POSTSCRIPT / March 20, 2003 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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US support for the boys not necessarily for Bush

DIVISIVE DEBATE: If we were mainstream Americans, we would rally — hours before the end of the 48-hour ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to give up — behind the US forces poised to invade and occupy Iraq. You don’t send the youth to fight your country’s war and then abandon them.

Whatever positions Americans have held during the debate leading to President George W. Bush’s finally declaring war against Iraq, there is wisdom in their now seeing the war to its logical conclusion without the distraction of debate.

Whatever their individual persuasions, Americans can pick up the subject after the dust of battle has settled. Anyway, Bush strategists promise a swift, decisive wallop.

But we’re intrigued by the opposition in that country now tempering their public statements, being careful to say that they support the troops, the boys — without explicitly saying that by that they mean they support Bush.

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RP POSITION VAGUE: But we are not Americans. We are a small nation halfway around the globe from the chosen field of battle with no direct involvement in what the American president has set out to do.

We are alarmed that until this time of writing, we have not heard a clear definition of the Philippine official position on the US invasion of the sovereign state of Iraq.

Is our position what columnist Blas F. Ople — who happens to be the foreign secretary — says it is in his opinion column in another morning daily?

Is it the America Forever stance that the hawkish and Annapolis-trained presidential security adviser and part-time spokesman Roilo Golez keeps trumpeting from the ramparts?

Is it what official presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye merely hints at with his evasive remarks to the press?

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INVOLVE CONGRESS: We would be more comfortable to hear our President on national TV define in clear terms where she is taking us. She might also want to confide to the nation at what price we would consent to being used.

Of course we Filipinos are on the American side — why would we cast our lot with Saddam in the first place? — but what exactly are we set to do as American allies and to what extent will we allow ourselves to be sucked into the war of another country?

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel keeps needling the President to level with us and involve the Congress in defining the Philippine position. But Mrs. Arroyo just ignores him, like she is ignoring other personalities whose opinion normally carries weight.

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CHARTER PROVISIONS: Talking of war and our earlier observation that it is only the US Congress and not the US President who can legally “declare war” under their Constitution, we share with Filipinos these war provisions in our own charter:

Article II, Section 2: “The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations.”

Article VI, Section 23: “(1) The Congress, by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses in joint session assembled, voting separately, shall have the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war.

“(2) In times of war or other national emergency, the Congress may, by law, authorize the President, for a limited period and subject to such restrictions as it may prescribe, to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy. Unless sooner withdrawn by resolution of the Congress, such powers shall cease upon the next adjournment thereof.”

While the President is the sole spokesman of the country in foreign relations, the suggestion that the President consult with Congress in handling a war situation has merit, if only because of the charter provisions we have cited.

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AFTER IRAQ, WHAT?: Closer consultation with legislative and other leaders is important since the war situation will not end with the conclusion of the ground attack on Baghdad.

Bush himself has referred repeatedly to what he called the Iraq-Iran-North Korea axis of evil.

This raises the probability that after Iraq, Bush would turn his attention to Iran and North Korea, if American public opinion would tolerate such warlike moves in a post-Iraq scenario.

In fact, North Korea, and not Iraq, appears to be the more direct and clear threat to the US. Pyongyang boasts of nuclear capability and openly threatens to lob missiles to some targets on the US mainland. It has been making warlike moves.

This is a stark contrast to Iraq, which does not appear to pose an imminent and direct threat to the US.

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LISTEN, AMERICA: We may be more understanding of a Monroe Doctrine type of police action in the American hemisphere involving US forces forcibly taking out any tyrant or despot in any capital in the Americas. But we are not comfortable with the US assigning itself the task of removing the head of a sovereign state in the Middle East.

Saddam may be that evil, if the Western press has been truthful, but the question lingers if invading Iraq to root him out is the best solution to a change of leadership in preparation for taking control of the oilfields.

The arrogance of the American leadership prevents its ever hearing what the rest of the world says. We think that America — specifically its President — should learn to listen, for a change.

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WHY TERRORISM?: When terrorists struck at the heart of America on Sept. 21, 2001, and Bush organized a posse to pursue the varmints to the mountains of Afghanistan and elsewhere, he should have left one ear cocked to catch what the world was saying.

Bush should have found time to find out in earnest why some young men were willing to die delivering bombs of messages on high-profile symbols of American world dominance. There are other ways.

It is not enough that America is able to fend off terrorists, or to catch them. It should try to find out why terrorists target America. How come there is that much hatred for America?

Finding the answers to those basic questions will help solve many of the problems now plaguing the mightiest economic and military power on earth.

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TOYOTA REACTS: A vice president for marketing of Toyota Motors wrote to say there is no truth to what we said last time: “There are also industry reports that Toyota Motors have imported brand-new Altis sedans from Taiwan without paying the usual additional tariffs for brand-new vehicles.”

The Toyota spokesman added: “All models of Toyota Corolla Altis are fully assembled in the Philippines at our Sta. Rosa plant. The huge investment made by Toyota in building this plant is a testament of the company’s direction to help the government in its pursuit towards economic development.”

On the contrary, our notes on the hearing last Feb. 26 of the House subcommittee on customs and tariff headed by Tarlac Rep. Jesli Lapus indicate the opposite of the claim of the Toyota spokesman who had identified himself as Danny Isla.

The subcommittee received reports then, as we said in our last Postscript, that some Toyota Altis were being brought in from Taiwan, where the vehicles were reportedly assembled, without paying the required 30 percent excise tax.

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CONGRESS REPORTS: Some congressmen, notably Reps. Didagen Dilangalen and Padilla raised the question of swapping tax breaks involving Altis units. Some congressmen noted that Campi president Jose Alvarez never denied the existence of such a swap scheme, adding there was nothing wrong with it.

Alvarez reportedly defended the scheme as part of an agreement signed between Toyota and the departments of trade-industry and finance. The arrangement reportedly was for Toyota importing Altis paying only 3 percent tax but in return binding itself to export a corresponding number of other Toyota vehicles to Asean countries.

The subcommittee received information that some Asian utility vehicles (AUVs) assembled locally, such as Toyota Revos and Tamaraw FX, had been exported in exchange for the Altis’ exemption from the usual 30 percent tax.

Tax techniques of some alleged car manufacturers (who actually import and/or assemble instead of manufacture complete units) were mentioned in the discussion of the need for importing cheaper used vehicles to meet the demand of buyers who cannot afford the overpriced brand-new vehicles brought in by Campi members.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 20, 2003)

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