Messages from a state visit

“In a time of crisis,” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told United States President George W. Bush, “friends do not ask why, they ask how.”  That about sums up Philippine policy toward the US today, crisis or no crisis.  We trust America implicitly, we will not inquire into its behavior and motives; we support it automatically in whatever it does in the international arena.

One might be inclined to dismiss President Macapagal’s platitudinous characterization of how the Philippines feels for America as a hyperbole inspired by her effusive reception at the White House.  But she seems to have meant this literally, as she went one step further to echo the simplistic binary language of her host. Winding up her US state visit, she told a gathering of the US-Asean business council: “There are those with an evil agenda who wish to disrupt this relationship…. Some loud voices denounce a closer alliance with the United States, but let my state visit here be a message to those who peddle in the false currency of terror.”  So now anyone who criticizes these special relations must be a terrorist.

I submit it is President Macapagal who is trading in “the false currency of terror.”  The Moro secessionist movement in Mindanao has been with us for decades.  Its roots go back to the birth of the Filipino nation, to a time when the word “terrorist”, had it been in use then, could well have applied to Filipino revolutionaries. The Mindanao conflict is a domestic issue we must try to confront on our own terms. To link it to the US-led campaign against global terrorism to the point of inviting America to help end this problem for us is an act of irresponsibility and opportunism.

America can never be a disinterested mediator.  As the lone world power, it has its own interests to promote and protect, not the least of which is the control of those resources essential to continued American growth.  The events of Sept. 11 supplied the Bush regime the context and the moral warrant to break out of the existing international order and assert America’s position as the undisputed leader of the world.  The currency it chose is the global war on terrorism.  It succeeded in making the invasion of Iraq acceptable to Americans by making them believe that the Saddam Hussein regime was a supporter of the al-Qaida terror network and that ultimately Saddam was responsible for 9/11.

To privilege our friendship with America may be a practical move in a world in which America is the lone superpower. But it is a decision that is both shortsighted and dangerous.  We have important bilateral relations with other nations, and cooperate in multilateral efforts to create a better world.  We send our people to work and live in more than a hundred other societies, among them Arabic and Muslim with no love for America.  Our relations with these countries are no less vital to the future of our country than is our friendship with America.

In international relations there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies precisely because time passes and circumstances change.  Regimes change.  At particular points, some national interests become more salient than others; some relationships become more vital than others.  It is foolish for a country to blindly follow another in its adventures out of mere friendship. Truly sovereign nations always keep their own interests uppermost in their minds when they navigate their way in the world stage.  If they are small and relatively weak, they seek strength and influence via multilateral initiatives and agreements.

By actively supporting America’s illegal and immoral war against Iraq, a complete reversal of the position that we would abide by the decisions of the UN, we contributed to the destruction of an institution that we helped found as humanity’s last hope for an enduring world peace.  The United Nations is as good as dead, and America, under its present neo-conservative leadership, will not accept its resurrection except maybe as an expendable appendage to its own power.  We have substituted the United States for the United Nations as the arbiter and guardian of a new world order.  It is a wonder why we recently took the trouble of appointing a new permanent representative to the UN, and why we are now actively seeking a seat in the Security Council.

It is a great honor for any nation to see its leader being received in such a grand way by the world’s most powerful country.  But let us not forget that, in doing this, America was also sending out a message to other countries that refused to bend to American pressure to support its unilateral action against Iraq.  They will be made to pay for their lack of loyalty.  We were being honored as a faithful lackey.

Filipinos ought to know better than anyone how costly it is in the final analysis for a nation to come under the patronage of another. Only those who are unfamiliar with the history of our country will claim that US meddling in our internal affairs has been entirely beneficial to our nation.  Generations of heroic Filipinos tried very hard to break the ties of dependence that had stunted our growth as a nation.  The US bases were emblematic of these ties.  By a stroke of luck and in a moment of sustained courage, our people finally succeeded in terminating the stay of these bases in our country in 1991. From then on, we learned to live without American assistance and guidance.

Why are we allowing one state visit to erase all of that?


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