Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Hillary Clinton in Manila’

The Hillary Clinton in Manila Live Blog: Wheels are up. (UPDATED)

November 13, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Hillary Clinton in Manila 9 Comments →

American cemetery
The American Cemetery in Taguig (or Makati?) where Secretary Clinton led a wreath-laying ceremony. Shot from a speeding car; this camera has an excellent stabilizer.


She’s left. Two hours ago she came to the US Embassy to swear in new Peace Corps volunteers and have a meet-and-greet with the staff. A little over an hour later the motorcade roared off to the airport and now life in the embassy is returning to its regular pace.

Embassy meet-and-greet
Meet-and-greet at the Embassy

I managed to sit down to lunch for the first time in two days. After checking on my equipment (I was worried about losing the lens cap), I realized I had acquired a small bump on my head from where I’d hit the door of the van. Considering my klutz level and the amount of physical activity in the last 36 hours, that’s minor.

Never did get face time with the guest, much less ask her any of your questions. However at 1137, just before the meet-and-greet with the staff, I went to the bathroom, lost sight of our wrangler, took a wrong turn, and ended up by a door just as Ambassador Kristie Kenney and Secretary Hillary Clinton were walking through. “This is our (embedded) blogger, Jessica,” Ambassador Kenney told the Secretary, who extended her hand and said, “Hello, Jessica.”

My total lack of a sense of direction works again!

I’m going home.

Media pass

The Hillary Rodham Clinton in Manila Live Blog: Day 2 (UPDATED)

November 13, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Hillary Clinton in Manila 6 Comments →

0826. The “townterview” at the University of Santo Tomas starts a few minutes late. Packed auditorium.


0828. Secretary Hillary Clinton exchanges pleasantries with the host, Maria Ressa, and talks on the importance of education.

0832. Ateneo basketball star Chris Tiu asks the first question. The first is about poverty. How can the youth engage in the fight against poverty? In his excitement his voice breaks. Aww, puberty.

My friend at GMA-7 says Chris Tiu has such a huge fan base, they call it Iglesia ni Chris Tiu.

Tiu, Kenney
Chris Tiu and Ambassador Kenney

Sec. Clinton talks about the US providing assistance beginning with flood relief, commends government on relief and reconstruction efforts, but says people themselves have to organize to help themselves. Question for youth: What can you do to help? She suggests mentoring a poor child.

Chris’s follow-up: Favorite basketball team? Prediction on the Pacquiao-Cotto fight? She says being from Chicago she followed the Bulls, especially during the Michael Jordan era. As NY Senator she’s rooted for the Knicks, which is discouraging, but they’re now trying to get LeBron James. “Of course Pac-Man will win.” Big cheer.

Reret sent a link to the NYT article on Manny Pacquiao’s dysfunctional entourage.

Question from Marikina by video: Concerns over RP’s human rights record. Sec. Clinton says “It’s not perfect here (the Philippines) as it’s not perfect anywhere.” She is “encouraged by progress in the peace efforts.” She pronounces M-I-L-F, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, “Milf”. (They really need a name change in order to be taken more seriously in the international media.) Obviously a slip because in the next sentence she pronounces it M-I-L-F.

The audience is quiet and respectful. I wonder what it might’ve been like if this forum had been held at the University of the Philippines? Would it be interrupted by:

a. Streakers
b. Activists who recite a 10-paragraph speech very rapidly, in deep Tagalog, without drawing breath.
c. Nothing at all. (That would be sad.)

0841. Live feed from Mindanao, where Ces Drilon notes that Pinoys are more approving of the American presence in the Philippines. Question on the direction of RP-US relations. (That’s fairly obvious: Filipinos are taking over America. But that’s just me.)

Re family time, Sec. Clinton says it’s all about scheduling. Her husband is going to the Middle East right now. When they have time together she says they take long walks and catch up on their sleep.

0846. Ricky Carandang: Will Chelsea go into politics? Her mom says probably not.

0847. Dumaguete: Will the Obama government’s efforts to reverse the recession affect her attitude on free trade? Sec. Clinton says they are slowly moving back to economic stability but they would like to see workers benefit more from free trade. The environment has to be taken account in trade agreements. “We want free trade to discourage climate change.”

0850. Ricky Carandang: Can we expect something significant to be announced in Burma re loosening restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi? Sec. Clinton: Probably not.

I’m sitting in the first row: good. In the farthest corner nearest the exit: not good. Mo Twister is seated right behind me, I think he’s bagged an interview. I’m lucky to get a seat at all, since I idiotically forgot my Macbook in the van (duh) and had to dash back to retrieve it. It’s lack of sleep and unaccustomed exposure to early morning sunlight.

