Aquino visit to US ‘Bin Laden ship’: A breach of protocol?
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Aquino visit to US ‘Bin Laden ship’: A breach of protocol?

There was much fuss when President Benigno Aquino III made an unannounced visit to a US carrier ship from where elite US Navy Seals launched their operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

What the Philippine media perhaps failed to report is that diplomatic protocols may have been breached in the incident.

According to the website www.kuwaitsamachar.com, the USS Carl Vinson was still in international waters when Aquino boarded the vessel.  US embassy spokesman in Manila Rebecca Thompson said Aquino, US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr and several members of the Aquino cabinet were flown “on a US military aircraft to the carrier.”

GMA News merely reported that the visit occurred on the western coast off Luzon but did not say if the US carrier was in Philippine waters.

Presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang, who tweeted several media reporters about the surprise visit, was also reportedly on board the plane that took Aquino to the ship late last week.

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Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, third from left, surveys from the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. Pic: AP.

A statement from US embassy said the nuclear-powered ship and three other ships of the carrier group “will be embarking on four-day routine port call” but will anchor out in the sea and far from Manila Bay.

Coming at the heels of reports that the Aquino government is conducting a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the president’s visit to the ‘bin Laden’ ship may not only be ill-advised but may also be sending wrong signals to Filipino nationalists.

When the Philippine Senate terminated the RP-US Military Bases Agreement with a historic vote in 1991, many hope it will finally put an end to US intervention in Philippine domestic affairs.

But with Japan recently struck with a devastating earthquake and ongoing upheaval in the Middle East, the US is reportedly keen on making its presence again felt in the region.

From the moment the Clark Air Base and the Subic Naval Base were closed to the US military forces, the US have been looking for facilities in the region that will allow them permanent basing and access to strategic shipping lanes and airspace for their military might.

Even though the US bases were already closed, US ships and military aircraft continue to access the Philippine waters and airspace through the VFA which was signed by former President Joseph Estrada.

US military troops have also made semi-permanent postings in Mindanao doing military exercises and conducting civic-military operations.

By allowing hismelf to be flown by a foreign military aircraft into international waters, Aquino almost allowed himself to be taken hostage by a foreign power.

The last time a US military aircraft flew a Philippine president, it ended up in Hawaii.

As one rising local government official said, the president could have set the terms of his visit by waiting for the ship to be anchored inside his territory and using his own presidential aircraft to ferry him into the vessel.

There is more to the ban of nuclear powered ships in Philippine waters.

The president should have not boarded USS Carl Vinson under those conditions.