November 12, 2004

The wrong lessons

Who says the government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo doesn't learn its lessons from handling past crises?

If there's anything this government has proven it is capable of, it's managing crises without resolving them, evading responsibility and passing the buck, and holding on to power by clutching on the coattails of Imperial America.

Take the cases of the latest Filipino hostages held in Afghanistan and Iraq, Angelito Nayan and Roberto Tarongoy, respectively.

First lesson, impose a news blackout. Don't give the public anything to chew on, to feed anxiety over the hostages, to get them fixated on prime-time television watching a real life telenovela about the travails of the Filipino overseas worker (OFW), that is, everyone's relative or next-door neighbor. More important, don't give anything for the foreign media to feast upon.

Second lesson, don't displease the Americans. Don't appear to negotiate with the "terrorists" or, heaven forbid, agree to their demands. Don't give any suggestion that government is deviating from its official commitment to support the US war in Iraq and the so-called war against "terrorism," especially not after George W. Bush just got his mandate to continue with his "you-are-with-us-or-against-us" view of the world.

Third lesson, appear to be doing everything in your power to come to the aid of the hostages, including sending a flurry of government officials to Iraq and Afghanistan who, of course, won't negotiate, and above all, won't displease the Americans.

Fourth lesson, don't be placed on the defensive by taking the blame for anything. Get paid hacks to blame the hostage-takers, blame the militant Left, blame the OFWs and others willing to risk life and limb even in war-torn countries just to have work that pays decent wages. Never hint that the US government of Dubya might have any share of the blame.

Fifth lesson, institutionalize your crisis system: news and opinion management; diplomatic team "on the ground"; officials to hold the hand of the immediate family members and keep them away from scoop-hungry reporters; officials to be in constant touch with the US embassy overlords; backdoor channels (for the ransom and other such nasty details); and, not to forget, psywar tactics like shifting the blame on pesky militant groups Migrante and Gabriela for making the connections between a subservient foreign policy and recurrent hostage crises involving OFWs.

After the Arroyo administration's decision to pull out Philippine troops from Iraq to save the life of Angelo de la Cruz, this column credited the Arroyo administration with newfound wisdom that not everything the Americans say is good for the country and should therefore not be made into official policy.

Apparently, the lesson Mrs. Arroyo takes to heart is the one that her father, former President Diosdado Macapagal, must have taught her.

According to writer Alejandro Lichauco, "Macapagal admitted in an article he wrote for the Bulletin a few years before he passed away, the US government has been a decisive factor in every presidential election since 1935, and no presidential aspirant objectionable to Washington has ever been elected President. By the same token, any sitting President who manages to displease Washington invariably winds up unseated by Washington. That has been generally the fate of all incumbent Presidents. They were mounted to office by Washington and eventually unseated by Washington."

On the other hand, Mrs. Arroyo refuses to recognize the underlying error that sets the stage for more Filipinos falling prey to forces beyond their control like Angelo de la Cruz, Roberto Tarongoy and Angelito Nayan; that is, her government's unquestioning support for the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and US interventionism in the entire Middle East.

It bears restating that the US-instigated war in Iraq, in which it has embroiled a minority of countries under the umbrella of the "Coalition of the Willing," is an unjust war, a war of aggression against a sovereign country with no justification whatsoever under international law and the United Nations system.

The US war on Iraq was built on lies. No weapons of mass destruction have been unearthed by the US and British occupiers more than a year and a half after the invasion. Not even the most tenuous of links has been established between Iraq's former ruler Saddam Hussein and the dreaded Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the US.

The ongoing war in Iraq is an inhuman war, a war primarily killing innocent civilians, estimated at around 100,000 to date; a war that has spawned crimes against humanity such as the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, ancient historical sites and other non-military targets, and the shocking torture and degradation of Iraqi prisoners by US and British troops and intelligence operatives. No wonder Britain's most famous scientist, Stephen Hawking, condemned the US-led invasion of Iraq as a "war crime."

And to top it all, the Iraq war is being exposed as a war for the seizure of the vast Iraqi oil resources and for turning the entire Middle East into a US sphere of influence, if not outright domination and control.

The "regime change" the US belatedly invokes to justify its brazen aggression has not brought about peace, progress and democracy to a backward, feudal kingdom under authoritarian rule. (That description, by the way, fits Saudi Arabia more than Iraq.) What is now in place in Iraq is essentially a US-installed puppet regime that no one, least of all the Iraqi people, recognizes and respects as legitimate.

Thus, the Arroyo government has made the Philippines a witting accomplice in sowing the whirlwind of chaos and the violence in one of the most ancient civilizations in the world and inevitably putting the lives of Filipinos -- whose presence in the Middle East is a given whilst government persists in its labor export policy -- in harm's way.

Now whatever happened to the promise of hundreds of thousands of jobs in post-war Iraq? Just asking.

Nov. 12-13, 2004


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