POSTSCRIPT / September 7, 2010 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Aquino talked to Obama for a record 7 minutes!

WOW!: We are happy that President Noynoy Aquino was able to talk to his US counterpart Barack Obama for a record seven minutes about some explosives left by American forces on an island near Corregidor in the last war.

We are also glad that Kris Aquino’s brother was able to eat hotdog at a sidewalk stand in New York. We are doubly excited over his bumping on actor Robert Redford and his planned meeting with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On the side, he has been promised by some American businessmen to invest in this former US colony now that President Aquino is around to level the playing field.

Even with the inattentiveness of United Nations General Assembly representatives to his reading of the Philippine statement, this is not bad for the P25 million petty cash set aside for his coming-out visit to the US.

He may not be bringing home the $434-million Millennium Challenge Corp. fund that the US dangles before client states to motivate them to toe the line. But the money is not important as long as our President is happy with his budget trip.

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FLAG INVERTED: Do not be disturbed by the Americans’ inadvertently displaying our flag upside-down (the red field on top, meaning we are in a state of war!) during the meeting of Obama with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Those things happen. It is enough that American officials apologized for the faux pas.

The incident reminds me of the big convention of the American Society of Travel Agents during Marcosian martial rule at the Philippine International Convention Center that was disrupted when a bomb exploded at the site.

There was a tall vertical floral arrangement in the lobby depicting the flag, and nobody noticed that the red field was on the left (signifying we were at war). I guess that was unintentional; probably the designer did not know any better.

But I am quite sure that Doris Baffrey, who admitted planting the bomb in the lobby, had nothing to do with the inverted flag design. Baffrey, then an aide of Tourism Secretary Jose D. Aspiras, was a daughter of a retired navy commodore.

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SECRET TALKS: The fly that is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front should not have alighted this early on the peace ointment by insisting that its coming talks with the government be carried out in secret.

Jun Mantawil, chair of the MILF panel secretariat, said: “Negotiation is not a public hearing that the presence of everyone is required,”

He was reacting to a proposal of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the citizens be allowed to join the talks even only as observers.

Somebody should remind Mantawail of the tragedy that nearly befell the nation because of the previous secret negotiations with the MILF that produced an unconstitutional Memorandum of Agreement creating a separate Bangsamoro state.

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CREDENTIALS: We will never tire asking why the government is talking to the MILF, investing it with a status of belligerency and recognizing it as the only legitimate voice of the Muslim population.

It is basic in serious negotiations for each party to first present on the table its credentials that it is the legitimately designated plenipotentiary of the group it claims to represent. Can the MILF produce such credentials?

The only bases of the MILF claim as the spokesman of Muslims is a threat of violence if its wishes are not granted and a letter from the White House telling Malacañang that it wanted our government to talk with the MILF.

Military and police sources told us that the MILF’s claimed strength of 11,800 warriors has been boosted by the followers and members of the Ampatuan private army on the run.

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MEDDLING: That US instruction to talk with the MILF is blatant meddling in our domestic affairs. And since the Philippine government has not shown any spine, other parties have been tempted to pressure us on many issues.

Even now, Malaysia — which had hoodwinked Malacañang into thinking that it is an objective party — has been able to insert itself in the talks as a third-party facilitator.

Apparently ill advised, President Aquino made our predicament worse by meeting Malaysia’s Prime Minister in New York and thanking him for making available its good offices.

One wonders to what extent Malaysia will spend for the MILF and Philippine government panels during their sojourn in Kuala Lumpur. The Senate may want to look into the funding and activities of the government panel.

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COSTLY CARDS: One side benefit of the President’s trip is his discovery that the arrival/departure cards of the Bureau of Immigration bear his picture in violation of his orders to remove photos of officials from government forms.

The President was reportedly irritated when he saw his face on the card he was filling out before his departure.

But Presidential Communications Group Secretary Herminio Coloma said the immigration bureau is asking permission to use up the cards, around 20 million of them, distributed to 34 airlines operating in the Philippines.

Immigration reportedly signed a 10-year contract with X-tend Inc. to print the cards at P5 per copy, although some airlines said they could have the same cards printed for only P1.50 each.

In January, the bureau took charge of the distribution of the cards to airline passengers.

If the President does not put his foot down on this one, he might create the impression that he is not always serious when he issues order.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 7, 2010)

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