Touristic President

Touristic President

Just before he left Japan for the flight back to Manila, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III met with Nikkei president Ryoko Sugita. Sugita invited P-Noy to be a speaker at the Future of Asia forum in Japan in May 2012. P-Noy told Sugita that he would “seriously consider” the invitation and hope that the “state of affairs” then would permit him to accept the invitation. On a scale of 1 to 10, the probability of P-Noy accepting the invitation would be 9.9. Why? Based on his past travels, I haven’t heard of P-Noy declining an invitation to visit another country.

Interestingly, P-Noy told Sugita that he is likely to visit the Middle East and Europe next year to meet with Filipino migrant communities. Now, that could cover as many as six or seven countries… or even more, considering that there is a Filipino migrant community in all Middle Eastern and European countries.

P-Noy’s international trips
P-Noy’s travel binge started within three months after he assumed the presidency on June 30, 2010. On September 20-26, 2010, P-Noy traveled to the United States, which included stops in New York City and three cities in California. In New York he addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly. He had a sideline chat with U.S. President Barack Obama for a few minutes at the United Nations. At the General Assembly, he also met Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet who invited him to visit Vietnam.

The following month, October 26-30, he traveled to Vietnam. While in Vietnam, P-Noy participated at the 17th ASEAN Summit. And on the sidelines, P-Noy had several “bilateral meetings” with leaders from Japan, Myanmar, South Korea, and Thailand who invited him to visit their country.

Two weeks later, November 12-14, P-Noy was in Yokohama, Japan to attend the 18th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting. His trip to Japan was productive. He was able to secure Japan’s approval of a P21.4-billion Official Development Assistance (ODA) for major infrastructure projects in the Philippines.

In March 2011, P-Noy took off again. This time, his destination was Indonesia and Singapore. On March 7-9, 2011, P-Noy was accorded “ceremonial honors” reserved for Heads of State, which included a state banquet at the State Palace.

From Indonesia, P-Noy went to Singapore on March 9-11. He called on Singaporean President S.R. Nathan and met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (Lee Kuan Yew’s son) to discuss bilateral and regional issues.

On May 7-8, he was back in Indonesia, this time to attend the 18th ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting, which consists of 10 member countries.

Later that month, on May 26-27, P-Noy went to Thailand on an “official visit” – a notch below “state visit” – to meet with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. He was also accorded with “ceremonial honors” at the Government House. P-Noy was conferred a doctorate degree honoris causa in Economics by the Kasetsart University.

On June 1-2, P-Noy went on a “state visit” to Brunei Darussalam where His Royal Highness The Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah at the airport received him royally. P-Noy was accorded “welcoming honors” at Istana Nurul Iman where he was introduced to the Royal Family followed by a short audience with His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah.

On August 4-5, P-Noy went secretly to Yokohama, Japan to meet with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim to discuss peace in Mindanao. The secret meeting was widely criticized by the Philippine media and various politicians and officials.

Last month, September 2011, was by far, the “tsunami” of his travel binge – crisscrossing the world to visit the world’s top three economic powers. First was a “state visit” to China on August 30-September 3. He brought with him more than 270 business people. The trip was touted to bring home a five-year $50-billion development package. However, it fell short of his expectation. He was able to attract a commitment of only $1.2-billion from state-owned Chinese companies.

The highlight of his trip was a sentimental trip to Hongjian village in Xiamen City in Fujian province. This is the village where his ancestors came from. In keeping with Chinese traditions, P-Noy offered incense at the ancestral temple to honor his ancestors.

Two weeks later, on September 18-21, P-Noy flew to New York for a “working visit” where he participated in the launching of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) upon the invitation of Obama who co-chaired the event. The purpose of the “partnership” is aimed to “secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.” However, upon his return to Manila, P-Noy held his opposition against the passage of the Freedom of Information bill, one of the key goals of OGP in promoting transparency in government. The highlight of his trip was the conferment of Doctor of Laws honoris causa by Fordham University in New York.

His last trip this year was to Tokyo, Japan on September 25-28. It was his second “official visit.” His primary purpose was to attract investors and also to secure a $1.1-billion development loan. During his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, P-Noy made a pledge of $1 million donation to the earthquake and tsunami victims last April this year.

11 trips a year
With three visits to Japan; two each to Indonesia and the United States; and one each to China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and Brunei that makes P-Noy the most traveled president of the Philippines. Except for his last visit to Japan, P-Noy traveled 11 times within a period of one year.

As for the future, P-Noy is scheduled to attend the following events: October 21-23, 2011 — Bali, Indonesia for the ASEAN Summit; November 12-13, 2011 — Honolulu, Hawaii for the APEC U.S. Summit; 2012 — Seoul, South Korea for the Nuclear Security Summit; 2012 — Vladivostok, Russia for the APEC Russia Summit; and November 5-6, 2012 — Vientiane, Laos for the 10th Asia Europe Meeting. These are in addition to his planned Middle Eastern and European trips that he told Sugita when he was in Japan last September.

If he continues to travel at this rate, he would have traveled 66 times during his six-year presidency or an average of 11 trips a year. By comparison, former Gloria Macapagal Arroyo traveled 72 times during the nine and a half years of her presidency or an average of eight trips a year.

By far, that would make P-Noy the most traveled President in Philippine history. And looking at the leisurely side trips he made while conducting his official business, he must have had a grand time touring places. A touristic President, indeed.