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A US president who has actually tried dog meat

01:44 AM April 28, 2014

I don’t know if President Aquino has ever tried dog meat. But the US leader he is about to welcome to Malacanang has.

President Obama wrote about it in his memoir Dreams from My Father, recalling how his Indonesian stepfather, whom he called Lolo, exposed him to different kinds of food when he was a child living in the Southeast Asian nation:

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“With Lolo, I learned how to eat small green chill peppers raw with dinner (plenty of rice), and, away from the dinner table, I was introduced to dog meat (tough), snake meat (tougher), and roasted grasshopper (crunchy). Like many Indonesians, Lolo followed a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths. He explained that a man took on the powers of whatever he ate: One day soon, he promised, he would bring home a piece of tiger meat for us to share.”

It’s a minor detail in Obama’s biography, though one that his opponents have tried to use against him in the US where dogs are, of course, known to enjoy a certain special status.

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But it also points to what makes Obama’s Manila visit unique. He is not only the first African American president to visit the Philippines, he is also the first visiting U.S. chief executive who has actually experienced life in Southeast Asia and been immersed in the region’s culture.

I actually thought that could be important several years ago.

When he and Aquino came to power a few years ago, I thought we could be entering a potentially exciting chapter in US-Philippine history.

In Manila, we have the son of an opposition leader who fought against and was murdered by a dictatorship that was bankrolled by a series of US administrations.

In Washington, there’s the son of an anthropologist who spent most of her career studying the lives and struggles of poor Indonesians, an African American who was aware of the role of the US the bloody coup that ushered in a dictatorship in that Asian country, who spent his youth protesting apartheid in South Africa and gave up a bright future on Wall Street to work as a community organizer in Chicago’s depressed communities.

In this new chapter I imagined, Aquino, given his personal experience with the way the US consistently sided with Marcos, despite the clear record of brutality and abuse, would take a more independent, even critical, approach to Washington.

And Obama, with his personal knowledge of Southeast Asia and its troubled history in which the US played a troubling role, would in turn aim to build a new friendship by acknowledging the painful relationship between the Philippines and its former colonial master.

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Well, that’s probably more of a fantasy the way things are going.

Obama, who will be remembered for important domestic policy triumphs, led by health care reform, could still surprise us on the foreign policy front, especially when it comes to the Philippines.

But in the wake of an escalated drone war that has killed innocent civilians, the continued use of torture and massive spying, probably not.

On the other hand, while Aquino has received deserved praise for his gutsy stance toward Beijing, he also has demonstrated the same instincts of past Philippine presidents who turned to the US as the indispensable big brother.

Take Aquino’s public remarks two years ago when he called on the US to be more involved in the South China/West Philippine sea dispute, telling a Cambodia audience that included Obama, “While we are all aware that the US does not take sides in disputes, they do have a strategic stake in the freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce, and the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

There’s a huge difference between acknowledging the need to rally allies including the US and neighboring Asian nations to take on a bully — and coming across as a government so eager to have a former colonial master defend it against the neighborhood bully. (For one thing, that simply gives Beijing more ammunition in its own public spin that Manila is nothing more than a US stooge.)

Perhaps Aquino should revisit something that his own father said many years ago.

He was only eight and Obama was only six when Ninoy Aquino wrote in the July 1968 issue of Foreign Affairs: “The Filipinos must purge — now, with finality — the cause of their past shame: US puppetry. What they must seek is partnership with the United States, not wardship.”

For in a dog-eat-dog world of global politics, one shouldn’t expect too much from a former colonial master, even when its current president may be more familiar than previous American leaders with the ways a neighbor.

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TAGS: Barack Obama Southeast Asia, dog meat, Dreams from My Father Noynoy Aquino host, Obama visit to PH, US presidential visit
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