Almost immediately after the reelection of President Barack Obama, the White House announced that he would visit Myanmar (Burma) as his first foreign policy initiative at the start of a three-stop tour of Southeast Asia that will also cover Thailand and Cambodia. The tour excludes the Philippines, a longtime strategic security ally of the United States.
This exclusion has not gone unnoticed in the Philippines, and many sensitive nationalist feelings are hurt. Filipinos are quick to recall that during Obama’s first Southeast Asian tour early in his first term, his itinerary also bypassed the Philippines.
As if to add insult to injury, White House officials stated that Obama returned the calls of a long list of global leaders, including Israel and Egypt. He also spoke to the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada, India, Turkey, Brazil, Colombia and Nato’s secretary general. President Aquino received no such call. However, he did emphasize that he did not call President Obama and only sent a message by mail.
Mr. Aquino extended his congratulations in the message and said that he “looks forward to deepening the cooperation” between the Philippines and the United States. Aquino also wrote that the American people, in electing Obama, have trusted him to stay the course, move them forward, and to continue harnessing the voices and ideas of the American people.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda stated that Mr. Aquino did not call Obama because he “was probably getting too many phone calls.” Lacierda added, “I think the letter is sufficient.”
Perhaps Mr. Aquino should have made the extra effort. Or perhaps it is Mr. Obama who should make an effort and extend a friendly hand to the longtime ally of the United States. It would certainly ease the minds of Filipinos, who are anxiously waiting for signals on what is in store for them in the reordering of US foreign policy priorities.