Patio de los Naranjos” (Orange trees courtyard).

During the picturing-taking, Ms Arroyo stood on the left of President Lagos, while New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was on his right.

It appears from the way President Lagos received President Arroyo that they have struck a warm friendship. The reason for that, according to Chilean media, was that Ms Arroyo spoke fluent Spanish.

In a Chilean national newspaper La Tercera of Nov. 21, page 20, President Arroyo was featured under a news item “Vestidas Para La Ocasion En la Gala (Attires for a Gala Occasion) together with the First Lady of the Republic of Korea.

Under the picture of President Arroyo wearing an orange dress or gown, the caption read: “Color e Intensidad. La Presidenta de Filipinas, Gloria Macapagal, se sento junto a Bush.” (Color and Intensity. The President of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal sat beside Bush). That referred to the gala dinner hosted by President Lagos and First Lady Luisa Duran at the old “Estacion Mapocho.”

Incidentally, the late President Diosdado Macapagal and First Lady Eva Macapagal also visited Santiago, Chile, in the 1960’s. Nobody imagined then that their daughter Gloria would also become president and some day visit Santiago.

Almost all the APEC leaders came on their respective national flag carriers, except the US President who came on Air Force One and the Sultan of Brunei Bolkiah on his private 747 jumbojet.

Bolkiah had to wait two hours flying around in Chilean air space, because Bush arrived ahead of him and the sultan could not land until the US President had disembarked from Air Force One.

While in Chile, each leader used the Chevy Pajero-type vehicle supplied by the Chilean government, except US President Bush and Russian Federation leader Vladimir Putin who brought their black, bomb-proof limousines.

Bolkiah will stay several days longer than the others, because he seems to have liked Southern Chile which has exotic scenery this time of the year (late spring).

The grapevine says the Sultan might buy a huge tract of land in Southern Chile. In Chile, foreigners could acquire and own properties (lands). An American millionaire already owns vast virgin forests in Southern Chile.

When I asked a Chilean official why they allow foreigners to acquire huge tracts, his reply was: “Señor embajador, foreigners could not bring those lands to their own country. They remain within our territorial jurisdictions. In the meanwhile they could be developed to the full or be preserved in accordance with our laws on conservation of the environment.”

The only prohibition is that lands near the boundaries of Chile with other countries could not be sold to foreigners, for strategic and security reasons.

Malaysia owns a vineyard in Chile and also huge agricultural lands in Argentina.

The rising star in “Cono Sur” (Southern Cone) is China. Slowly but surely, Beijing is trying to show that it is not only a political power to reckon with also has economic clout in Asia as well as in South America.

Chinese President Hu Jintao made official visits not only in Chile but also in nearby Argentina across the Andes during the APEC summit in Santiago. The theme song seems to be “Economic Cooperation.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 23, 2004)

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