President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo knows a political opportunity when she sees one. But she didn’t have Angelo de la Cruz on display last Monday. That was uncharacteristic. Mrs. Arroyo is fond of displays, and not only during State Of the Nation Addresses. She also displays suspected criminals to the public to demonstrate that she’s tough on crime, during which occasions she makes suspects look like convicted felons, contrary to the Bill of Rights’ assertion that every suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Although she didn’t have de la Cruz in tow last Monday, Mrs. Arroyo did try to capitalize anyway on de la Cruz’ release from captivity by the Iraqi resistance group that had threatened to behead him. Mrs. Arroyo began her speech by declaring that de la Cruz was home, and that “we did it”—the “we” there seemingly referring to “the Filipino people,” but inescapably suggesting her own crucial participation.
Well, she did order the Philippine contingent back home—but she did hesitate at first, the few days in which she did seeming like an eternity not only for de la Cruz but also for his family and entire community. She even seemed to actually believe—on whose asinine advice she’s not telling now—that she could bluff de la Cruz’ captors into not killing him by promising to withdraw the 51-person (or is it 43?) contingent from Iraq, while actually keeping them there until August 20.
Mrs. Arroyo eventually ordered the troops out of Iraq, before the lapse of the July 20 deadline de la Cruz’ captors had imposed. But she didn’t do it because her “foreign policy focus (since 2001) has been to protect the vital interest of the nation including our eight million overseas Filipinos” but because she feared a people’s uprising huge enough to throw her into the company of Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada.
Mrs. Arroyo was thus not being a “marshmallow” (Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer) or “weak-kneed” (US Secretary of State Colin Powell) when she withdrew the Philippine troops. To use one of the most valued words of her closest advisers from the UP Political Science Department, she was being “pragmatic.”
“Pragmatism” has in fact ruled Mrs. Arroyo’s government and governance at home and abroad. At home, it’s been for the pragmatic end of her surviving the last three years, and getting elected for another six.
During that time, despite a burgeoning population, she adopted the Catholic Church policy on family planning and diverted funding from state population programs. She made sure Joseph Estrada’s detention would be as comfortable as possible, if not according to the manner to which he’s accustomed. She lured flattery-susceptible opposition personalities into her camp by putting them in her Cabinet and other posts. Early this year she was wooing the Marcoses so they won’t be too hostile to her May 10 candidacy.
In foreign affairs, the same pragmatic ends ruled what can only be laughingly called a “foreign policy.” To demonstrated how worthy she would be of US support last May, Mrs. Arroyo re-engaged the Philippines with the United States militarily by, without being asked, volunteering to send troops wherever the United States wanted them in furtherance of its “war on terror.”
In 2002 Mrs. Arroyo threw the country wide open to US troops despite the Constitutional ban on the presence of foreign troops in Philippine territory. To prevent its being debated and perhaps disapproved in the Senate, she described the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement as an executive agreement rather than a treaty, thus preparing the way for the eventual re-establishment of US “facilities” (read “bases”) in the Philippines, whose Sarangani Bay, the think think Strategic Forecasting points out, would be “ideal” for US military purposes. Along the way her government also signed with the US an agreement exempting US troops from prosecution in the International Criminal Court.
She then echoed in 2003 George W. Bush’s self-serving criticism of the United Nations for its refusal to sanction a US attack on Iraq. Her so-called “intelligence services” also tried mightily to link Iraqi diplomats in Manila to the Abu Sayyaf, and ordered at least one of them out of the country.
She aligned the country with the Coalition of the Shameless, loudly proclaiming her support for the immoral and illegal US attack on Iraq, on the eve of which she visited Kuwait to assure OFWs there that, through some magic, they would remain safe despite her so-called Iraq “policy”.
And, of course, once US occupation forces were in Iraq, she appealed to the Filipino poor’s worst instincts by promising them jobs as peons in the US corporations amassing huge profits from rebuilding the Iraq US troops had destroyed.
In recognition of the fact that these “policies” were focused on Arroyo Muna, Mrs. Arroyo promised last Monday “a new direction”: Mamamayan Muna (citizens first). But she did not dare venture into saying how this focus would be realized in foreign policy.
Citizens may not take kindly to the implication that the new focus actually means more taxes, including on cell phone calls and text messages, and, wonder of wonders, on oil products already worth their weight in gold.
On new taxes and on Charter Change Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA was indeed far from mute, promising more of the former and a rush for the latter. But on the urgency of the central issue the Angelo de la Cruz incident demonstrated—how what passes for Philippine foreign policy has had the inevitable and predictable result of endangering Filipino workers abroad—it was deafeningly silent.
The ambitions of presidents and would- be presidents—and the country’s surprising parochialism despite those eight million OFWs Mrs. Arroyo mentioned—have prevented Philippine attention from being focused on how much the world has changed for the worst, and how urgently the country needs to adapt to it if it is to survive.
The planet has never been in more grievous peril than at present. It wasn’t as unsafe during the worst moments of the Cold War, among other reasons because the risk of a nuclear exchange no one would survive kept both the US and Soviet blocs from attacking each other, in a situation that has been aptly described as “the balance of terror”.
The end of the Soviet bloc, however, has meant the rise to supremacy of one superpower against which there is no credible challenge. US triumphalism and military power has inevitably led to its conviction that it can do anything. If its ambitions had met with limited success in the Cold War era, often been blocked by Soviet fears of encirclement, it now sees no limits to them. The US and its allies’ monopoly over weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the world several times over, has led to the previously unthinkable option of pre-emptive war and a nuclear first strike.
This is not an aberration made into policy by the handful of imperium lunatics who advise George W. Bush. This is the logical outcome of a sustained US global policy of over fifty years’ duration of intervention anywhere and everywhere in furtherance of its economic and political interests.
It will not stop at Iraq, and it will not stop with the election of a new US president this November. If Filipinos read their lips, they will realize that Democratic Party candidates for president and vice president John Kerry and John Edwards are not promising any reversal of Bush’s doctrine of a United States able to impose its will anywhere. They are in fact promising “a stronger America” that can defeat any adversary—or anyone the US chooses to regard as an adversary.
What this means is that US policy towards countries like the Philippines will remain the same: it will try to get their support, no matter how token they may be, in furtherance of US aims. But it will discard them when convenient, and /or when they show signs of the littlest independence, describing them as weak-kneed, capitulationists, marshmallows—but retaliating beyond words and where it really hurts, as in deporting the hundreds of thousands of Filipino illegals in the US.
What to do under these circumstances? Mrs. Arroyo did not say, because she doesn’t seem to be even aware of what the Angelo de la Cruz episode demonstrated: that “pragmatism” in the sense she and her government understands it will no longer serve, and that, in the dangerous world of the 21st century, it’s time to forge a foreign policy truly based on national interest, rather than on the personal, familial and class interests of presidents that have historically shaped Philippine foreign policy and which similarly shaped hers.
Mrs. Arroyo could have seen the de la Cruz episode as an opportunity, and recognized this country’s one strength—that strength to which she capitulated when she ordered Philippine troops out of Iraq: the strength of a united people who know where their interests lie—as the basis for a foreign policy that would, indeed, look at the well-being and safety of all Filipinos as its fundamental focus. Unfortunately, Mrs. Arroyo didn’t; she was more focused on taxes and Charter Change—particularly, some suspect, on the opportunities for remaining in power beyond 2010 the latter offers.