THE LONG VIEW
A policy of panic
IN HIS memoirs “A Stone for The Edifice,” Diosdado Macapagal recounted that as far back as his stint in the foreign service during the Elpidio Quirino administration, he was unhappy with July 4 as our country’s independence day. It caused “considerable inconvenience” for Philippine missions abroad (possibly because foreign diplomats went to US missions instead of going to ours on that date). Furthermore, he felt July 4 “was not inspiring enough… since it recalled mostly the peaceful independence missions to the United States.”
Like all politicians, he combined the pragmatic (foreigners not attending the Philippines” diplomatic parties on July 4) with the ideological (he wanted to steal the thunder from the Left, which looked to 1896 and not 1946). What he lacked, though, was a pretext to turn his inclination into policy: “The specific question,” he recounted, after explaining his preference of June 12 (when Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence under the aegis of a dictatorship) to Jan. 23 (when the Malolos Congressratified the proclamation), “was when to make the change.”
The “opportunity came when the US House of Representatives rejected the $73-million additional war payment bill on May 9, 1962. There was indignation among Filipinos. There was a loss of American goodwill… though this was restored later by the reconsideration of the action … Unable to resist the pressure of public opinion, I was constrained to obtain the agreement of Kennedy to defer [my] state visit for another time,” Macapagal wrote. On May 17, 1962, Macapagal “certified as urgent to Congress the enactment of a measure to fix June 12 statutorily as independence day.”
What’s interesting to note is that Macapagal’s pique became an opportunity for a national consensus. Party lines were crossed to support the declaration of June 12 as Philippine Independence Day and the public embraced the date. And he deftly exercised the powers of his office to put the Americans in their place and make his mark. (It started though the erosion of our Republic’s – and, thus, our people’s – sense of identity, by dropping what had been an evolutionary attitude toward our independence and substituting it, as part of a parvenu effort to claim descent from the 1896-98 independence efforts, with an unrealistic, muddled and essentially harmful exclusion of what came after the fall of the First Republic; the confusion this has caused is best demonstrated by the mess another Macapagal policy has caused: recognizing the 1943 Japanese-sponsored Republic as part of the legitimate order of our governments, a price too steep – because never asked for – to pay for Jose P. Laurel’s posthumous political rehabilitation; it served the interests more of those still living, such as Macapagal himself, who served the puppet republic enthusiastically – see Hernando Abaya’s “Memoirs of a Subversive”).
When the present administration manifested its core political instinct – to panic – in response to a hostage-taking of a Filipino in Iraq, I opposed the decision to pull out there and then, not because I supported the Iraq war (I never have); I just felt strongly that international commitments, once entered upon, had to be honorably fulfilled.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s drumbeaters, since 2005, have made a fetish of “political will” – risking the unpopular so as to accomplish the national good. But where was that will, then? Instead, it demonstrated pure weakness, which persists to this day. Having embraced Bush Jr.’s war, the President bolted; and has spent the time since compensating for that act of international cowardice.
Including her folding in the face of American displeasure over the jailing of that convicted American Marine until – as the judge put it – the Philippine and American governments sorted out the question of where to detain the convict; and in the face of the US argument that an appeal should be resolved first before the American was to be handed over to Philippine custody. I will give the Americans credit for this much: everything they have done has been pretty respectful of Philippine law and the legal process; in that sense, the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) has worked well for both sides; at no stage have the Americans shown an inclination simply to whisk away the accused and prevent their trial. And the Americans have given notice that there will be little boozing and whoring in store for future visitors from their armed forces, which I suspect will dim whatever public enthusiasm exists for the VFA outside official circles.
What should surprise is not what the Americans have done, but what our own chief executive chose to do. My understanding, based on talks with Philippine diplomats, is that the executive’s behavior and arguments – up to the point the American convict was handed back to US custody – were not only excusable, but the right course of action. But then, the President herself said that the announcement of the Balikatan’s postponement was too high a price to pay for matters to be worked out in the courts; if she panicked out of Iraq, in this instance, she then panicked out of the legal process, to which even the Americans had shown signs of commitment.
Surely an impeachable offense? But then what’s one more?
And so, we have what we have, which is – as retired Justice Isagani Cruz pointed out over the weekend – the Court of Appeals bravely whistling as it twisted in the wind.
The administration overcompensates by calling for a reexamination of the VFA (but if so, then reexamine the anchor of Philippine foreign policy, our Mutual Defense Treaty, in place since the 1950s). The US Embassy is right: why now? It has pledged to police its forces more thoroughly, which will do much more than relying on an ally that’s generally faithless.