Sec. Clinton pays tribute to people who fight for human rights and democracy, like Suu Kyi and Solidarity in Poland.

Maria Ressa: But this is a different world from when you were First Lady. Good point.

Sec. Clinton notes that in Afghanistan, there is overwhelming evidence that people do not want the Taliban. The US is “not interested in Afghanistan”. . .wants the country to be able to defend itself.

Pinky Webb; When will the US have its first female president?

Sec. Clinton: I’m the last person to ask. . .I’ve certainly tried.


Sec. Clinton: The Philippines has had two women presidents, so I should ask you. What’s the secret?

Yes, what is the secret? Interesting to note that our women presidents took power by kicking out corrupt male presidents.

0900. A UST student named Jackie Chan asks what major changes we can expect in US foreign policy under Obama. Sec. Clinton notes Obama government’s willingness to reach out to people with whom they do not agree. We may add: something not known to happen in the previous administration.

“We want to see governments held more accountable to their own people,” she says.

Ricky Carandang: Can the US do more to nudge friendly but corrupt governments to be more accountable? I wonder what friendly but corrupt government he’s referring to.

She knows we are one of the most texty countries in the world.

Question posted online: Do you have a crush besides Bill Clinton?

The answer: Yes, but I don’t think I should go further.

She admits having had a crush on the singer Fabian and being president of the Fabian Fan Club. It had three members. Then she was a huge Beatles fan and later got to meet Paul McCartney. Her 90-year-old mother has a mad crush on Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

She adds that having a crush on a basketball player will hurt your neck.

0908. Back to Mindanao. Ces Drilon asks about the peace process. Sec. Clinton says the peace process is something they support but are not involved in.

Maria Ressa asks if a political solution is necessary, or if a socio-economic approach can work. Sec. Clinton says they have to go hand-in-hand. You can’t have a peace agreement if one group of people has more rights than another group in the country.

0914. The forum has been extended for a few minutes. In Dumaguete Tony Velasquez offers her an I Heart Dumaguete pin on behalf of Silliman students.

Maria Ressa says many believe this government has neither the will nor the popularity to make a Mindanao peace treaty possible. Sec. Clinton says she believes President Arroyo is committed to peace.

How we’re doing, democracy-wise: “As hard as it is, it is by far the best system human beings have ever devised.” She praises the move to automated elections.

Online question: The US does not walk the talk on climate change. The US is perceived as protecting big business at the expense of the environment.

Sec. Clinton notes that the Obama administration is more aggressive in addressing climate change and is committed to reaching a good framework agreement for climate change.

Pinky Webb wants to know, as many of us do, if President Arroyo has promised to step down in 2010. Sec. Clinton says they had a comprehensive discussion, but Arroyo’s political plans did not come up.

Online question: When will the US change its immigration policy? Something manymany Pinoys want to know.

Sec. Clinton: They’re working on comprehensive immigration reform.

Maria Ressa: Are there any decisions you and your husband made during his presidency that you would change?

Sec. Clinton: Lots. Hindsight is 20-20 vision. I wish we’d been more successful in reforming heath care.

Same issue that recently plagued the Obama administration.

Pinky Webb: A message to the Filipino people?

Sec. Clinton: Our friendship is one I highly value. She notes contributions of Filipino-Americans to American society.

For perspective, I asked the traveling press (AP-AFP-Reuters) if Hillary Clinton was asked any questions at this forum that have not been asked of her over and over again for the last 2,000 years. They said that with the exception of the Philippine-specific questions, No. The Fabian, Mick Jagger, Michael Jordan, what she and Bill do in their spare time, whether Chelsea will go into politics questions have been brought up in the last seven or eight Town Hall Meetings she’s done, and some of the bits are in her autobiography.

All my incredibly fast, fairly accurate typing and I get two questions from readers. extradirtymind, sure, please post your questions and contact info in Comments and I’ll get back to you. bluepop, I am wearing black Stan Smith Adidas sneakers, austere enough to convince people that I am wearing “proper” shoes.

The Hillary Clinton in Manila Live Blog: She’s landed. (Updated)

November 12, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Hillary Clinton in Manila 18 Comments →

1230. Flurry of activity. The convoy moves to the landing strip.

1307. A plane with United States of America on it approaches and lands. Doors open, disgorging many youngish people in black suits.

1315. The Hillary has landed.

Post pictures in a bit, when van stops jumping.

