Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Albert told the media last week that the Philippines had volunteered to help train Iraqis in democratic governance. The training would be part of the Philippine contribution to the rehabilitation of Iraq, and was among the commitments the country made during the International Donors’ Conference to rebuild Iraq that the United States called last October 23-24 in Madrid, Spain. That conference was held to solicit the help of the international community in sharing the costs in both funding and manpower in Iraq with the United States.

“I attended the Madrid Donors’ Conference for Iraq,” said Secretary Albert, “(where) we offered to share our experience in democratic governance.Very shortly,” said Albert, “we hope to make a formal announcement on a training program in the Philippines for Iraqi government officials.”

Secretary Albert did not say if the US occupation forces—the real rulers of
Iraq—have accepted the Philippine offer, or whether the offer belongs to that category of help from other countries that the United States would rather do without. In the realm of what’s best for other countries, the US after all thinks it knows best, and better than any other country including—perhaps even most especially—the Philippines. The aim of the Madrid Donors’ Conference was to raise money and to obtain troop and other manpower commitments from other countries, not help in training for democracy (or what the US says is democracy).

The idea was to ease the financial burden on the US government and to take some of the pressure off its troops who’ve been constantly under attack from Iraqi resistance groups since June last year. There is also the fact that at least two US non-government organizations with close links to the US government—the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute—are supposedly already providing Iraqis training in “democracy” and civics.

If indeed the Iraqi officials’ Philippine training does go through, however, I hope it won’t take place during the current political season. I suggest that the Philippines wait for a decent interval after the May elections to pass before it holds the training sessions here. Otherwise, I can imagine the Iraqis asking their Filipino trainers in democracy puzzled questions like what the various candidates for office this May stand for, whether it’s necessary in a democracy to first be a TV personality, an actor, or a basketball player to run for national office, or whether it’s an established democratic principle to change parties as often—or even more often—than one changes his or her underwear.

Given current fears over what can happen before, during and after May 10, however, I’m not too sure that holding the training even after that date would lead to the prospective trainees’ enlightenment on democratic practice, as this is supposedly best exemplified by elections.

The Iraqis are no strangers to elections, having gone to the polls many times in the last 30 years. The problem was that they could only vote for Sadam Hussein and other candidates from his Baath Party. Theoretically, a campaign period in a regime that calls itself democratic would best illustrate that crucial democratic imperative lacking in the elections during Saddam’s time, free choice.

This election period, Filipinos supposedly have several choices for president. There’s a former police general who’s been accused of murder, drug dealing and money laundering, and who recently admitted in national TV his involvement in torture; a Christian evangelist who has vowed to bring God into government as if all those Santo Ni

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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