POSTSCRIPT / July 25, 2004 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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It's no Pinoy grievance, but mere 'sentimiento'

PROPER FORUM: The electoral protest filed with the Supreme Court by defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. against President Arroyo should be welcomed as it is supposed to move the protest from the streets to the proper forum.

But will court action take it off the streets? Protest rallies timed with tomorrow’s State of the Nation Address of President Arroyo before the joint opening session of the 13th Congress will give us a hint of an answer.

Poe’s protest before the SC sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal raises many interesting questions among us non-lawyers. Samples:

Is the mere filing of an electoral protest sufficient reason to reopen the ballot boxes, review the elections returns and do a recount? Or does the petitioner (Poe) have to prove first that the respondent (Arroyo) committed the alleged cheating.

Assuming there was the usual cheating in some places, if the cheating was committed by someone other than Ms Arroyo herself and there is no proof of a conspiracy between Ms Arroyo and the cheater, will a protest against her election prosper?

What happens if the Constitution is amended and the presidential system is replaced by a parliamentary setup? Will such a shift render the protest moot? If so, will Poe’s protest now speed up administration moves for charter change?

If you were a lawyer, and your moneyed client asks if he should file this or that case, will you not advise him to go ahead and sue? (Anyway, di ba?, when you lose the case you can always claim the other party fixed it or that the judge was biased.)

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FOCUS ON GRIEVANCE: “Ways to avoid future 9/11-like attacks” says the head of a Washington File item that started on Page 13 in yesterday’s Philippine STAR.

The article discussed the 575-page report released July 22 by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Aside from collating accounts of what happened and assessing the US defenses, the 9/11 Commission recommended some steps to avoid similar attacks.

If I may butt in, America should pay more attention to the “Why?” of the attacks to gain a more rounded and a deeper view of the problem.

When men in their prime choose to deliver a message by crashing captured aircraft on high-profile targets — and die in the process — there must be a seething grievance against America that motivates them.

The 9/11 Commission should not be afraid to confront these grievances. Until these are recognized and addressed, America will not be at peace with its neighbors.

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‘SENTIMIENTO’: It is the same pattern in Iraq. The key question is also “Why?” The US should find out why Iraqis regard American forces as invaders instead of liberators.

For perspective, the US might also want to see how the Iraqi problem ties up with the Israel question. (Actually, US leaders are fully aware of the Israel factor, but they are obviously afraid to face it.)

In the case of the Philippines, however, I do not think the irritants in RP-US relations are in the magnitude of such “grievances.” They are more in the nature of “tampo” or, to borrow a favorite term of Gemma Cruz, just “sentimiento.”

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, who has left to sulk in his tent in Washington, DC, (and boycott the SONA of President Arroyo?) need not overreact and magnify the sore points arising from the Philippine decision to pull out its small military team in Iraq.

In the same way that the 9/11 Commission should study the grievances of Arabs and Muslims, Ricciardone and his bosses should attend to the “sentimiento” of their Filipino friends if they still want to salvage bilateral relations.

(Sorry, but I can’t find a satisfactory English one-word equivalent of “sentimiento.”)

Also, Ricciardone should not tell us about having to know who our friends are. With due respect, I think the ambassador should remind his government instead about recognizing and respecting America’s true friends.

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HER OWN DECISION: Now it can be told that most of President Arroyo’s close advisers wanted her to keep the Philippine contingent in Iraq until their scheduled Aug. 20 withdrawal.

Many of them argued their positions with enough passion and reason to win their case. But in the end, President Arroyo told them she had made up her mind — for an immediate pullout. After that, everybody proceeded to carry out the Chief’s order.

Pullout was President Arroyo’s personal decision, and her personal responsibility. Her words and body language after Iraqi militants released truck driver Angelo dela Cruz indicate that she intends to stick to that decision.

It is not for the US and its war allies to judge President Arroyo’s decision. Only her people can. And by all indications, they are standing by her.

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IMMIGRATION NOTES: Here are some official notes from the US Department of Homeland Security that might reassure Filipinos worried over the apparent tightening of immigration procedures and policies in the wake of 9/11.

Prakash Khatri, citizenship and immigration services ombudsman, talked Tuesday of moves to forge “a system that ensures both the safety of our borders, and yet openly welcomes immigrants as we have done for generations in the past here.”

He identified three issues where his office is poised to make policy recommendations: prolonged processing times for visas, immigration benefits fraud and case-status information improvement.

“To do those three in a way that is non-intrusive, customer-friendly, and shows the welcoming nature of the American immigration system is truly what we’re all committed to, and that’s what we’re hoping that we will be able to do,” he said.

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IMMEDIATE KIN: Khatri’s office has recommended streamlining the immediate-relative immigrant processing system and the permanent resident card replacement program. He elaborated:

“Here in the US, if you have a foreign national that has come to the US and is married to a US citizen or is the parent or child of a US citizen, they can file, in most cases, an application to get their green card here. What we did was we actually made a recommendation to do the processing in a manner which would substantially increase the speed.”

He reported that a pilot program of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services in Dallas has cut green-card processing time to 75 days or less, compared to New York City’s processing that can take three years or more.

Khatri said, “For individuals who are immediate relatives, such as parents, spouses or children, there is no limit on the number of immigrants that can come in. What we are trying to focus on is ensuring that USCIS is using the most up-to-date technology to quickly and securely process all of these applications.

“Once a person is here in the country with an application for a green card here, if they have a family emergency they’re required to have what’s known as advance parole to leave this country, and then return in that same status so that they can continue to get the benefit that they initially sought.”

There should not be a situation where a person cannot leave the US because the immigration service was unable to process an advance parole, he added.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 25, 2004)

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