Aquino visit to US: bad timing
As with Richard Nixon's trip to China, Anwar Sadat's to Israel, and Neil Armstrong's to the moon, television stations in Manila interrupted programming yesterday to show the departure of President Corazon Aquino for the United States. The camera even tried to capture Mrs. Aquino's goodbye wave in the small window of a Philippine Airlines jet. It was yet another example of what high hopes Filipinos place on their new leader's visit to the US, which ruled the Philippines for half a century.Skip to next paragraph
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But despite the expectations and potential benefits, Aquino's visit could not be more ill-timed in at least three ways:
As head of a provisional government, Aquino arrives without a new constitution in hand. Both she and US officials had hoped she would have one.
She holds talks with her nation's private creditors without the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) planned by her economic ministers.
Her negotiations back home with communist leaders have all but collapsed, leaving Aquino with a tough decision -- delayed by her eight days in the US -- on whether to unleash the military against the guerrillas.
Of the three issues, the likelihood of renewed warfare with the 16,000 guerrillas of the communist New People's Army (NPA) is the most difficult for Aquino. She is widely applauded abroad for coming to power last February in a relatively peaceful revolt and with promises of national reconciliation.
All three disappointments, however, are not likely to overshadow the American red-carpet welcome for Aquino. Besides speaking before Congress Thursday and the United Nations next Monday, she will be given two honorary degrees.
The delay in producing a new constitution -- caused when the Aquino-appointed Constitutional Commission missed its Sept. 2 deadline -- presents two problems for the President.
First, the constitution-writers, although generally conservative, began debate this week on the future of the US military bases here, and the debate's outcome is far from predictable -- a cloud hanging over Aquino's talks with the Reagan administration.
The Constitution Commission is giving serious thought to making the Philippines a nuclear-free nation like New Zealand. This would effectively bar ships or planes carrying nuclear weapons and would thus render almost useless the US's largest naval and air force bases outside its own territory. Such a move would also jeopardize US military strategy in the Pacific. Western diplomats say the US is working actively to prevent such a clause in the Philippines' new constitution.
The second problem the delayed constitution causes is that, without knowing exactly what kind of government is being set up, potential foreign investors may be reluctant to make any promises to Aquino during her discussions with them in various US cities.
US officials are confident the IMF will soon ink a pact with the Philippines to help it cope with its $26 billion foreign debt. But international bankers may remain wary that last-minute hitches in the bargaining could prevent an agreement.
Western diplomats are less sure that Aquino will achieve a cease-fire pact with the NPA, the military arm of the Communist Party. She has demanded an immediate 30-day cease-fire. But the communists first want: the Philippine armed forces ordered to stay in their barracks; the dismantling of the Civilian Home Defense Forces (paramilitary village units); police put under control of local authorities; and the disarming of private armies. All of these demands are politically or practically impossible for Aquino.