August 06, 2004

Lessons in geopolitics from Angelo de la Cruz

Angelo de la Cruz was probably the last person to think that he would some day be in the center of a raging foreign policy debate over the GMA government's unwavering, some say blind, support for the US-instigated invasion and occupation of Iraq and its unquestioning commitment to the so-called US-led "war on terror."

Just before the US dropped the not-so-smart bombs on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities last year, MIGRANTE International, the organization of overseas Filipino workers, already raised the alarm about how government support for the war would place the lives and jobs of over a million OFWs in the Middle East in jeopardy. But when Saddam Hussein's armed forces were quickly routed by the overwhelming firepower of the US, with nary a casualty among our OFWs, the GMA government glowed in the reflected glory of the US victory and crowed about the hundreds of thousands of jobs awaiting our job-hungry compatriots.

From a few hundred, Filipinos working in Iraq grew to 4,000, many of them providing the menial yet critical services that the occupation forces of the "Coalition of the Willing" needed. Many more eagerly, if desperately, waited to land jobs in the Middle East. Where possible, not in war-torn Iraq, but there, too, should the choice redound to risking death abroad by bullets or at home by starvation.

Who would have thought that the Iraqi resistance would become so fierce, determined and widespread that the seemingly invincible US military war machine would veritably come face to face with another Vietnam. Who would have anticipated that the Iraqi rebels would hold foreign nationals as captives to force governments and business interests to accede to their political demands? No one, it seems, from among the foreign policy advisers of this administration and certainly not the President herself.

As if that were not problematic enough, why couldn't the Americans find those weapons of mass destruction they said Saddam, the Evil One, had been hoarding in huge stockpiles? Why didn't the overthrow of the hated Saddam regime bring about the flowering of democracy, progress and peace that Bush and Blair promised? Those damaging findings by the US Joint Congressional Committee about flawed and falsified intelligence used to justify the Iraq war couldn't have come at a worse time.

The nagging doubts about who stands to profit in the aftermath of the war on Iraq, specifically, the giant oil and construction companies embarrassingly identified with US President Bush and Vice-President Cheney and their neo-conservative think tank, tainted no end the US motives for warring against Iraq.

By the time the de la Cruz hostage crisis threatened to blow up in the GMA government's face, the US-led war and occupation of Iraqi had become exposed as an ignominious sham, a grandiose and costly scheme (in dollars, and in innocent people's lives) to advance the economic and geopolitical interests of the US.

It had been rightly condemned, from the Vatican to the Islamic world to the streets of Washington, D.C., as illegal, immoral, and unjust, an abominable and contemptible trampling of the rights of a sovereign peoples and state.

All these were not lost on the people praying, demonstrating and holding vigil in the churches and streets of Metro Manila, in the Pampanga hometown of de la Cruz and many more places around the world home to the Filipino diaspora. The popular demand reverberated: Save the life of Angelo! Pull out Filipino troops from Iraq!

There comes a time even for a loyal ally, some say puppet, to take stock of things and see the writing on the wall. Angelo de la Cruz, who had become the Filipino Everyman, could not be allowed to become another Flor Contemplacion, the sacrificial lamb to the Ramos government's incompetence and insensitivity to the plight of OFWs.

Not when charges of massive fraud were still flying fast and thick and Mrs. Arroyo had to be proclaimed by Congress in the wee hours of the morning when the FPJ camp and the rest of the nation were fast asleep. Not when a really serious financial crisis for the debt-strapped government loomed in the wake of the election spending spree by the incumbent administration dipping its dirty fingers into the public coffers.

This time, President Arroyo, the faithful US drummer girl in Southeast Asia, did the right thing: She pulled out the Philippine troops from Iraq. Of course, in the process, she saved her own political life from the real threat of being ousted from power had she not heeded the public clamor to save the life of Angelo de la Cruz.

No less than US State Secretary Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld overtly exerted pressure on the Arroyo government to reverse its decision to withdraw the Philippine troops by July 20 in a rare case of public arm-twisting of its most favored non-NATO ally. No less than the Australian Prime Minister John Howard and his undiplomatic Foreign Minister Alexander Downer called the Philippine government names for allegedly caving in to "terrorist" demands.

Foreign policy experts and even newspaper columnists fancying themselves as such bemoaned the alleged loss of credibility of the Philippines in the international community and predicted dire scenarios of lost foreign investments, foreign aid and foreign jobs.

In the end, the view from the streets is that the withdrawal of Philippine troops one month early from Iraq to save the life of de la Cruz was a small, but dramatic step in the right direction. It has correctly been described as upholding national interest in defiance of US superpower pressure.

Just how far the GMA government will go with its newfound wisdom that not everything the Americans say is for our own good is still anybody's guess.

Aug. 6-7, 2004


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