January 04, 2007

Caving in to US bullying

On top of everything else – the lying, stealing, cheating and murdering spree against those her regime has demonized as “enemies of the state” – Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today takes the cake as super toady to the Superpower bully, the United States of America. In the process she has managed to stir up latent nationalist sentiments that have been all but smothered by ubiquitous propaganda about “globalization” and the hype about a borderless “war against terrorism” fought with the mighty US war machine.

By authorizing the hasty, clandestine and deceitful transfer of convicted rapist Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to the custody of the US government by means of his illegal, non-court authorized release (prosecution lawyers have categorically labeled it as an assisted escape of a convicted felon) from detention in the Makati City Jail and delivery to the US Embassy, Mrs. Arroyo has proven that she is indeed the US puppet repeatedly condemned in countless protest rallies and demonstrations.

Why does Mrs. Arroyo’s belated admission that it was her decision to get the convicted American soldier out of a Philippine jail and her plea for “understanding” sound pretty much like her "I'm sorry" spiel after being caught red-handed engaging in wholesale electoral fraud? Why are we reminded all over again of her emotional "I will not run (for president)" speech, a promise she promptly abandoned after manufacturing a spurious groundswell of support as well as allegedly receiving divine inspiration to run anyway?

There are three reasons: first, is the familiar ring of insincerity; two, the blatant lying about the grounds for her highly questionable and legally untenable actions; and third, the thinly-veiled attempt to assuage an enraged populace whose reaction to this latest atrocity, Malacanang has obviously underestimated.

This time Mrs. Arroyo’s offense -- or rather, offenses -- is much, much worse. She used her high office to undermine the rule of law, undercut the judicial process as well as surrender national sovereignty to a foreign power.

It was bad enough that her government did little to help, or more accurately, helped to sabotage the fight of the Subic rape victim, Nicole, to attain justice by way of the damaging pronouncements and decisions of the Justice Secretary and his deliberately bungling set of public prosecutors. Furthermore, the executive department automatically and consistently concurred with the US interpretation of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) provisions on criminal jurisdiction that clearly favored the accused US marine over the Filipina rape victim. The Arroyo regime, in fact, lawyered for the US government (and, effectively, the accused US soldiers) on the issue of custody from day 1 of the commission of the crime.

With the unmistakable show of US displeasure as expressed in US President George Bush’s pronouncement and the abrupt and unilateral cancellation of the annual RP-US joint war exercises known as Balikatan as well as humanitarian assistance to typhoon-ravaged areas, the Arroyo regime literally caved in. It did the unthinkable – gross, ill-disguised flouting of the independence of the judiciary and grave abuse of authority – in springing Smith from his Makati prison and delivering him to the US embassy in true-blue lackey fashion.

The Arroyo administration could not wait for the legal fig leaf of a court order when it failed to get a favorable ruling from RTC Judge Pozon, who had earlier found Mr. Smith guilty, sentenced him to 40 years imprisonment and ordered his temporary incarceration in the Makati city jail until the court decides otherwise, pending diplomatic negotiations between the Philippines and the US as to what detention facility, on Philippine territory, would be used to jail the convict. Failure as well to get a Temporary Restraining Order from the Court of Appeals on Judge Pozon’s order to retain custody over Mr. Smith by incarcerating him in a Philippine jail apparently caused alarm on the part of both Malacanang and the US authorities.

Thus the legal cover used by Mrs. Arroyo’s hatchet men amounted to nothing more than the US position that the VFA grants it custody of its erring soldiers no matter that the crime committed is a heinous one under Philippine laws, it had nothing to do with Mr. Smith’s duties as a member of the US military, and he was, in fact, off duty when he committed the rape. In the guise of fidelity to its obligations under the VFA, the Arroyo regime attempts now to cover-up its latest impeachable crimes.

This incident is once more threatening to blow up in Mrs. Arroyo’s face revealing just how shaky her regime is and how fearful it is of losing the backing of the US. That is the real meaning of “strategic RP-US relations” for this client regime as it has been for those that preceded it. (The last time this same line was invoked was during the Senate debates on the renewal of the RP-US Bases Agreement when then President Corazon Aquino even led a street march to the Senate to dramatize her support for the bases’ continued stay and thus endeared her to US policymakers.)

On the part of the US, it exposes the narrow and aggressive mindset of the current neoconservative leadership of the lone Superpower, used to getting its way unchecked by international law and international public opinion. It also reveals just how much respect the US political leadership has for the dignity and independence of its former colony, now reduced to nothing more, it appears, than disdain for a current neocolony, a vassal state of the Big White Father.

The Balikatan war exercises are certainly a critical part of US military strategy – having to do with the continuous deployment of US forces and materiel in key regions so as to ensure military readiness and maneuverability in exercising its hegemony. Is the decision to cancel it a measure of its concern for its troops? We think not.

The US makes clear that it doesn’t want another bad precedent of a client state (aka “ally”) reneging or failing to implement lop-sided military agreements that protect US interests and not get punished for it. The US clearly twisted the arm of the Arroyo regime and got what it wanted. Of course US spokespersons maintained the propaganda line that this was about implementing the VFA; that this was about protecting its troops. In truth it is about the US having its way in complete disregard of a sovereign country’s justice system and sovereignty and delivering that message loud and clear to the entire world.

US imperialist objectives are of course so much easier to achieve when it deals with a subservient government desperate to cling to power like that of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.###

*Published in Business World
5-6 January 2007


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