An activist interrupts President Benigno Aquino III during an open forum following his speech at Columbia University in New York City on Sept. 23.

Special to the Filipino Reporter

In the last leg of his United States tour highlighted by a private visit to the Boston house where his family lived for three years in exile, President Benigno Aquino III received a raucous heckling from banner-wielding students of Columbia University after his speech before the World Leaders Forum at the Low Library of its New York City campus on Sept. 23.

The question-and-answer started smoothly enough with a Chinese student asking about the hostaging of Chinese tourists at the Luneta and the shooting death of at least eight Hong Kong nationals after day-long negotiations bogged down.

“We regret the incident,” the President replied.

Explaining he was just a few months in office at the time, he said that police failed to follow instructions.

Hong Kong-Manila diplomatic relations nosedived after the President refused to apologize, to this day, for the incident.

Inferentially, he blamed inclusive media coverage for the prolonged crisis.

Another questioner confronted the President with what he called extra-legal killings, especially of journalists.

“In the Maguindanao massacre, we have over 100 assailants being arraigned,” he said.

He said there is a lengthy legal system at work and prosecutors are performing with justice in mind.

“But killing is a killing,” he said, “and we hope we bring the killers to justice.”

At this point, bedlam broke loose.

A Filipina-looking student badgered the President for rampant graft and corruption.

“Where did the 1.5 billion pesos in typhoon donations go?” she wailed.

“To the pockets of government officials?” her voice rising, as the moderator pleaded for decorum.

As she was led out, she denounced the President for the misuse of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Another questioner was also led out by security, but kept on shouting, “Down with U.S. Philippine imperialism. How can these two flags fly together?”

Still another chanted, “No justice, No peace,” which was taken up by some students.

The hecklers are not students of the university.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger apologized for the incident.

“Of course we believe in freedom of speech like you do,” said Bollinger.

All this time the President stayed calm.

As the moderator ended the Q and A, the President and his party left by the backdoor.

The students gathered at the base of the building and continued their protest.

The President was late half-an-hour for his speech.

He spent last Tuesday in New York City, speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Summit, attended lunch at the U.N. headquarters hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for heads of states, and met with financial and business leaders in roundtable discussions.

He and his delegation left Newark Liberty International Airport last Wednesday morning for San Francisco where he attended two similar business dialogues, before enplaning for Manila.

He arrived in Manila last Thursday.

Accompanying the President at Columbia were Philippine ambassador to the U.S. Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. and his wife Vicky; and Philippine Consul General to New York Mario L. de Leon, Jr. and his wife Eleanor.

Also present was U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg.

Also invited were J.T. Mallonga, Merit F. Salud, Dr. Rommel and Dr. Aida Rivera, Steven Raga, all of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, Dr. Linda Pelayo of the Filipino Reporter and Dr. Angie Cruz of US Pinoys for Good Governance.


Filipino-American activists picketed the venue at Columbia University where President Aquino was addressing the World Leaders Forum on Sept. 23.  (Photo by Kimberly Jane Tan)