POSTSCRIPT / July 30, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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While GMA is away, why not a ceasefire?

CEASEFIRE MUNA: Without missing a step in her hectic 24/7 schedule, President Gloria Arroyo flew yesterday on another working visit to the United States, this time on invitation of US President Barack Obama.

During the week that she would be abroad representing us, maybe we can tone down the political noise and give ourselves a well-deserved respite from the rhetoric dripping with hate and sarcasm. And no bad words muna.

If you are the type who might die if you fail to heckle or hurt somebody in 48 hours, we assure you that the relief on your system will be good for you. Those who thrive on political pollution can always resume their life-and-death tirades when she returns.

But while the President is on this official mission, maybe we can show a little more respect, if not support, for her. As bonus, we might discover that the ensuing peace and quiet will be good for all of us.

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NO SURPRISES: By this time, you would have known that First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo was with the President when she left. Her appointments will take her to Washington, DC, New York, Chicago and Guam.

That answers the $64 question posed in Postscript last July 21: Is Mike Arroyo going to the US despite rumors that he would be questioned on money matters once he sets foot on American soil?

As I write this, the First Couple is in the business section of commercial Philippine Airlines flight PR-116 bound for the US via Vancouver in Canada. From there, they will proceed to Washington, DC, on a chartered plane.

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OTHER U.S. TRIPS: You might be interested to know also that Mike Arroyo was in Los Angeles last June 20 on an unannounced private visit. It was another quiet trip where nothing untoward, such as being pulled aside for interrogation, happened.

He is going back to New York in September, when he will be honorary co-chairman of the second United Nations World Focus on Autism forum at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York while the UN General Assembly is in session.

Around 150 first spouses will attend. With Ms Ban Soon-taek, wife of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as chairman, the event seeks to raise global awareness of autism as a serious public-health issue.

He said: “Autism is a neurological disorder afflicting about 60 million people worldwide. I will be able to showcase our collaborative efforts with the NGOs, nonprofit organizations and the private sector in caring for an estimated one million Filipinos with autism.

“We are preparing for the first-ever International Autism Conference to be held in Manila in 2010. We will also launch the Autism Center of Asia, a state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment center dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by autism.”

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WHY THE URGENCY?: It is unusual that the new US President suddenly wants to talk to President Arroyo who will be replaced in just 10 months. If the focus is policy, should not he wait for the incoming Chief Executive? Why the seeming urgency?

Ms Arroyo is not Mr. Obama’s personal acquaintance and neither have they collaborated on something important to draw them close to each other. It is unlikely that he asked her to come over just to prop up her ego or political stock.

Aside from Mr. Obama, the officials lined up to talk to her in Washington include: Admiral Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence; Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (Dem., Texas) of the subcommittee on terrorism, non-proliferation and trade; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Dem., Nevada); and Attorney General Eric Holder.

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ADDENDUM?: The general subjects on the agenda have been listed in press statements. Senate Minority Leader Nene Pimentel Jr. is asking Ms Arroyo to include three issues in her talks with Mr. Obama:

1. The insurance benefits for 10 Filipino civilians employed by the US construction firm The AIM Group who died or were injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last July 19.

2. The possibility of the Philippines getting a reasonable yearly quota of 20,000 nurses out of the expected one million nurses that the US would reportedly need by 2021.

3. The hope that the US would help solve the Moro secessionist problem in Muslim Mindanao, not by going to war there but by providing educational, economic and humanitarian assistance to the Moro peoples.

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INSURANCE: The Filipinos who died or were injured in the helicopter accident had insurance. The US government has paid more than $1.5 billion in premium contributions for the war-zone insurance coverage for them. They were entitled to $300,000 each.

Pimentel cited reports that the wounded workers and the heirs of those killed have applied for the benefits. But the insurance companies, one of them identified as the American Insurance Group (AIG) have either rejected the applications or have offered token sums.

The senator recalled the case of Filipino worker Rey Torres, who was killed in Iraq. American journalist T. Christian Miller wrote in the Los Angeles Times last July 19 that the AIG had offered only $22,000 to the heirs of Torres.

“Mr. Torres, a native of Pampanga, was supposed to receive benefits amounting to $300,000,” the senator said. “His heirs are contesting the offer through a lawyer but that will cost them a fortune and, of course, litigation time.”

The AIG is the parent company of the Philippine-American Life Insurance Corp. (Philamlife).

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 30, 2009)

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