There is a song, one of Disneyland’s favourite themes, that comes to mind now that we read that Thaksin Shinawatra’s visa to the United Kingdom has been cancelled.
"It’s a small world after all."
Thaksin was tried and convicted on corruption charges shortly after he returned to his native Thailand last February. Before that, the hapless though popular leader was ousted from power while he was in New York to address the United Nations in its annual junket for heads of state. From New York, Thaksin hastily flew to London, where the imminence of his fall, occasioned by King Bhumibol’s acceptance of the new rulers, dawned upon the popular leader.
Quietly however, he plotted his return, and things began to move positively when the countryside votes in the Thai Parliament brought his party in control of Parliament and thus made his ally, Samak Sundarajev, prime minister. When Samak seemed firmly in control, Thaksin came back to the waiting arms of his party leaders. But the wheels of justice caught up with him in August when the courts found him and his wife Potjaman guilty of corruption. It was a case of self-dealing, where Thaksin helped his wife buy precious government-owned real estate. (This is similar to a power couple who dream of becoming the country’s president and first lady. In their case though, the husband provides funds in the budget for government to be able to buy lands owned by the family corporation for road rights-of-way.)
Before they could arrest Potjaman and Thaksin, he flew the coop, to London once more. Now, the United Kingdom has cancelled his British visa, while he and his wife were visiting China. Thus, Thaksin finds himself in a dilemma. He could return to his native Thailand, of course, but he and his wife will have to be whisked into jail, regardless of the fact that the man who replaced Samak is — will wonders never cease — Potjaman’s brother, Somchai Wongsawat. Thailand, it seems is different. There the rule of law reigns. Here in these benighted parts, the rule of money and powerful relations is what matters.
The powerful Thai couple could also stay in China, but only for some time. China is unlikely to give political refugee status to them. It is a precedent that Beijing does not know how to handle, and the Chinese people care not to have such a problem. Neither could they land in Heathrow again; -Britain already warned foreign airlines about bringing him back anywhere in the foggy isles. The European Union would likely not grant him a Schengen visa either. Thaksin’s dilemma could only be solved by another country willing to take him in.
Which realistically should mean an African country of the likes of Somalia, Chad, Niger, Burkina Fasso, or Cote d’Ivoire. But Thaksin, a rich man to begin with, is not likely to relish these environments. Or perhaps Uruguay, maybe some Caribbean island here and there. But the language they speak is too alien for a Thai like Thaksin, and where could he get lemon grass and coriander for Potjaman’s tom yum goong?
Maybe the Philippines. Same climate, similar-looking people, the most liberal country in Southeast Asia, with night life similar to Bangkok and Pattaya, and islands basking in as much sun as Phuket, and mountains as bracing and wind-swept as his beloved Chiang Mai. And as English-speaking as the Pakistani cab-driver in London. Not to forget, Buddhist temples as well.
Yesterday afternoon, his brother-in-law arrived for a visit, billed as a getting-to-know-you with the country’s de facto president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who had to rush to the airport later in the evening to depart for Chicago in hopes of brushing her presence with the new "emperor of the world-in waiting," Barack Obama.
Speculation is rife that Somchak discussed the possibility of her government playing host to Thaksin’s temporary exile to these benighted islands. A DFA spokesman earlier said, perhaps cluelessly, that we will refuse Thaksin refuge in these parts. But he forgot that Somchak is Thaksin’s bayaw, or perhaps glossed over it, maintaining the strict neutrality of formal diplomacy. "Friendly" relations with our Asean brothers, in this case Thailand, are primordial, foreign affairs undersecretary Frank Ebdalin said.
But what if Somchak himself tells Gloria that Thailand will not take offense? What if the King of Thailand himself prefers that his once-anointed be not humiliated in other capitals of the world?
If there is any place in the universe where people genuinely would not mind the presence of a former head of government accused of crimes far, far less than any they are willing to suffer in the hands of a president much, much more corrupt, then this country must be it.
As for the Doña, how do you suppose she would react? Let me give you a guess. Would it be about swapping investments? You allow me to buy into your European, Middle Eastern and Singaporean investments, perhaps Chinese too? Then you buy my "partners" (maybe she will be direct and refer to them as "cronies") investments in our power utilities, shipping, banking, you name it, you can have it. Thaksin’s money is properly dry-cleaned, and hers laundered as well. Neat, eh?
It’s a small world, after all.
But wait! Will not the Doña, while crossing the Pacific into the domain her friend Dubya will soon relinquish into the hands of the not-too-friendly Obama, ponder as well her fate after 2010? Who among the crop of presidential pretenders would give her guarantees of safety and security and nolle prosequi, if even Thaksin’s brother-in-law could not save him?
Could Noli live up to his promise? Or Bayani? Or Dick? Or Manny? Or even Erap? Could they resist the calls for prosecution that will surely rise from the bowels of the masa, and the civil society, and media, and hey, even the bishops? Justice they will cry out. Will the new president, even if she contributes generously to his campaign kitty, not give in to the roar of the crowd, just as the Thai prime minister could not sway either the PDA in Bangkok’s streets or the courts?
And if London could do this to Thaksin, how would these Brits and perhaps tout l’Europe treat her after June 30, 2010? Thaksin after all was never taken to task by the international community for any extra-judicial killings. Yes, he caused the mysterious deaths of drug lords, but everyone applauded him. But political activists and newsmen? No, Thaksin was never guilty of that. Why, the Doña might think, as her PAL flies across the Pacific, even Madre España might not give her y su esposo refuge. And she recalls how they ditched Augusto Pinochet, and forced him out of his villa in Capo Finisterre.
So after that two-day sojourn for some "interfaith dialogue ek-ek" in New York, watch the play for cha-cha begin. Why, an exiled Thaksin Shinawatra may even be called in to talk about the wonders of a parliamentary government, once he is safely ensconced in Boracay, or Palawan, or Bohol.
And if the people should fall for it, then it’s not going to be a small world after all for Gloria y su esposo Miguel, as well as Mikey and Dato and the newly-wed Luli. It will be happily ever after.
Reader and friend Mon Mayuga has a P.S. from Germany:
"Gloria Arroyo’s vain effort to seek an audience with US President-elect Barack Obama smacks of bottomless insensitivity and utter lack of self-respect as she keeps on pursuing the American even if she knows that she is not welcome. She had already been cold-shouldered in June when he was still unsure of victory and her calls to congratulate him have all neither been answered nor returned now that he has won.
"Still, she wanted to go to New York to attend a useless meeting and pass by Obama’s home city of Chicago, Illinois, ostensibly to meet with the Filipino community there (many of whom probably do not want to see her), a crude effort to show Obama that she "has" influence on many of his Filipino-American constituents.
"Arroyo was thinking perhaps that being geographically close, Obama would relent and invite her to pass by since she is already there.
"She would be risking the biggest embarrassment of her life for behaving like a jilted lover who persists on pursuing him despite being continually spurned. (She is "beyond shame," Mon. That’s what she told some of the Hyatt Ten just before they deserted her in 2005.)
"Obama knows that Arroyo has been very much disliked by the Filipinos at home and abroad like the majority of the Americans regards his future predecessor, George W. Bush. He knows that Filipinos have been dreaming of an honest and clean election and of a president who had been elected fairly and honestly which, respectively the Philippines did not have and Arroyo had not. He knows that the great majority of Filipinos wanted change and that they are fed up with Arroyo as the Americans are with Bush."
On Thursday, I shall attempt to react to Mon Mayuga’s observations, which I am certain most Filipinos truly share of a president who is not only "nakakahiya" but "beyond shame."