I cringed over the last week to see Helen Clark welcoming Philippines president Glorya Arroyo to New Zealand for the Interfaith Forum at Waitangi.
Matt McCarten largely canvasses the issues in his column today. I visited the Philippines for a week in 2001 and met with elements of the urban poor organisations who have been struggling to deal with the brutality and authoritarianism of the Philippines regime.
The Philippines is a seriously dysfunctional country. Arroyo's government has chosen to wage war on poor Islamic areas of her country. She invited U.S. forces back only years after they had finally been kicked out for the first time since 1898.
When I went through six years ago, the democratic forces were at a tipping point. The removal of the previous President by people power rallies and protests, including the backing of the Catholic Church, had been followed by hope that Arroyo would be better: would actually take steps to make life better for the poorest in the country and begin to forge a more independent regime - independent, that is, of the Philippines Army and of the US.
It is clear that this has not happened. The forces of democracy are under worse siege than they were then. Arroyo has not become a model democratic leader. She allows the abuses of human rights to continue on her watch. She runs a neoliberal economic policy that does nothing to spread wealth and power away from the intensely conservative, militarised oligarchy that has ruled the Philippines since colonial times. She proclaims that she is in the service of God and attacks those who oppose her as un-Christian.
To have her as an invited guest in this country was embarrassing. To see Helen Clark shaking her hand made me blush. This woman should be persona non grata in New Zealand. I hope she doesn't come again.