POSTSCRIPT / August 12, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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RP distancing itself from US war on Iraq?

SHIFTING POSITION: Now we see a hint of why US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone did not look happy after his meeting Monday with Foreign Secretary Delia Albert over bilateral issues related to Iraq.

Either Ricciardone was told outright in his discussions with Albert of the evolving Philippine policy touching on American presence in Iraq or he saw it coming through the diplomatese.

Its most recent statements indicate that the Philippines has decided to follow a line that is not exactly along the straight path drawn by the White House for all members of the so-called Coalition of the Willing.

Is the Philippines finally waking up, or is Malacanang just repositioning itself in anticipation of a possible defeat of President George W. Bush in the November elections?

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TWO CONDITIONS: Reiterating its commitment to the global fight against terrorism, the Philippines tried for balance while shifting its position on the war issues.

The Philippines tried to cushion the impact of its early pullout from Iraq by letting it be known, quite belatedly we think, that it was willing to go back to the front with a humanitarian contingent.

Will Washington appreciate this gesture? Note that Manila’s offer came with conditions betraying a hesitation to contribute uniformed Philippine presence in Iraq in the manner that the US had wanted.

Secretary Albert said the Philippines will go back to Iraq (1) only under the aegis of the United Nations, and (2) only after elections have been held to install a permanent Iraqi government there.

We did not impose these conditions the first time we sent soldiers and police officers to Iraq.

The reference to a UN cover indicates that the Philippines has had second thoughts about the wisdom of sending Filipino troops in support of the US instead of in response to a UN request to field peacekeeping forces in Iraq.

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ADDITIONAL CONDITION: As if to firm up the conditions given by the foreign secretary for sending Filipino troops, presidential spokesman Ignacio R. Bunye added a third condition yesterday.

He said the Philippines wants “fool-proof safety measures” for Filipino workers. Since there is no such iron-clad protection in a country at war, this is almost like ruling out the sending of Filipinos at this time. Bunye said:

“As a matter of principle, we are willing to help in rebuilding Iraq and in restoring democracy, but it still too early in the day to discuss details. We have yet to receive a formal request from the United Nations about this.

“We have to be assured of fool-proof safety measures for our workers.

“We have to see a popularly elected Iraqi government in place.

“There will be a proper time to make decisions. We will cross the bridge when we get there.”

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PUPPET GOV’T: Our reading is that we would send a uniformed contingent only upon invitation of a sovereign Iraqi government — not on request of the US nor of the current crop of US-sponsored officials pretending to govern Iraq.

Since Iraqi elections are scheduled only in January, the Philippines’ wait for a genuine Iraqi government to take over could mean that President Arroyo is not inclined to send a military group this year, or before the US elections in November.

It appears that the Philippines will not allow itself to be used by reelectionist President George W. Bush as a deodorizer for his politically costly invasion of Iraq.

Its waiting for the elections in Iraq to install a legitimate government indicates also that Manila does not seem to regard the US-installed Iraqi officials as authentic representatives or leaders of the Iraqi people.

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ROAD TO PERDITION: Remember that 1.9-kilometer temporary access road that the Philippine Ports Authority built across the Batangas Port holding area at a cost of some P45 million beefed up from an original estimate of only P16 million?

After two years of use, that “Road to Perdition” (as some critics called it) will be completely obliterated in a few days — as we said so in this space — and good-bye to the millions splurged on it by the cash-strapped government.

The contractor, the F.F. Cruz-Shimizu combine, expects to complete this month covering the road with one meter of fill materials to complete an 89-hectare container storage and operations area.

The project has been delayed by the refusal of some organized squatters to leave.

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LIE CONFIRMED: This development confirms that Robert B. Uy, a PPA factotum, lied when he said last year in reaction to POSTSCRIPT that the temporary road will not be “demolished or affected” by the expansion work that, he added, “will not encroach into any portion” of the access road.

We were amazed by Uy’s claim as we presumed he knew that the removal of the road was in the plans submitted to and approved by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, which is lending P2.6 billion for the port development.

We find it suspicious that the regular P55-million perimeter road around the property is much longer that the temporary access road that it will replace, yet it costs almost as much as the shorter road being removed.

However, if there was overpricing as alleged by some sectors, it would be harder to prove now as the road would soon be totally buried and paved over.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 12, 2004)

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