Opinion: Obama meeting hangs ally’s flag upside down; No big deal though, it’s only the Philippines


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Yes, yes, the Philippines is a close American ally. A practicing democracy in Asia with nearly 100 million people. And a whole bunch more living -- and voting -- abroad in places like the United States.

And, yes, the island nation’s president, Benigno Aquino III, was sitting at President Obama’s left elbow at their ASEAN meeting in New York City last week. And directly behind Aquino the American staff placed the Philippines’ flag, well, kind of upside down. (That’s it second from the right in the photo above, the one with all the blue at the bottom, which should be at the top.)


In the Philippines displaying the flag like that means the nation is at war. Which, of course, it isn’t. Not yet anyway. And the country’s laws provide for a fine and up to one year in prison for disrespecting the flag.

President Aquino kindly didn’t make a big deal out of such modern-day diplomatic ignorance by its World War II liberator.

When you think about such an international gaffe by American hosts, it’s really pretty much the Filipinos’ fault for choosing a national flag with no clear top or bottom to American eyes.

Look at the savvier Canadian allies next door, for Pierre’s sake. They were smart enough to pick a lone leaf that has an obvious stem so even Americans would know which side goes down.

A couple of days after the embarrassment, a U.S. spokeswoman followed the Obama administration’s Geithner Apology Protocol, admitting it was ‘unfortunate’ but quickly adding that it was something called ‘an honest mistake.’ As opposed to a dishonest mistake like, say, not paying taxes.

With so many larger guns, a nuclear arsenal and a Harvard-educated president who knows they speak Austrian in Austria, the U.S. really shouldn’t need to apologize anyway. Such a superpower can’t be expected to keep track of the globe’s gazillion funny-looking flags that don’t have a big blue box of stars to show top vs. bottom.


Obama’s meeting with the ASEAN nations was designed to bolster both economic and cultural ties with the region’s increasingly powerful nations. Maybe starting with a staff class on flag recognition.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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