U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, America's outspoken advocate for democracy, found out Wednesday how vibrant it can get in the Philippines, with students bombarding her with touchy questions on a range of subjects _ from what she keeps in her purse to her daughter's life.
After back-to-back meetings with President Benigno Aquino III and other officials that tackled heavy issues such as South China Sea territorial disputes and the U.S.-Philippines defense alliance, Clinton dropped by a town hall-like forum with student journalists and bloggers organized by the Philippines' GMA network.
Clinton smiled and often appeared amused at the questions from the audience at Manila's National Museum and from online viewers who sent their queries via social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter.
"What's in your purse?" a viewer asked via Twitter.
"In addition to makeup and all that go with that, usually my Blackberry and papers of all kinds," Clinton replied gamely, adding that her job entails flying around the world with much more than a tote bag.
Asked about her iPad and what music she keeps in it, Clinton told the crowd of about 100 mostly college students that she uses the popular gadget mainly to view news sites to keep abreast of what's happening in the world. But she also acknowledged that she does use it for music, and revealed what she enjoys listening to.
"I'm a child of the '60s, which is before any of you were born," said the 64-year-old Clinton. "So everything I grew up with, you know _ the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Doors. I mean, all of that, plus I like classical music because I find it relaxing when I'm thinking about stressful things."
Since her daughter, Chelsea, got married last year, viewers were curious about whether Clinton was excited to become a grandmother. "Oh, my goodness," she exclaimed, confessing that she wants a grandchild, but that "I'm leaving that to my daughter and her husband." She turned poignant as she described the close bond between her mother, who died recently, and Chelsea, who began working at NBC News this week.
"Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to experience that," she said.
Would Clinton want Chelsea to enter politics someday? No, she replied, she wouldn't recommend politics to anyone, and recalled former President Franklin D. Roosevelt's wife Eleanor's advice to would-be politicians: "If you get into politics, you have to grow a skin as thick as the rhinoceros because it can be very painful if you're not prepared ... you're going to be subjected to all these criticisms," Clinton said.
Moments later, a student activist stood up from the crowd and held up a poster opposing a treaty that allows U.S. troops and ships to visit the Philippines, a former American colony. As he was led out by security, the student yelled, "Junk U.S. imperialism."
The moderator then asked Clinton about her attitude toward protesters, who hound American officials like her everywhere.
"People have the right to have opinions that are different from others _ that what's democracy is about," she said. "And the Philippines has a very vibrant democracy, where people are unafraid to express themselves ... you have a very vibrant press, which you're a part of."
"I'm pretty much used to it," Clinton said. "But it goes with that rhinoceros skin."