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One Final Opportunity for Aquino to Do His Job as President

merican President Barack Obama is meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and other Southeast Asian heads of state at the Sunnylands Estate in Rancho Mirage, California. Once the home of philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg, the impeccably maintained estate was also where Obama hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit in 2013.

Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California

Hoping to have better success this time around than he had with Xi, Obama is playing catch-up his last year in office to make up for the considerable failures of his administration with regards to the South China Sea. For instance during the 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China in Scarborough Shoal, the United States kept pathetically silent after China bamboozled the Philippines (as well as the U.S.) into thinking it was moving its vessels out of the area due to an approaching storm. Only after the storm passed did both countries realize that the Chinese had stayed and cordoned off the shoal to prevent Filipinos from ever using it again. What was Obama's reaction: Silence.

Since 2013 China has been building artificial islands in the Spratlys, constructing barracks, and building airfields in obvious violation of international laws as well as treaties it signed with its other Asian neighbors. And again what did Obama do? Nothing!

It is only this year, after Xi figuratively "kicked sand in his face" during his state visit to Washington last year did Obama reluctantly send the USS Lassen to the Spratlys to conduct a freedom of navigation patrol. But as the saying goes "better late than never."

It is now up to Aquino to bring the South China Sea issue to the forefront of Obama's Asian agenda. He must remind Obama of his past shortcomings and insist that the Philippines get increased military aid as well as an ironclad U.S. commitment to stand by its longtime ally.

Aquino must wake up to the fact that he was not elected because of his sterling qualities as a statesman or his ability to bring other leaders to his side—he has neither of those. He was elected simply because a sentimental Filipino electorate had a soft spot in their heart for his mother Cory Aquino (who also happened to be a most unqualified president).

Presidents Obama and Aquino in Malacañang during the Apec Summit of 2015

Notwithstanding, Aquino must rise to the challenge and lead the charge to halt China's aggression in the region. He must move to the forefront on this issue and not hide behind his allies waiting for the U.S., Japan, Vietnam, or others to lead. The Philippines after all has the most to lose because the Spratlys are so close geographically. Many of its shoals, reefs, and banks lie within the Philippine's 200 mile exclusive economic zone as defined by international law.

So Mr. President, a little less smiling, and a more serious demeanor is in order. Then, begin doing the job you were elected to do. Published 2/8/2016

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