WASHINGTON DC - The town is abuzz with speculations about President Aquino’s inevitable visit to DC.
Pinoys still dizzy from working after a sleepless night watching the live telecast of the inauguration on TFC (The Filipino Channel) ask us, “So when’s he coming?”
All Philippine presidents have made the pilgrimage to the American capital, testament to the still-looming US influence over her former colony.
But for the new president, a visit to the US could also be an emotional one. The family lived in Boston, Massachusetts for almost 3 years.
Isabelo Crisostomo wrote in “Cory: Profile of A President” that “Cory and the Aquino children had pleasant memories of Boston; she had likened her family’s three-year residency in Boston to life in legendary Camelot”.
In March 1980, Noynoy’s father, Ninoy, suffered a heart attack and had to be rushed to the Philippine Heart Center. On May 8, then First Lady (now Congresswoman) Imelda Marcos visited Ninoy in his hospital room to deliver an unexpected offer – to allow him to be treated in the US in exchange for a promise to return when he was fully recovered and for him to refrain from attacking then strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.
So the family packed their bags. Ninoy underwent surgery in Dallas, Texas and later settled in Newton, on the outskirts of Boston, where he accepted fellowship grants from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Noynoy was left behind to finish his studies in economics but rejoined the family after graduating from Ateneo in 1981.
The late President Corazon Aquino, according to Crisostomo again: “All of us were there and it was the first time in a long time that we were all together.”
“The Aquino family had never been as complete as it was then,” Crisostomo quotes Ballsy, Noynoy’s elder sister.
Noynoy’s relatives in the Metro DC area would occasionally visit in Boston. His uncle, Ben Aquino lives in Germantown, Maryland; his aunt Katrina Aquino-Brickman lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
The new president, who described himself as a jack-of-all-trades during that chapter in his life, would often fetch them from the airport.
We asked about their recollections of the new president, but the memory is largely obscured by the overpowering images of his father.
“When we were there, Ninoy was the star. He was the only one who talked,” Ben recalls amusedly.
From most accounts, Noynoy followed the routine of newly arrived immigrants. He was the “tigasin” of the family – as in “tiga-saing”, “tiga-putol ng damo”, “tiga-drive”, etc. You do what you have to do to survive in America.
Far cry from what he’d be expected to do if and when he accepts President Obama’s invitation to re-visit the US.
Statistics show two-way RP-US trade amounted to nearly $5 billion in the first quarter of 2010.
Philippine exports to the US reached nearly $6.8 billion last year, posting a $1 billion surplus, according to US statistics.
There is a proposed bill in the US Congress that would boost the Philippine apparel and US cotton industries, generating thousands of jobs on both sides of the Pacific and bolster the Philippines as a buffer against cheap Chinese garments.
There are ongoing talks to open American markets to a whole range of Philippine products, from chips to poultry to mangoes.
Unlike his predecessor, whose trips here were largely signing and medal-awarding ceremonies that could have been more cheaply done by subalterns, President Aquino is new.
Americans still remember his mother, Asia’s democracy icon, but they don’t know the son.
He needs to introduce himself to Americans on Capitol Hill as well as the millions of Filipinos in the US, who incidentally account for half of the yearly dollar remittances which helped prop the Arroyo administration.
Some say officials from both sides are trying to work out a September visit to DC. The US Chamber of Commerce has already signaled a desire to hear him out. Fil-Am communities from California to New York are jockeying for presidential events.
Sources say P.Noy needs to burnish his international credentials before the APEC Leaders Summit in November.
Because of who he is, and because of how he was swept into power, the P.Noy enigma could pay dividends for the Philippines, just as his mother once captivated Capitol Hill with her tale of democracy restored. He has a job to do in America.
He may be new, but for us who've paid our dues here, we all know what it means to be “tigasin”.