24 July, 2009


What the CIA.s Panetta told President Arroyo

By Ramon J. Farolan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:08:00 07/20/2009

Filed Under: Politics, Foreign affairs & international relations, Elections, Diplomacy

JUST TO refresh our memories. Sometime in October 1985, Sen. Paul Laxalt, one of President Ronald Reagan.s closest advisers, was sent to Manila on a special mission for talks with President Marcos. In the words of Laxalt: .My mission was to communicate President Reagan.s concerns about the future of the Philippines. The President was concerned about the general political instability and whether President Marcos still enjoyed the support of the people ... I delivered to Marcos a handwritten letter from President Reagan..

At these meetings, the idea of calling a snap presidential election was broached to Marcos. A few weeks later, after Laxalt had returned to Washington, Marcos announced the holding of snap elections and set Feb. 7, 1986 as the polling day. On Feb. 24, in the wake of growing unrest and a possible outbreak of violence, Reagan issued a statement calling on Marcos, in effect, to resign. The next day Laxalt received a call from Marcos who was not sure if the statement represented Reagan.s personal views or that of the Washington bureaucracy. (Secretary of State George Schultz and Adm. William Crowe, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wanted Marcos to step down.) Laxalt.s reply was: .You should cut, and cut cleanly. I think the time has come.. After a long silence, Marcos said, .I am so very, very disappointed.. The rest is history.

Fast track to 2009. Last week, the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Leon Panetta, suddenly arrived in Manila for what some news reports called a .social visit.. CIA directors don.t make social visits to any place, and frankly, I can.t recall any CIA director ever visiting the Philippines. If one did, it was probably under wraps with no public announcements made. The travels of a CIA chief are generally kept secret, but Panetta.s visit to Manila was well-covered by the media. However, where he proceeded after Manila is not known.

Panetta is the 19th director of the CIA, which was established in 1947, during the time of President Harry Truman, for intelligence-gathering and coordination. Just for clarification, in 2005 the Office of the Director, National Intelligence (DNI) was created with the chief, currently Adm. Dennis Blair, former commander of the Pacific Command, as head of the 16-member US Intelligence Community. Before 2005, the director of the CIA was the head of this community.

Prior to his appointment as CIA director, Panetta served as chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, and also was head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Earlier, he had been a California congressman dealing primarily with budgetary issues. He is also a co-director along with his wife of the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, a non-profit center that seeks to instill in young men and women the virtues and values of public service.

Panetta.s appointment as CIA chief raised concerns because of his lack of intelligence experience but one report describes him as a .Washington heavyweight with political clout to protect and rebuild the CIA.. In fact, recently he was involved in a high-profile verbal tussle with former Vice President Dick Cheney over past practices of the CIA concerning interrogation methods.

According to press reports, the Malacañang meeting dwelt on national security concerns, with National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales assuring Panetta not to worry about the spate of bombings in Mindanao. (I wonder why Gonzales is not worried about the situation in the South. Does he know something we don.t?)

While circumstances now are not the same as in 1985-1986, it is likely that Mr. Panetta came on a similar mission as Sen. Paul Laxalt.

This is my take on the meeting.

After the amenities and briefings were done with, Panetta and Arroyo retired to another room for private talks.

Panetta: President Obama sends his best wishes. He extends an invitation for you to visit Washington. You will be the first leader from Southeast Asia to be so honored. The date has been set for July 30. The President.s schedule is quite full and we hope that you will be able to adjust, considering the short notice. It will be a .no frills. type of visit.an Oval Office meeting and possibly, coffee with Mrs. Obama. Our economy is in bad shape and we are operating under austerity conditions.

Arroyo: I.ll be there.

Panetta: President Obama has also asked me to convey to you his concerns about the future of the Philippines. (Does that sound familiar?) It is important that elections next year push through as scheduled, and we see no need for the imposition of any kind of emergency rule. We are aware of the sudden and unexplained changes in the AFP leadership (a reference to the sacking of Generals Yano and Luna, AFP chief of staff and vice chief of staff, respectively). We hope that the military remains focused on the insurgency and terror threats and not get involved in politics.

Also, Madam President, any changes in the Constitution can wait until after the elections. In the meantime, it is best to observe term limits.

Arroyo: You leave me few options.

Panetta: As someone once said, we should cut, and cut cleanly.

Just as Panetta is about to leave the room, he turns toward Mrs. Arroyo and says: President Obama is concerned about the delicate health of Mr. Arroyo. Perhaps he should stay home.

* * *

My crystal ball shows that presidential elections will push through in May 2010. How credible they will be is another matter. There will be no emergency rule, and no Charter change under the present administration. Both moves will be opposed by civil society organizations supported by significant elements of the Armed Forces.

* * *

During the incumbency of AFP finance chief Commodore Cornelio dela Cruz Jr., military pensioners have been blessed with several increases in their benefits not always from additional budgetary allotments, but from initiatives of Dela Cruz to generate more funds for retirees by cleaning up pension rolls nationwide.

We congratulate Commodore Dela Cruz and his hardworking staff, including his secretary Mrs. Margarita (Garet) Olarte, a civilian employee of 24 years who has never missed a day of work at the Finance Center. She is the wife of Dean A. Olarte of the Philippine Tourism Authority. Both are full-blooded Ilocanos from Agoo, La Union.


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posted by u2r2h at Friday, July 24, 2009


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