On April 28 and 29, US President Barack Obama will visit the Philippines to wind up his latest Asian swing that includes trips to Japan, South Korea and Malaysia. President Obama will be the first American leader in Manila in 11 years after then President George W. Bush and so the Philippine government is in a feverish preparation for that visit.
Obama’s visit comes at an opportune time because it will take place when the Philippines is embroiled in tense maritime row with China, whose sprawling claims of islands, shoals and reefs in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea encompass the Philippine territory. The Philippines has hailed China before the UN International Tribunal as it pressed its claims over portions of Spratlys group of islands, Scarborough Shoal, Ayungin Shoal and other areas. When President Obama meets Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III in Malacanang, it is expected the China dispute will be tackled as part of their agenda on security, defense, economy, trade and people-to-people exchange. And this early, it is seen as a foregone conclusion that Obama will further cement the long-time relationship between his country and the Philippines, a former colony and a staunch ally. In the process, President Obama will re-affirm US support for the Philippines and renew its commitments under a 1951 mutual defense treaty that it will defend Manila against aggression even in the South China Sea. In keeping with that, Obama will possibly witness the signing of an agreement on increased rotational American soldiers in the Philippines that would allow more American troops, plus their ships, airplanes and equipment, to be stationed in the country even on short-term basis.
So-called nationalists have long criticized the United States for alleged meddling in Philippine affairs which, they claim, is disadvantageous to the country as, like its two big military bases before, would open the Philippines to attacks by foes of the Americans. There could be some point to this group’s view, but the overall welfare of the country and the great majority of the Filipino people weighs more heavily amidst the present global realities and geopolitics. President Obama’s visit, therefore, should be seen as a way to advance Philippine interest and strengthen the country’s ties with the great nation which hosts more than 4.5 million Filipinos playing pivotal roles in all aspects of the American society.
Welcome to Manila, Mr. President!