The traditional media hasn’t seen her yet, so there. I am introduced to the foreign press as the “embedded” blogger. I like that. In answer to turmukoy’s question, No this is most emphatically not a paying gig. I was invited by the State Department. They first tried the live blog when Secretary Clinton visited Mexico, and it turned out so well they decided to do it again.

Hillary arrives

1433. In Malacanang Palace, waiting for the press conference.

Nick from Sec. Clinton's team
Nick Merrill from Secretary Clinton’s team was the traveling press wrangler. This is one of the rare moments he is not on his Blackberry.

First time I set foot in the palace. Chandeliers! Chandeliers!


Not just chandeliers from the ceiling, but chandeliers from the floor.


Among the media are Earnest Zabala and Erwin Romulo whom I did not recognize as he was dressed as an adult. Earnest wants to ask a question about the Reproductive Health Bill. We wonder if it can be squeezed in.

Erwin and Earnest

1546. I love her. I wish I were a Marine so I could properly salute her. More details later: immediately after her press conference we had to dash into the van and now we’re zooming from Malacanang to Marikina. I did not know it was possible to zoom from Malacanang to Marikina in the middle of the afternoon but it is and it’s fun, like a theme park ride in a blender. 25 minutes!

Earnest didn’t get to ask her question about reproductive rights, but Howie Severino did. Basically Secretary Clinton said it was not the US government’s place to preempt or go around people’s beliefs, but family planning is essential to development. A woman’s right to determine the size of her family affects the sort of educational and economic opportunities the children will have. She put this in very strong terms.

Hillary at the Palace

She also talked about government corruption in Afghanistan and the need for free, transparent elections in Burma. I overinterpreted them and imagined she was also referring to the Philippines.

More when the van stops being a mini-cyclotron. Dorski, yes, there are cute security guys but they do not want their pictures taken and you have to listen to the muscles.

Marikina protester
Protesters in Marikina are hustled away as the Clinton motorcade arrives.

Hillary Clinton: Rockstar

1638. Hillary Clinton: Rockstar. 2,000 cheering high school kids from the Malanday High School in Marikina welcomed the Secretary. She presented book donations from USAID, opened their book fair, and announced US$5M more in flood relief assistance. Of course Pinoys are always effusive particularly when the guest is so popular, but I got the impression the students were genuinely thrilled to see her. She gave a short talk, reminded the kids to study hard, and made one female student the celebrity of the day by asking her how to pronounce “Mabuhay.”

Hillary addresses Malanday HS kids

Going to Sofitel. Should post photos shortly. My eyes hurt from this jolting.

2119. Leaving Malacanang in a while. Had dinner in the clubhouse on the golf course while Sec. Clinton dined with President Arroyo and her guests–cabinet members, military, some columnists and businessmen. I checked out the place cards–Don Emilio Yap and Manny Pangilinan were invited.

President Arroyo just before conferring the Order of Sikatuna on Secretary Clinton.

I’m wiped out and going home. Shutting down my computer, apologies for any typos and errors that crept in while we were bouncing down the highway. Back tomorrow at the crack of dawn (aaargh).

Malacanang at night
Malacanang Palace at night

The Hillary Clinton in Manila Live Blog: And we’re off!

November 12, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Hillary Clinton in Manila 1 Comment →

0930. You know things are getting serious when the number of big black Chevy vans in the driveway triples. Lots of beefy security men in dark suits who will become more and more invisible in the course of the day. I’m in van number 12 with John the embassy press rep and Harold the official photographer, who expects to get a good cardio workout today. He should wear skates.

0939. “Better buckle up,” says John, and voom! We’re off. Van 12 zooms off after the lead vans, and you’d better have your seatbelt on.

So this is why people want to be President: The Convoy! People staring from the roadside, trying to figure out who’s in the car. We hurtle through traffic. I am totally into this. I feel that Clint Eastwood should be running alongside the car. Well maybe not Clint now, but Clint 40 (50?) years ago.

Harold is by far the most fair-skinned news photographer I’ve ever worked with. True, I know some pale press photographers, but that’s because they’re alcoho. . .

0951. We’ve stopped. One of the vans has overheated.

1010. Airport. A couple of hours to kill before The Arrival.

In the van

1107. A very nice guard in the hangar allowed me to use their power outlet and a chair so I can go on blogging about. . .waiting. The Secretary’s plane was due to arrive at 1250, but there will be a 30-minute delay. Meaning more pointless blathering from this end. Upon her arrival we motor to Malacanang where she will meet with Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo.

Clinton is accompanied by members of the traveling press from AP, AFP, Reuters, Voice of America.

