MANILA, Philippines – It was a sub-storm that took over Twitter as the Philippines’ bet for the 2015 Miss Universe pageant was asked a fairly loaded question: what does she think about the United States’ military presence in the country?
It’s a touchy topic in the Philippines, following the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries. It would pave the way for increased American military presence in the country more than two decades after the Philippine Senate voted to kick out the US bases here.
EDCA once again came into the spotlight after a US Marine killed Filipina transgender woman Jennifer Laude. Joseph Scott Pemberton was eventually convicted of homicide.
The legality of EDCA is also being questioned, and is set to be decided on by the Philippines’ Supreme Court in January. At the same time, officials sell EDCA as a means to boost the country's defenses in the ongoing tension with China over the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
“Do you think the United States should have a military presence in the Philippines?” Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach was asked Monday, December 21 (Sunday night in Las Vegas).
Wurtzbach answered: “I think that the US and the Philippines have always had a good relationship with each other. We've been colonized by the Americans and we have their culture in our traditions even up to this day. The Philippines is very welcoming with the Americans and I don't see any problem with that at all."
Her answer baffled and bothered some Filipinos, particularly politicians and activists who are staunchly against US military presence in the Philippines.
“No problem with return of US bases? Ganon?” tweeted former Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño.
Casiño went on: “She could have at least acknowledged that there are problems that have to be addressed re. US bases in PH. Pag-uwi ni Pia (When Pia returns) she should be briefed by Gabriela on the issue of US troops in PH to help her get a better perspective.”
On Monday morning, around the same time the Miss Universe pageant was taking place, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also celebrated its anniversary.
‘It wasn’t fair’
Another leftist leader, Renato Reyes from the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), also had much to say about the Filipina beauty queen’s answer, but pinned the blame on organizers for asking an “unfair question.”
“It was calculated to elicit a YES, considering that the contestant was under a lot of pressure. Saying NO to US troops, in front of a predominantly American crowd, would harm her chances of winning. Perhaps she wasn't prepared to take that risk. She went with the ‘safe’ and ‘popular’ answer, at least for the home crowd,” said Reyes.
He added: “I only hope that after all this, she would keep an open mind when it comes to contrary views on the issue. I hope she would find time in the future to sit down with the victims of abuses by US troops. Hindi pa naman siguro 'yun ang FINAL, FINAL answer niya (I don’t think that’s her final, final answer).”
Another staunch critic of EDCA, presidential aspirant Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, also turned to Facebook to congratulate the country’s first Miss Universe in 42 years… but with reservations.
“Congratulations, Pia! You are regal. But from what I've heard, we need to talk. See you!” said Santiago in a post.
Santiago is one of the senators who believe the EDCA is unconstitutional and should have been sent to the Senate for ratification, instead of being an executive agreement as Malacañang designed it.
The US embassy in Manila was quick to retweet the @missuniverse post congratulating Miss Philippines for winning the international crown, and that triggered some more comments about the US necessarily rooting for somebody pro-EDCA.
Pro- or against-EDCA, though, those who were critical of Wurtzbach’s answer made sure to be clear that they were still rooting for her, no matter what.
Wurtzbach went on to bag the coveted crowd, in a controversial gaffe that saw pageant host Steve Harvey announce the wrong winner the first time.
Here’s what others had to say about Wurtzbach’s answer:
What did you think of her answer? Could she – or you – have done better? – Rappler.com