The Mendicancy Prize

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MALACANANG sources say the administration isn’t lobbying for the Nobel Peace Prize for Benigno Aquino III, and we should take them at their word. But if they are indeed lobbying for it, and today being Mendicancy—sorry, “Philippine-American Friendship”—Day, they should enlist US support for it, to at least test whether all that bowing and scraping before Washington has paid off.

The winner of the Prize is usually announced every October, and if the point is to have something spectacular by away of achievement that Mr. Aquino can claim during this year’s State of the Nation Address on July 27, his winning the Prize would be something he could crow about only by next year. In any case, it’s not really as far-fetched a possibility as it seems—although it’s not certain, even if the administration did lobby for it.

Aquino partisans will say that after all, US President Barack Obama won the Prize in 2009 almost immediately after his election in 2008. What they probably don’t know is that the Norwegian ambassador to the United Nations in 2009, Morten Wetland, revealed only this year that Rahm Emmanuel, then Obama’s chief of staff, rebuked another Norwegian diplomat in Washington, D.C. for the Nobel Committee’s awarding the Prize to a US President who hadn’t done anything yet to bring peace, and whose government was still engaged in two brutal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Obama administration also thought that the “embarrassing award”—given for Obama’s supposedly “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”—put Barack Obama in a difficult position by in effect compelling him to adopt a peace agenda. It was also a slap on the war-mongering, unilateral administration of George W. Bush, which the Obama administration succeeded.

Wetland mentioned the rebuke last May, as the independence and the composition of the Nobel committee, the five members of which are appointed by the Norwegian parliament, were once again being questioned. The Nobel Prize is political in that it often reflects Norway’s foreign policy—to the extent that there have been suggestions to open membership in the Committee to foreigners to enhance its independence.

Just like Obama, Aquino could win the Prize despite the raging conflicts in the Philippines, but it would depend on (1) the competition; and (2) whether his winning it would be consistent with Norway’s foreign policy. Whether he truly deserves it is neither here nor there, politics being the major determinant of the Prize, but would undoubtedly enhance the award’s credibility.

The same factors apply to the other contenders. Among the nominees for the 2014 Prize are Vladimir Putin, Edward Snowden, Pope Francis, and Chelsea Manning.

Russian President Putin is among the most unlikely nominees to win, the last year having been particularly controversial for him, considering his far from peace-inducing moves in the Ukraine and his government’s exacerbating social tensions in Russia through the Russian Parliament’s passage of anti-gay laws. Besides making it extremely difficult for the Nobel Committee to explain its choice, giving the Prize to Putin would hardly gain it points from the US government.

Ditto Snowden—the former US National Security Agency (NSA)contractor now in exile in Russia, who leaked documents on NSA surveillance of US and other nationals, which of course doesn’t sit well with the US government, and whose winning the Prize would invite an even worse rebuke from the Obama administration.

As for Pope Francis, his criticism of capitalism and plea for a more humane world order—and its implied criticism of US global dominance—are considered too controversial even within the Church he leads. So far has Pope Francis departed from conventional doctrine that the current joke is that the retort “Is the Pope Catholic?” in reply to any question to which the answer is self-evident, is no longer rhetorical.

Manning, the former US soldier now serving 35 years in prison for leaking a video of a US helicopter attack that killed civilians including journalists in Iraq, as well as other documents unflattering to the US military, has about as much of a chance at the Prize as the Pope. If the US had its way—and it usually does—the closest Pope Francis or Manning will come to the Prize would be from the Vatican and from prison, respectively.

If Aquino III is indeed among the nominees for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, he would have a better chance at getting it than Putin, Snowden, Manning or even Pope Francis. To begin with, he can claim that he’s brought peace to Mindanao despite recurring issues, and that the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front died because of the latter’s “intransigence.” Incidentally, however, Norway was brokering the Philippine Government-NDF peace talks, and its view of how he has conducted his end of it could have a bearing on whether it will support his candidacy or not.

The key element, however, is whether the United States will throw the full weight of its support behind its Philippine boy, who has not only bent over backwards to serve US strategic interests, but has even blithely ignored the constitutional ban on foreign troops and bases in Philippine territory. But Mr. Aquino is not necessarily assured of US support, given the US’ sponsorship of other individuals and groups that could more directly serve its global interests. A most unpredictable and unreliable master, the US has been known to betray even its most devoted lapdogs whenever it serves its business and strategic interests.

The bottom line is that Mr. Aquino’s winning the Prize is not impossible, but it’s not certain either. Due to the uncertainty and today’s date (July 4), I suggest that Mr. Aquino and company look around for another Prize that he could win hands down. Given how loyal he’s been to his real boss, the United States, by, among other acts, committing the country to the deceptively named sell-out called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), he could aspire for this year’s Mendicancy Prize somewhere else and not necessarily in the Prize named after Alfred Nobel, the armaments manufacturer and inventor of dynamite. I’m sure the US won’t object.

(BusinessWorld)