The Hillary Rodham Clinton in Manila Live Blog: The Pre-Show (UPDATED CONSTANTLY)

November 12, 2009 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Hillary Clinton in Manila 8 Comments →

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is arriving in Manila this morning. Before joining President Barack Obama’s Cabinet Clinton was the first female Senator to represent New York, before that she was First Lady of the United States, and before that she was a successful lawyer. (I’m recounting this for small children and extraterrestrials.) Of all the American First Ladies, Clinton was probably the most involved in public policy. In 2007 she sought the Democratic Party nomination and came closer than any woman in history to becoming the President of the United States.

The avowed purpose of Secretary Clinton’s visit to Manila is to show solidarity with the Filipino people in the wake of natural calamities. According to Malacanang she will meet with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to discuss the conduct of the 2010 elections. Of course the spin on the meeting depends on who’s describing it. Arroyo’s allies call it a show of support for the president who, as we are frequently told, was former US President Bill Clinton’s classmate at Georgetown. Arroyo’s opponents view it as a strong…reminder that the coming presidential elections must proceed without a hitch.

The US Embassy in Manila is organizing the Hillary Clinton official visit—”developing the schedule” is the official phrase—including coordinating with local and foreign media for the news coverage. Media coverage of a visiting dignitary as popular as Secretary Clinton entails the most complex choreography; the jostling began long before her plane lands. (I’d like to see how the State Department will deal with the many persistent requests for photo-ops with the Secretary.)

I will be blogging the entire visit. This means I have a seat in one of the 20 or so vehicles in the Clinton motorcade, and will be present at all of the Secretary’s appointments. Whether I can get close enough to ask her a question is another matter. The print and broadcast media will handle the hard news coverage; I have the much more relaxed task of providing commentary, observing details that might not be apparent to readers and viewers of the traditional media, and generally describing what it’s like to be in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s airspace for two days.

In short I am less likely to get an elbow in the face from the media and security gathered round the distinguished guest. My worries are logistical: getting back to the van immediately after each stop (The embassy briefing made clear that the vans will not wait for the slow), being able to connect to the Internet on the go, and not running out of battery power before I can get to the next outlet.

Space in the van is limited so I’m bringing as little as possible: Macbook, camera with telephoto lens, nomadic broadband sticks (Please work). I hope to post a report every hour. I gather many of the stops on the traveling show will not have office facilities (i.e. tables and chairs) so I’ll probably be taking notes during Secretary Clinton’s appearances, running back to the van, and blogging in transit. During the town hall meeting at UST I can blog live and in relative comfort (They have desks). The rest is up in the air; good thing I like uncertainty. I won’t know today’s schedule until I get to the US Embassy at 8 am.

My coverage begins when Secretary Clinton’s plane lands. In the meantime if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about The Visit, post a question and I’ll find someone to answer it.

Live Sashimi
Here’s something really live: Sashimi so fresh it’s jumping. Tokyo, November 2009. Photo by Uro de la Cruz.

* * * * *

0759. I’m in the library of the US Embassy, trying not to get in people’s way. The official mood: Hurry up and wait. We’re waiting for all the vehicles in the motorcade to arrive.

Traffic on Edsa and Roxas Boulevard was manageable but building up. There was already a crush at the MRT station. Joggers and bikers along the Bay, which was not so picturesque this morning: a band of gray haze just above the water. A truck of policemen in front of the embassy, but the atmosphere is relaxed. Later Roxas Boulevard will be closed to traffic.

Thanks, Dr. Feelgood, for the proper question—makes me feel like a journalist. US troop movements in Afghanistan will no doubt be brought up in the course of the coverage. The pancit and kalamansi issue: totally within my expertise. I’ll find out. Secretary Clinton isn’t staying at the Manila Hotel on this trip; I gather she’s billeted at the Sofitel (Philippine Plaza). She will be spared the sight of Manila Hotel’s. . .redecoration. Haven’t been there in years, do they still have the golden spittoons from the late 90s?

Let me ask readers: What are your thoughts on Hillary Rodham Clinton? She’s one of the most admired and vilified public figures of our time—a woman who has taken just about everything her opponents can throw at her, and is still standing proudly.

I put the question to some friends, and here’s a sampling of the answers. Eres calls her “the most influential woman in America”, to which Noel replies, “Like most successful women, she’s a man.” Ria says, “She was able to gracefully transition into her new role, which I don’t think our lady President is capable of doing.” Raul: “She’s the bright girl who got the hot guy, and she looks better as she gets older.”