Spying on the US Makes Manila Look Bad
by Manuel L. Quezon III
Perhaps you’ve heard of a case involving an employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation leaking American government reports concerning the Philippines, to Filipino officials. The FBI employee may have been doing this since he did a three-year stint in the office of the vice-president of the United States and then moved on to the FBI.
His motive? Apparently, debts, as good a motivation for espionage as any. Why documents concerning the Philippines, and why leak them to Filipino politicians (including, according to the spy, three leading figures in the Philippine opposition)? Because the FBI employee, Leandro Aragoncillo, was, once upon a time until he became a US citizen by joining the US Marine Corps, a Filipino.
Now as far as I am concerned, espionage is espionage, and for every American of foreign original selling out his country to another, you can find perhaps dozens of home-grown Americans who have done the same thing. The fate of Aragoncillo is America’s business. That he was enticed to do what he did, by a Filipino citizen, a fellow named Michael Ray Aquino, who fled to the United States to escape prosecution for crimes as a policeman, is a Philippine concern, of course. But what sort of a concern should it be? I am of the old-fashioned opinion that since a Filipino citizen is in trouble, the primary obligation of the Philippine government is to help him.
The Philippine government thinks otherwise. The Press Secretary of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo waxed wrathful concerning this case. Said he, “Self-serving politicians can ruin our diplomatic integrity by spying on our allies, but this only shows how far some of the President’s political detractors will go just to satisfy their raw ambition for power. We acknowledge that the Philippine-US relations are even stronger and more vibrant despite the shameful act of this political cabal. We can leave to the American government the matter of bringing the malefactors to justice. But we are concerned over the negative implications of this incident on Filipinos who are building a career not only in the United States but also in other countries. This is an embarrassment for our people who deserve an apology from those who messed up the good name of our country.”
It is in the nature of press secretaries to be selective: They will never admit to anything that is inconvenient concerning the message of the day. In the first place, what has been compromised is not the integrity of Philippine diplomacy, but rather, the security of either the White House or the FBI. What has been compromised is the peculiar delusion of the Arroyo administration that it enjoys a monopoly on the attentions of the American government. And what has been dealt a blow — just the latest, incidentally, in a long series of body blows Philippine-American relations have had to endure ever since President Arroyo ferociously embarked on becoming a cheerleader of the US-led War on Terror, only to abandon it abruptly over domestic, political concerns — aren’t relations between the two nations, but the idea that the United States has any lingering affections for President Arroyo. She’s not just the low lady on the totem pole, so to speak; she’s not even in the pole’s pecking order.
And as for leaving to the Americans the matter of bringing spies to justice, the Philippine press secretary has to be publicly blasé, because Uncle Sam’s refused to let the Philippines into the act. The Philippine Secretary of Justice, whom Americans might describe as a cantankerous old coot, has publicly wailed that, “That is the problem with the Americans. I wrote them a letter and they have not even answered…maybe it’s been a month now. They meddle with us and then they don’t cooperate with us.” It seems that what the Philippine government wanted, was a piece of the action. The Americans have refused to let them in on what’s going on. And so the Philippine government has to indulge in what can only be described as the most servile of colonial-minded rhetoric: “We have displeased the Great White Father! He might place Filipinos overseas in big heap trouble! Say sorry! Take the blame for big boo-boos in American security apparatus!” Which is basically what the Philippine Press Secretary’s press statements really says, translated into everyday speak.
I suppose American officials are as susceptible to flattery — and not a little tickled by a little old fashioned bootlicking — but US President Franklin D. Roosevelt once described American foreign policy quite succinctly with an earthy phrase: “He may be an S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.,” he once supposedly said of a Latin American dictator. The principle lives on. What America appreciates, are steady, reliable, allies. They are not impressed, and certainly are not amused, and definitely, are not willing to oblige, allies that are as fickle as they are hysterical. The present Philippine government is paying the price for its own bumbling when it comes to trying to cozy up to an American. Its only good fortune is that at least a portion of the Philippine opposition has been caught trying to influence federal employees of the United States, so that neutralizes them, to a certain extent. But that’s not much, and my suspicion is, if Aragoncillo was indeed sending classified documents to some Filipino politicians, might others have been commissioning him to do the same? After all, if oppositionists wanted to know what possible dirt the Americans had on President Arroyo, her people would want to know, too.
With this case, however, the global public might end up being in the know, too. And that can’t be a pleasant prospect for the Philippine government.