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Jun 02

Philippines Still in Dog House for Pulling Troops From Iraq

Arab News

Philippines Still in Dog House for Pulling Troops From Iraq

by Manuel L. Quezon III 

Just recently I was in the United States, and had a chance to ask fellow Filipinos who are in the know, what the standing of our country is with the powers-that-be in Washington. Their answers were illuminating because never publicly discussed, and while of course of high interest to Filipinos, also instructive of the situation faced by similar countries in this era of the new American imperium.

A senior Philippine diplomat was very frank about the Philippines’ fall from American grace. The country had been riding high in the afterglow of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s visit to Washington, which resulted in a much-coveted visit by George W. Bush to Manila. Diplomatic exchanges between the two capitals were on the highest levels. Then, the senior diplomat said, after the Philippine government, reacting to a Filipino being taken hostage in Iraq, pulled out its tiny peacekeeping contingent there, “the country was put in the doghouse.”

The diplomat’s description of American feelings toward that move — fury on the part of Bush, echoed with increasing fervor and intensity the lower down an American official was in the pecking order — was manifested not just in lectures, but a catalog of American reprisals. American officials, tired of lecturing Filipinos, then icily ignored their calls or declined requests for appointments; a steady effort was begun to roll back financial and other assistance packages already in the official pipeline.

After the initial years of warmth, Washington, for Filipinos, was suddenly a cold, lonely place. To be sure, a feared crackdown on all Filipinos, beginning with the insulting and time-consuming scrutiny of visas, or the mass arrest and deportation of Filipinos lacking the proper visas and working papers, didn’t materialize. But from small to big things, American interest or cooperation dwindled.

Seven years ago I already experienced the full brunt of American feelings of disfavor, ironically during a trip sponsored by the Pentagon and the US State Department for Asian journalists.

The Philippines had (surprisingly) called America’s bluff, and declined to renew agreements authorizing American naval and air bases. American negotiators had been overconfident and expected that a much smaller than hoped for package of aid (thinly-disguised rent) would be accepted. It wasn’t. This was in 1991, and in 1997, when I was on the journalist’s tour, one American official after another took me aside to lecture me (as only Americans can) on the folly of my country — worse, it’s “ungratefulness” to Uncle Sam.

This was a source of bemusement to the other Asians, some of whom found themselves the target of an American charm offensive, as it was then the objective of American officials to compensate for the loss of Philippine bases by entering into agreements with neighboring Asian countries to host American supply depots. A New Zealander in our party was particularly sympathetic, as his country wasn’t liked in American official circles because of its refusal to allow US naval vessels to dock without certifying they were nuclear-free. Others, noting the difference in treatment accorded to members of our party, were simultaneously philosophical and attempted pan-Asian solidarity. A senior Korean journalist took me aside, and solemnly instructed me, “Do not trust the Americans.”

After its initial period in the doghouse after 1991, post 9/11 America warmed to the Philippines, which officially leaped onto the War on Terror bandwagon.

Now, the country is in the doghouse again, though the period of paradise lost, as one Filipino expatriate calls it with dark humor, might be brief. While I’ve always believed Filipinos, both resident in the US and in their own country, tend toward an over-inflated sense of my country’s importance in the American scheme of things, at least to the present US administration, that standing was until lately, pretty high. That standing can’t be allowed to sink too low for too long: it still remains more useful for the US to have the Philippines within its ambit than not.

I was against participating in the war on Iraq, but strongly against pulling out the token Philippine contingent on the basis of blackmail from terrorists. Opponents of the pullout went against Philippine public opinion, but that opinion counts for nothing now that the full effects of American disfavor are being felt.

American officials may disregard world opinion, they may studiously ignore international covenants for peace and conflict resolution, they may slavishly pander to their own public opinion but refuse to see its imperatives on allied governments.

A Filipino-American put it to me best: “it’s extremely difficult to be even moderately disposed towards the American government in this day and age.”

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