Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Street interviews indicated many Filipinos cared more about the fate of dinner on the morrow or the next week than the words of a black man with names reminiscent of a Muslim dictator and terrorism’s turbaned pied piper. But if some of us didn’t get it, Filipino broadcast stations drew on financial and technological resources and manpower to remind viewers and listeners that, whether we like it or not, our fates are twined with those of the 1.8-million tearful folk that filled Washington D.C.’s historic Mall one bright winter day.

If that didn’t quite convince you, the sight of The Manila Bulletin the morning after Barrack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America, would.

Enough Obama-mania had reached across the ocean to breathe new life into the staid paper, which devoted its entire front page – normally the repository of press releases from favored politicians -- to the man one other paper had tagged “President of the World.”

There are enough examples -- including many humiliating ones -- to remind peoples around the globe that many of the vagaries of life on earth rest on how the US of A turns. Lately, the scale has been overwhelmingly tilted on the side of painful.

The US, under the leadership of its 43rd president, George W. Bush, bludgeoned even its closest allies and blustered its way across the world stage. It wasn’t enough to drag civil liberties back to the dark ages with White House approval of the use of torture and abduction and indefinite detention without access to lawyers or evidence; Bush and Dick Cheney harangued us to cheer while they sacrificed human rights – including that of their compatriots – on the alter of the anti-terror campaign. As they orchestrated the spread of their unique brand of democracy, Bush and Cheney also trashed lessons on transparency and accountability drummed into us by aid agencies their government controlled. There was little bidding on the lucrative Iraq contracts that went to favored Halliburton and even less punitive action following probes into over-pricing, ghost meals and supplies, reckless exposure of workers to danger, even into the tainted water served to the men and women dubbed as heroes of the war on terror.

Perhaps the most tragic offshoot of Bush’s presidency is, that his excesses actually fanned sympathy for madmen who think nothing of blowing thousands of innocent civilians into smithereens. Simply put, the last eight years gave democracy a bad name. Undoing that damage is Obama’s great challenge, other than having to shake a global economy, prostrate on the altar of excess, back to its feet.

Where giants tread, opportunistic dwarfs follow. Academics and militants will tell you that we owe the US our democracy but also the finer of the black arts that often make a travesty of that noble idea. The latter, and the green light given by Bush to despots – as long as they stayed in his camp – encouraged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to twitter and simper and sniff at reports of mounting extra-judicial executions, which were met with more killings and threats against complainants and witnesses.

Malacanang has reacted with bravura to the exit of its great, white brother. The US needs us, Philippine officials point out. Love is still in the air.

Even under Obama the US will put its interests first, true. But Mrs. Arroyo’s administration risks embarrassment with its cavalier dismissal of 44th’s ideals. Just in case the Palace folk were too deep into brandy on the day of Obama’s inaugural, here’s what he said: “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.”

Madame President, FYI. There’s a new kid in town.

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