POSTSCRIPT / February 3, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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It’s clear: AFP officers in charge of ‘Balikatan’

PINOYS IN FULL CONTROL: What more clarification does the whining opposition want before it clears away the cobwebs in its mind about the joint RP-US military exercise on Basilan?

Admiral Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of US forces in the Pacific (CINCPAC) who has operational control over US soldiers participating in the “Balikatan” exercise, has said that his men are mere advisers and that Filipino commanders are in charge.

“There is no question that this is a Philippine operation — they are in charge.” Blair said in Singapore last Jan. 28. “It’s Philippine units with Philippine officers under Philippine control with US advisors in the advisory role.”

To put it bluntly, Blair rules the Pacific military area. His word is law and every soldier and officer under him is ready to die to carry out his order. The admiral happens to be jealous for his fighting men. He would not have affirmed their subordinate role in Balikatan if it were not so and if it were not cleared first with his boss in the White House.

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BUSH ADDRESSING AMERICANS: No less than President George W. Bush said substantially the same thing last Wednesday in his State of the Union address before the US Congress. “We now have troops in the Philippines,” he said. “helping to train that country’s armed forces to go after terrorist cells….”

Yes, he also said: “Some governments will be timid in the face of terror. And make no mistake about it: if they do not act, America will.” But that was a political speech.

The local opposition and the Left failed to note that Bush was just addressing Americans caught in an economic slump amid fears of terrorism exploding in their midst. He had to use tough oratory and sound protective of Americans. As later clarified, he never intended US forces to take over the hunt for terrorists in the Philippines.

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IT’S NOT PARANOIA: Our own President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, after conferring with President Bush, stressed the same points in the Balikatan guidelines she issued before her current foreign trip — that Filipino commanders are in charge and US personnel were mere advisers.

But of course the opposition and the Left have painted themselves into a corner. They have convinced themselves that the US is poised to rain death and destruction on Basilan and Zamboanga in the same manner it bombed Afghanistan back to Neanderthal caves.

With the real picture getting clearer, Sen. Blas Ople saw the cue to now assume — belatedly we think — the role of an elder statesman. He pretended to counsel his fellow oppositionists against being paranoid. It’s not paranoia, Ka Blas, it’s pure heckling of the cheapest kind.

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BETTER JUNGLE FIGHTER: Whatever has been said of our soldiers, we still think they are the better guerrilla fighters this side of Basilan who can boast also of superior intelligence. The only edge of their US counterparts is superior weaponry and high-tech intelligence support.

What should happen is for the Philippine military to give a homecoming President Arroyo the pasalubong of suddenly stabbing deep into the main Abu Sayyaf lair and rescuing on their own the American couple and the Filipina nurse being held hostage by the terrorists.

That will make academic the runaway debate over the role of US forces in Balikatan. Such a feat will restore the luster of the escutcheon of the Philippine armed forces. We all need a break.

The worst scenario — it’s so gruesome we’ve kept ourselves from saying it — is if the Abu Sayyaf terrorists decide to lighten their load and hasten their flight by executing the three hostages and scampering each to his own escape from Basilan before the Americans make their presence felt.

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VILLAGE ROADS BLOCKED: We talked last time of guards at private subdivisions requiring non-residents to leave their drivers’ licenses at the gate or stay out — if they don’t buy stickers being sold by homeowners’ associations.

We said that it was illogical, if not illegal, to bar licensed motorists on the basis of controversial stickers if tax money or government funds have been used in paving, repairing, upgrading or maintaining village roads.

But engineer Ibarra S. Torres of Novaliches, Quezon City, is complaining not just of oppressive gate guards and greedy homeowners associations selling stickers, but of a steel gate being thrown across the alternate access road in a Fairview subdivision.

Torres was referring to these streets in West Fairview he identified as Chestnut, Walnut, Dahlia being used as an alternate route when Commonwealth Ave. gets too crowded. He complained that a steel gate now blocks the route.

He checked with the land use regulatory board and was informed that the streets had been turned over to the city government. With that, he is asking why residents took it upon themselves to block the roads like they were still private property. He added that these streets have been maintained using government funds and must therefore be open to the public.

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SENATE STUDIES ISSUES: Disturbed by the issue of streets in private subdivision being kept off limits to non-residents who refuse to leave their driver’s license or buy village stickers, Senate President Franklin Drilon instructed his staff to study the problem for remedial legislation if warranted.

“I share your concern” he told us in an email, “about the legality and propriety of the practice of some subdivision owners — particularly those that accept government funds for the upkeep of their property — to demand the driver’s license of motorists who pass through their private property.”

Reader Benjamin Subido (isuzuphil.com) agreed that there ought to be a law regulating the issuance of car stickers by private subdivision.

He said: “Roads inside a subdivision are to be turned over to the city or municipal government and therefore become public roads. There must be a way to balance concern for security, the right of the homeowner or resident, and the right of the public to use public roads.

“Consider this: Guards prevent cars without stickers from entering a village unless the driver surrenders his license and yet allow everyone to walk past the gate just by showing any kind of ID. Criminal elements inside a vehicle with a sticker will be allowed entry while a legitimate homeowner riding in a vehicle without a sticker will be inconvenienced.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 3, 2002)

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