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Variations | George Herbert Walker Bush (1924-2018): A good friend of the islands

IN July 1981, at Malacañang, the presidential palace in Manila, U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush, wearing a barong Tagalog, offered a toast to Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos and his “adherence to democratic principles and the democratic process.”

First elected in 1965 and re-elected in 1969, Marcos could only serve two four-year terms under the 1935 Philippine Constitution. But a year before the end of his second and supposedly final term, he abrogated the constitution, declared martial law, padlocked Congress, shut down the media, jailed the leaders of the opposition and his other vocal critics, ruled by decree, and told the Supreme Court to either hop on board or be thrown under the bus. (One of the unforgettable images of the Marcosian regime: the chief justice holding an umbrella to shield first lady Imelda Marcos from the sun.)

Nine years later, President Marcos ran in an election boycotted by the opposition. His main opponent was someone no one had heard of, and whose campaign, so the story goes, was funded by Marcos himself. Marcos won over 88 percent of the vote. VP Bush was referring to this “democratic process” when he visited Manila in 1981 to attend Marcos’ inauguration.

Eight years later, Bush, now the U.S. president, redeemed himself in the eyes of Filipino small-d democrats when, upon the request of beleaguered Philippine President Cory Aquno, he ordered U.S. F-4 fighters to fly over two Philippine air bases, both controlled by rebel soldiers. The coup leaders “were informed by the Americans that the F-4 fighters were authorized to shoot down rebel planes that took off from the bases.” The most serious coup attempt against Cory’s fledgling democratic government collapsed.

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On Oct. 12-13, 1985, the future U.S. president who was still the VP visited Saipan with his wife Barbara on their way to China. It was a gubernatorial election year in the CNMI, and the campaign rhetoric was, as usual, heated. Assistant Interior Secretary Richard Montoya, who accompanied Bush to Saipan, told Variety that he “expects the political ads to be more outrageous as the election comes closer.”  The highest U.S. official to visit the CNMI, Bush was asked to comment about the gubernatorial race between Republican Governor Teno and his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Carlos Camacho. Bush said: “I’m proud to be a Republican, but I’ll stay out of local politics.” But then he added, “Putting it diplomatically, I have always supported Republicans and will continue to do that.” (Except in the 2016 U.S. presidential election when he voted for the wife of the Democrat who beat him in 1992.)

In a letter to the U.S. vice president published by Variety, Precinct 2 Rep. Ike D.L.G. Demapan thanked Bush for including the CNMI in his busy itinerary. “Your visit here…and the bringing of well-wishes from…President [Reagan]…reassures us that we are indeed a member of the family of the United States…. There was…a tremendous feeling of exhilaration, joy and pride and a true sense of acceptance and belonging when you addressed us, ‘My fellow Americans….’ Forty-one years ago, [you] were one of the many young Americans who so unselfishly and courageously fought in the skies and on the seas, and helped to bring us the freedom and opportunities we now enjoy…. [This] created a very personal bond and kinship between us and you….”

And that says it all.

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