POSTSCRIPT / September 3, 2000 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Send in Ping Lacson backed by US logistics

IF feedback from Postscript readers is any indication, Filipinos in the upscale ABC sectors are still ambivalent toward Americans. Majority of readers who have bothered to share their thoughts and feelings on issues involving Americans harbor these thoughts:

  • While they want the US to move against the Abu Sayyaf after the gang kidnapped an American, Jeffrey Schilling, they are not ready to endorse direct American military action.
  • While they flock to the US embassy to secure a temporary visitor’s visa, they hate the stringent screening and what they perceive to be racial prejudice and highhandedness against visa applicants in Manila.

* * *

MOST of our readers do not really sympathize with Schilling. The attitude is summarized by the common comment “bagay nga sa kanya” (he deserves it) for venturing into Abu Sayyaf territory knowing fully well the perilous situation in those parts.

In fact, many readers do not seem to care if Schilling were “sacrificed” — meaning his getting killed in any rescue attempt is accepted as an unfortunate but necessary possibility. There is nothing in readers’ comments showing that his being black has something to do with this lack of concern or sympathy for him.

The US is generally seen only as a convenient tool for teaching the Abu Sayyaf a lesson and getting even with them. And Schilling happens to have emerged as the excuse for such possible US action.

* * *

A MINORITY harbors the suspicion that the US actually worked out Schilling’s falling into Abu Sayyaf hands, but offers no proof.

Another small number also expressed faith in American readiness to help Filipinos in trouble and, in the case of the Schilling kidnapping, to “terminate the bad guys.”

A few readers ask impatiently what’s taking the US. They imply that by this time there should be already some fireworks in or around the Abu Sayyaf lair where kidnapped victims are being kept.

* * *

WHILE many readers are ambivalent toward American involvement, most of them heap blame and choice expletives on Erap Estrada who they perceive to be bungling the Abu Sayyaf problem.

For someone who struts around as the epitome of machismo, Erap comes through in readers’ feedback on the hostage crisis as a weak, bumbling executive. The majority verdict is that the role of president is just too big for this movie star.

Less charitable readers say that the kidnapping problem is being allowed to drag on because some key Estrada officials are getting a cut or commission in the ransom being paid. Again, no proof of this collusion is offered.

* * *

MANY readers who want the shooting to start right away suggest that the chore of rescuing the hostages be entrusted to PNP chief Ping Lacson and special squads of the national police.

The reason given or implied is that combating kidnapping for ransom is a police chore. Also, a significant number point out that if there is anybody who could bring the kidnappers to their knees, if not to their grave, it is Lacson and his posse.

Most everybody is aware that it would be interference for the US to bring in its own commandos, even if the President gave them a carte blanche. If the US wants to play it safe, Mr. Estrada can entrust the dirty job to Lacson.

* * *

ONE scenario suggested is for the US to stay in the background while giving Lacson’s men the logistics needed for the speedy liquidation of the Abu Sayyaf problem. These logistics could include high-resolution satellite maps of the Abu Sayyaf area, night-vision equipment, laser-directed weapons and similar sophisticated materiel.

Naval craft could be brought in to blockade the small island of Sulu to prevent escape of the kidnappers. On land and in the sea, the order would be to shoot the enemy on sight and take no prisoners.

What if the hostages get hit? While a precise surgical slice is aimed for, some blood would have to be spilled.

Even in coffee shops, such a gung-ho scenario is gaining excited support – an indication that the Erap-Abu Sayyaf moro-moro has played too long.

Oh yes, a variation is: Once the commando raid starts, government forces preferably would fail to distinguish between the Abu Sayyaf and such related armed bands as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Lacson’s boys would not go through the niceties of asking for ID cards before shooting.

* * *

TAKING off from the hawkish feedback of readers, we suggest that President Estrada rouse himself up and lose no time talking business with the Yankees. (After all, he is visiting America again in a few days.)

The talks’ agenda could be along the lines drawn by our readers. Sir, the cameras have been rolling a long time ago and it’s high time you showed some action. Never mind the script. We are more interested in the action, not the dialogue.

Again, we suggest Ping Lacson for the lead role. Fernando Poe Jr., with two Thompson submachineguns blazing, might also do a creditable job, but he could be too old for anything bigger than a Barangay Giñebra drinking bout.

* * *

THE other issue, that of the elusive US visa, provoked some angry retorts from readers who have had some sad experience with the consuls at the US embassy.

The general run of complaints is that US consuls do not bother to look deeply into the traveler’s qualification for a visa as evidenced by the voluminous papers the applicant brings with him. Many others denounce insulting remarks of consuls.

The wonder of it is that most of these disgruntled travelers go back to the consuls for more insults. This is a commentary on the market value of a US visa for which an applicant pays $45 to set an interview.

Or it could be a footnote to the worsening economic situation.

* * *

OUR giving the flip side in a recent Postscript where an American applying for a Philippine visa complained of the bureaucratic maze and the plethora of fees being collected failed to even up the exchange of visa horror stories.

Rosauro of  recalled how he brought various documents detailing his earnings as a contract grower, his money piling up in the bank, and his old passports showing his having traveled extensively (including once to the US).

But the US consul did not even glance at his papers. He asked instead for other documents that the applicant did not think of bringing but promised to produce the next day. The consul was not interested in tomorrow. He denied the application right then and there.

We hate to tell this to Rosauro, but that’s it. If they don’t want you to visit their country, there is not much you can do about it, unless you are a special friend of Erap Estrada and he is willing go above the head of the boorish consuls.

* * *

A US consul is directed by his country’s immigration law to presume that every visa applicant is intending to stay. The burden of disproving that unfair assumption rests on the applicant. The usual approach is to show that you have a legitimate reason to go to the US, can afford it, and will return home afterwards.

We’ve seen many Filipinos borrow clothes and jewelry to adorn themselves with, produce land titles, income tax returns and bank books padded with borrowed money, hoping to look rich enough to be able to travel.

Some of them pay huge amounts to self-proclaimed fixers. Most of these fixers vanish after getting the money or deliver good quality imitation visas. But a few applicants have secured genuine visas through fixers and managed to sneak into the US with them.

It’s all a hit-or-miss affair. Many intending TNTs (tago nang tago) outsmart the consuls and succeed in securing visas, while many who are eminently qualified are turned away.

* * *

ROSAURO told us he just wanted to visit his relatives in the States after acting as sponsor in the wedding of a nephew. He said being 63 years old, he would not be a fool to look for a job in the US and abandon his lucrative business here.

He said that if it was capacity to travel they were looking for, he must have had more properties and had more money than the consul who denied him a visa. And he was most likely better educated.

Assuming that the applicant is indeed qualified, the fact remains that the consul is the one on the other side of the bullet-proof glass window in the embassy and the fate of the visa applicant is entirely in his hands

As for a Filipino’s being asked to stand as sponsor at a baptism or a wedding or attend a family reunion in the States, an American consul will not appreciate that. They do not understand close family ties such as those that Filipinos have.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 3, 2000)

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