POSTSCRIPT / February 14, 2002 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Is playing cops in Zambo part of Balikatan for GIs?

ROAMING RAMBOS: The STAR front-page pictures yesterday of GIs in mufti waving high-powered rifles outside a bank in Zamboanga while their buddies transacted business has rubbed the scars of old wounds left by US servicemen of yore who had abused the hospitality of their Filipino hosts.

Somebody should tell the boys and their commanders that they are here for the RP-US Balikatan military exercise and that playing cops and robbers in the streets of Zamboanga is not part of that exercise by any stretch of the imagination.

Pardon our swift verdict, but we think that the GIs’ arrogant, presumptuous conduct while on personal commercial errands outside their camp showed that:

  1. They regard themselves as global supercops licensed by their government to operate anywhere and anytime American interests are threatened.
  2. They do not trust the local police, or their Filipino military counterpart, to secure them outside their security perimeter.
  3. With their attitude, whatever we write into the Balikatan TOR (terms of reference) becomes irrelevant to their own secret mission in Mindanao.

If those Rambos misplaced in Zamboanga are found to have violated any rule, they should be punished to the hilt and the corrective action given equal publicity.

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CONSUELO DE BOBO: The Palace says that while Filipino and American troops will take orders from their respective field commanders under the TOR, those sub commanders will be under their respective Filipino and American co-directors, who in turn will be under the overall command of the Chief of Staff of the armed forces of the Philippines.

That’s a long-winded trip to the top of the pyramid where eventually the top Filipino general is given the consuelo de bobo of kunwari presiding over Balikatan from the clouds.

At the time of this writing, the TOR text has not been published. But with the actuations of those GIs in civvies playing cops in Zamboanga, we might have been treated to a preview of how the Americans regard the Balikatan TOR.

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ATTITUDE TELLS IT ALL: The Americans have never taken a liking for too-detailed contracts with their military allies. Details cramp their overbearing style. Generalities, such as those written into the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, make for more flexibility.

Previous joint exercises under the VFA were never governed by TORs. Signing the TOR this time is actually an idea of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, presumably to protect her rear from political sniping in the home front.

In the real world, it’s not really the letter or even the spirit of the TOR that will matter. It is the attitude of the two sovereign parties that will give meaning to the document.

Based on the US military’s record in the implementation of defense arrangements, including the then RP-US Bases Agreement, the US can be expected to try using the inadequately defined terms to spring its servicemen who get into trouble with the natives.

This time, do we have iron-clad safeguards against such abuses? The TOR, whose text might be published today, will give a hint of an answer to that question.

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PINOYS’ SURVIVAL FARE: The survival techniques being taught by Filipinos to their American partners are not really necessary in the jungles of Basilan where the Balikatan exercise might take the visiting US forces.

The GIs don’t have to look for dry bamboo sticks to start a fire. They have all-weather lighters and hi-tech gadgets for starting a fire. They are never a day away from hot mess meals. They don’t have to forage for snakes, lizards, insects, root crops and the like while tracking down the Abu Sayyaf and their hostages. They stop to do that and they would be dead ducks. And they don’t have to steal backyard chicken from the poor natives. They have sumptuous K-ration to last them days.

What the GIs can do is gain an education by watching Filipinos opening their Spartan meals wrapped in banana leaves and eating with their hands. Or watch them during breaks dipping into their knapsacks for soda crackers and washing them down with untreated water collected from running jungle streams.

The exposure might just give the pampered GIs a chance to understand the psyche of the hardy Filipino soldier to whom then imperious Gen. Douglas MacArthur paid the highest tribute after he abandoned them to save his neck.

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LESSONS IN POWER DIPLOMACY: Vice President and Foreign Secretary Teofisto Guingona received a stinging slap when his American counterpart State Secretary Colin Powell refused to deign to discuss with him the Balikatan TOR and later sit down to sign the document.

Claiming he was too busy, Powell told one of his assistants to take Guingona’s call and act on the papers mentioned by the foreign secretary. The embarrassed Guingona had to pedal back and delegate the discussion and the signing to one of his undersecretaries.

In diplomacy, where one virtually tiptoes on eggs, diplomats are careful not to announce anything until it’s a sure thing. It was reckless for Guingona to make public his desire to deal with Powell himself if he was not sure he would have a one-on-one with him.

At least, Guingona is learning his basic lessons in power diplomacy — however belatedly. But seriously, if he is uncomfortable being the odd man out in the Cabinet, he can always resign.

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PINAYS FOR SALE!: Days ago, Sen. Loren Legarda — who at 42 is reportedly five-weeks pregnant — went to town denouncing Internet sites offering email-order brides, including Filipinas in search of foreigners for husbands.

One problem is that the women advertised in such websites must have voluntarily submitted themselves as willing brides. Another problem is that we may not have the needed laws to go after those who abuse the Internet in such manner.

Yesterday, we received an email from reader Norman Jardiel using a yahoo address reporting another website (actually a string of hyperlinked sites) advertising alleged Filipino cyber-prostitutes in various obscene poses.

It’s so disgusting, but knowing how inadequate are our laws and how weak is our official resolve, we doubt if anything could be done to prosecute the people behind it.

The website is so super hot that it should not be publicly identified in this column. We can send the site to any official who promises to act on it.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 14, 2002)

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