Young Filipinos opposed to the US war on Iraq

High Gear and Costly

Govt prepares VIP treatment to greet visiting Bush

The Macapagal-Arroyo administration is on a high gear in the last stretch of preparations for the Oct. 18 state visit of U.S. President George W. Bush. But the preparations, which include surveillance of militant groups and threats to use rubber bullets against anti-Bush demonstrators, are turning out to be costly prompting legislative critics to urge that the money should be used instead where it is most needed.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO

Bulatlat.com

High-gear. This was how Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, in a statement last Oct. 1, described the government preparations for the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush to the Philippines on Oct. 18.

With the way things are going, Secretary Oples words could not have been more accurate.

The Philippine government has stressed the importance of order during Bushs coming visit. As Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon said in a press conference early September, We have to show that we are united. This line has been echoed by top police officials in several media interviews.

Security preparations

Militants are worried however that this emphasis on a show of unity on Oct. 18 would mean a suppression of anti-Bush protests in order to put up a facade of support for the U.S. presidents visit.

Indeed, there have been threats that the Philippine National Police (PNP) would be using rubber bullets in dispersing anti-Bush protesters. When asked for clarification, PNP leaders said the rubber bullets would not be used right away, a statement which militants read as a virtual admission that there would indeed be attempts to disperse anti-Bush rallies with rubber bullets.

As early as the second week of September, U.S. Secret Service agents had arrived in the Philippines to conduct security inspections of the Congress building, where Bush is expected to deliver an address as well as of buildings near Malacaang Palace. They left a list of security requirements: a holding room for the U.S. president, a communications room and a joint check on people attending the event.

There were also reports of plans to frisk everyone who would be entering the Congress building when Bush delivers his speech including congressmen. Representatives of the party-list Bayan Muna have issued statements that such would be an affront to Philippine sovereignty.

The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) has also announced that it will put Metro Manila on heightened alert a day before the Bush visit. NCRPO spokesperson Arturo Binaga said the NCRPO is also intensifying intelligence gathering against possible terrorist attacks.

However, Bayan Muna Rep. Crispin Beltran revealed last Sept. 18 that even legal progressive organizations are under surveillance. Even now the U.S. Secret Service, the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) and other military/national security agencies of the US are gearing heightened surveillance operations against militant peoples organizations in the country, he said, and they’re doing this in close coordination with local military, police and national security institutions. There is no telling what their operations will yield. There’s no doubt, that the target of such operations are civilians.

The signs of this heightened alert are being felt this early. A regular passenger of the Metro Rail Transit and the Light Rail Transit will easily notice that the number of policemen and bomb-sniffing dogs deployed to their terminals is increasing as the days pass. Also, security inspections are taking longer than usual.

There is a similar scenario in major public establishments, such as malls.

There is increased police visibility in the streetsnot only along major thoroughfares but even in the barangays.

Cosmetic

While security is obviously the governments main concern in the preparations for the Bush visit, there is also a cosmetic dimension to these.

Bayan Muna Rep. Liza Maza revealed last Oct. 1: Already, the House of Representatives is spending at least Php3 million for the renovation of the north lounge.

A regular commuter would readily notice that the streets of Metro Manila are right now relatively cleaner than usual. There are precious few signs of the garbage that usually dot the streets of the National Capital Region, particularly those of Manila proper and a large part of Quezon City. Metro Manila aides are being made to sweep the streets more frequently than before.

Along Metro Manilas major thoroughfares, particularly Edsa, Ayala Avenue, and Taft Avenue, there are more and more traffic aides. The past three weeks in particular have been showcases of traffic rerouting schemes which are seen by observers as intending to provide a facade of orderliness on the main streets and impress the U.S. president.

Also, shanties located near the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City, where Bush is set to deliver his speech before a joint congressional session, are noticeably missing. In the past two weeks there were street renovations in the vicinity of the area.

There are also reports that the government has even provided free paint to residents of homes near the Batasang Pambansa complex.

Criticized

The elaborate preparations for the Bush visit have been criticized by the party-list Bayan Muna.

In a statement last Sept. 30, Beltran said the preparations being undertaken by the government are paranoid. Clearly, the U.S. president has many things to fear – as the leader of the most powerful nation, he has wielded his authority with ruthlessness and cold apathy against the poor and working people not only in the United States but all over the world, he said. Bush’ visit should not be viewed as a complement or a boon to the Filipino people but an insult. He comes here with the intent of masking his superpower arrogance with a faade of diplomacy and once more impose his administration’s will on the Philippines and its puppet government.

Maza said in her Oct. 1 statement that the money being spent on preparations for the Bush visit should have been used instead to augment the budget for education and health. She reiterated this in a rally staged by health workers at the Quezon Memorial Circle last Oct. 9 to protest the effects of globalization on the countrys health system.

In the 2004 budget, allocation for education amounts to Php133.9 billion (U.S.$ 2.43 million), while health receives only Php12.9 billion (U.S.$234.5 million).

Maza also said that the public has a right to know how much of their money is being spent on preparations for the Bush visit. We have the right to at least know how much of the people’s money is going straight to the U.S. garbage bin, she said. Bulatlat.com