Filipino worker Angelo de la Cruz could be dead by now, free, or still in the hands of his captors.
Whether he has been killed or not, the Iraqi group that was holding him used violence, first, by holding him against his will, again by threatening to kill a non-combatant by decapitating him to force the Philippine government to withdraw its 51-person “humanitarian contingent.” If de la Cruz has been killed, it would add only to the crystal clarity of the fact that it used terrorist methods to help it achieve its aims.
We don’t know if this group has done the same thing in the past, or if its abduction of de la Cruz is rare in its arsenal of means to achieve its aims. But it is very likely also involved in attacks and ambushes on US troops and Iraqi officials and policemen collaborating with the occupation forces. The latter are legitimate responses to the continuing occupation of Iraq, despite US claims that these are “terrorist attacks.”
But this same group would fit the media’s (both local and foreign) tagging it a terrorist group if it has repeatedly and as a matter of policy used terrorist means.
Terrorism has been defined as the indiscriminate use of violence in the furtherance of political ends. It is a method—only one of many—for the achievement of certain political goals.
Every resistance movement to foreign occupation and most social and political movements over the last 200 years has used some form of terrorist means or another, but that does not make them terrorist organizations. It requires consistent reliance on terrorist methods, sometimes sole reliance on them, for groups and movements to qualify.
Every terrorist act is nevertheless condemnable for the violence it wreaks on non-combatants, not only because it is unjust to punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty, or because of the anguish it causes their immediate kin and communities. Terrorism must be condemned and opposed also because its use poisons even the noblest motives. The means one uses to achieve one’s ends usually reshape those very same ends in the process. The killing of innocents in furtherance of the political aim of seizing state power has all too often resulted in the same indiscriminate killing later, in the process distorting the most valid aims.
The United States has been described as a terrorist state both because it has used violence indiscriminately for political ends. While those ends have been loudly proclaimed as noble, they have turned out to be masks to conceal exactly the opposite goals. It seized the Philippines at the turn of the century and killed and tortured civilians to “Christianize and civilize” the natives. It carpet-bombed Vietnam and killed over a million Vietnamese to “hold the line” against “Godless communism”. And it killed some 14,000 civilians–it is killing civilians still—and imprisoned and tortured hundreds of non-combatants, in violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners, “to bring democracy to Iraq”.
This is not to place those groups fighting for independence, or resisting foreign occupation that use terrorism (such as certain Palestinian groups), on the same level as the United States. The US is first of all a state whose policies over the last 100 years have led it to commit terrorist acts that have affected vast numbers of people all over the planet. There is a moral difference between those forced by desperate circumstances into bombing restaurants and buses—or kidnapping foreign workers—from those whose interests have led them into “wars of choice” unmindful of civilian casualties.
Almost every one of the US wars in the second half of the twentieth century after World War II, and in the beginning of the 21st , have been wars of choice, in the sense that they were waged not to defend the United States from attack, but for profit and political advantage. These wars have taken various forms, among them that of supporting right- wing coups against democratically-elected governments (Chile); colluding in the murder of hundreds of thousands (Indonesia); and supporting death squads (El Salvador). But it has also taken the form of naked military aggression, as in Vietnam and Iraq.
Iraq is only the very latest of these US wars of choice. Based on a vast arsenal of lies propagated by the compliant US media, and intended to secure that country’s oil resources and to establish a major military presence in the Middle East, that war has resulted not only in the destruction of the Iraqi state and the massive breakdown of an entire society. It has also cost countless lives among the civilian population, the 14,000 figure usually cited being an estimate. This number also excludes those who have died from lack of medical care because of the destruction of the health infrastructure, from diseases because of the water and sewage systems, and from malnutrition because of the collapse of the economy.
Although a far from crucial partner in the ravaging of Iraq, by sending a so-called “humanitarian mission” there the Philippines has inevitably been identified with the continuing US occupation, the fraudulent “turnover of sovereignty” last June 28, and the crimes against humanity and civilization that have been committed in Iraq by the United States.
This was a decision which, from considerations of its national interests, it need not have made. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo nevertheless made it, and she made it two years before the US attack on Iraq.
When she pledged unconditional support in 2001 for any US initiative to retaliate for the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, and even volunteered to send troops without being asked, there was no shortage of analysts who warned that she was unnecessarily committing the country to all future US actions, whatever they may be. When she decided, even against the advice of some of her political allies, to send the 51-person “humanitarian” team to Iraq a year ago, still others warned that her decision could endanger the lives of the millions of Filipino workers in the Middle East.
In making that decision anyway, Arroyo became a partner in the US war of choice in Iraq, although like the United States, she too tried to make it seem necessary, for both the US as well as the rest of the world.
“The war against terrorism” was the excuse. The real reason lay elsewhere, primarily in Mrs. Arroyo’s belief that she needed US approval to be elected.
Nevertheless, “national interest”—in the form of the jobs that will be available for Filipino workers, as well as US military and economic aid—has since been the mantra of the Arroyo administration to justify its policy on Iraq.
Over the weekend, its former National Security Adviser, Roilo Golez, was insisting that “national interest” demanded that the Philippines keep the mission in Iraq despite the possibility of de la Cruz’s being beheaded, and that it would be a sign of weakness to pull out the Philippine contingent before the end of its tour on August 20.
In the Middle East, Philippine national interest is premised on preserving the health and lives of the millions of Filipino workers there, not because of the remittances they send to keep the economy afloat, but because it is the basic responsibility of any half-way decent government to do so. And yet, despite being aware of the dangers, the Arroyo government did not heed predictions that its support of the United States as manifest in, among other acts, its sending a “humanitarian mission” to Iraq, could lead to precisely the danger de la Cruz is now in, and which has killed at least three other Filipino workers.
Government apologists—some write columns in certain newspapers—argue that pulling out the Philippine mission before August 20 will encourage other acts of terrorism against Filipinos. Like Roilo Golez and his successor, Norberto Gonzalez, they think it better to allow de la Cruz to be beheaded rather than to “encourage” similar acts of terrorism in the future.
And yet it is the presence of the Philippine contingent—and it doesn’t matter what it’s called, because its presence amounts to support for the illegal and immoral US attack and occupation—that has precisely led to de la Cruz’ life’s being endangered. Once the contingent is out of Iraq, what would put other Filipino workers in the same peril?
It is supremely easy to act the policy-maker, to look at lives in the abstract and in the service of even the most malign state policies. Nothing can be easier than to condemn those fighting for their country, their families and their very lives for resorting to the most desperate means in opposing the violence and brutality that US power has unleashed.
It is equally easy for those who ignore US responsibility for the vast injustice and inhumanity that has been inflicted on Iraq to instead call those resisting it names: to describe them as “unbalanced,” “ruthless,” “contemptuous of decency and yet so cowardly”—epithets that apply with greater validity and justice on the tormentors of Iraq who go by such names as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, the US military, and those who support them.
What’s not so easy is to see Angelo de la Cruz as an individual with dreams and hopes, with a wife, children, kin and community. No one, especially governments run by moral half-wits, has the right to sacrifice a single Filipino in behalf of a stupid, subservient, short-sighted policy based on sheer self-interest and deception.