POSTSCRIPT / October 31, 2004 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Kidnapping of Pinoy rips open Afghan veil

DOT ON THE MAP: The late Manila Times editor Jose Luna Castro would remind his cub reporters in the 1960s not to indulge in so-called “Afghanistanism.”

I have always suspected that JoeLuna picked up that term in Syracuse U in upstate New York where he earned his Masters in journalism. Afghanistanism was the term used then in US newsrooms for copy that was dull and irrelevant to American readers.

Four decades before hijacked jetliners smashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in downtown Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, Afghanistan was just a speck somewhere on the planet that school kids found difficult locating on the map. That killer quakes would occasionally bury thousands of faceless Afghans was meaningless to most Americans, even now.

In that context, news about Afghanistan was not (past tense) the type that would excite the US reader in the same way that the score of yesterday’s ballgame would. It would not be as engrossing as the details in the legal life of deposed lifestyle queen Martha Stewart or the sexplosive film clip on hotel chain heiress Paris Hilton uploaded in the Internet.

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PROXIMITY: Afghanistan did not have (again, past tense) what we call in journalism school the element of proximity.

For many Filipinos, “proximity” is what JoeLuna would call a million-dollar word — a pretentious, sometimes longish, not-so-common and not-so-well-understood term that dilettantes love to toss around not so much to inform as to impress.

It is in the same fashion that lawyers trying to sound “de campanilla” to their bewildered clients would intone “dura lex sed lex” without explaining.

Proximity, of course, is nothing but “nearness.” It can be nearness as to location or time, or psychological nearness.

Your Pekingese waiting at your feet is nearer (location) — therefore more real and definitely warmer — than an elephant trampling the bushes deep in Africa. Your business meeting due in five minutes (time) is more important than the Battle of Mactan fought more than four centuries ago. And tomorrow, All Souls Day, departed family members will be nearer your heart and mind (psychological) than the martyr Jose Rizal executed by firing squad in 1896.

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ANOTHER ANGEL: The veil that the lack of proximity had cast over Afghanistan was lifted dramatically after 9/11.

The posse organized by President George W. Bush chased the varmints led by Osama bin Laden all the way to the mountains of Afghanistan and wherever the ruling Taliban may have given sanctuary to the Saudi multibillionaire.

To Filipinos, Afghanistan loomed even bigger this week when news broke out Thursday that a Pinoy junior diplomat, Angelito Nayan, was kidnapped in Kabul the capital with two other foreigners also working with the United Nations.

An Islamist group claiming responsibility has threatened to execute the hostages if the authorities pursued them. The victims are in Kabul helping the UN supervise the first presidential election ever to be held in that war-torn Central Asian country.

“Angelito” may be the diminutive form of “Angelo” (as in Angelo dela Cruz of Mexico, Pampanga), but the problem for President Arroyo is not necessarily any smaller than that involved in her springing Angelo from Iraqi militants demanding the pullout of Filipino troops.

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FOOTNOTES: In the same neighborhood of Afghanistan are countries whose names also end in “stan” — such as Pakistan, Baluchistan, Kurdistan, Turkistan, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The terminal “stan” is formed from the Iranian root “*st-” (“to stand, stay,”) and means “place (where one stays), home, country.” The country names are formed from “-stan” preceded by the name of the inhabitants.

(Pakistan is an exception. Its name was coined in 1933 using the suffix “-istan” from Baluch istan preceded by the initial letters of Punjab, Afghanistan, and Kashmir.)

A cyber dictionary says that a word almost identical in form, etymology, and meaning to the Iranian suffix “-stan” is found in Polish, which has a word “stan” that means “state” (in the senses of both polity and condition).

Now hear this: The Polish name for the US is “Stany Zjednoczone Ameryki” which is literally “States United of America.” As in some other languages, the adjective (“united”) comes after the noun that it modifies.

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PINOY WAR DEAD: Unknown to most Filipinos back home, 34-year-old Angelito Nayan, who is a foreign service officer IV with our foreign affairs department, is not the only Filipino whose life got entangled in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In a report in the Filipino Reporter, the leading weekly newspaper in the New York area published by former Timesman Bert Pelayo, there is mention of at least four more Filipino Americans who have died on those two fronts from August to October this year.

Writing for the Reporter, Edmundo M. Silvestre reported that the four new casualties brought to over a dozen the number of US soldiers of Filipino descent killed in the ongoing US-led war against terrorism.

The latest FilAm soldiers killed were identified as (1) Army Capt. Dennis L. Pintor, 30, of Lima, Ohio; (2) Spc. Kyle K. Fernandez, 26, of Pearl City, Hawaii; (3) Army Sgt. 1st Class Joselito O. Villanueva, 36, of Van Nuys, California; and (4) Army Spc. Edgar P. Daclan Jr., 24, of Long Beach, California.

Overall, Pentagon figures show that as of last week more than 1,100 American soldiers have been killed and more than 7,700 wounded in action in Iraq since its invasion by the US in March 2003, a year-and-a-half after 9/11.

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CHANGE THE BOSS: With the death of his son Kyle, Renald Fernandez called for a “leadership change” in the US — an echo of the regime change that Bush wanted in the Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

The grieving father of Spc. Fernandez said: “This president rushed our troops into battle. I’m not endorsing any candidate, but I think we do need a change. I think we should exercise our right to vote. A leadership change would eventually, perhaps, lead to different policy, where maybe the troops could come home.”

Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, Hawaii’s adjutant general, said “a loss like this is always tragic,” but added that he thinks the Bush administration has been taking the right steps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fernandez and four other US soldiers were on a routine patrol last Oct. 14 in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, when a remote-controlled homemade bomb detonated under their Humvee, killing him and another soldier. Their other companions were wounded.

His brother Koa, 24, enlisted in the Army early this year and was set to report for duty on Nov. 2. But because of his brother’s death, he was given the option to get out of his service commitment.

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SELFLESS WISH: The most ranking of the latest FilAm casualties, Captain Pintor, was a 1998 West Point graduate. Also a graduate of the Army Ranger School, he was stationed in Iraq since March with the 20th Engineer Battalion B from Fort Hood, Texas.

He was killed Oct. 12 in Baghdad when an improvised explosive by the roadside hit the lead vehicle he was riding in a convoy. Three of his men were also killed in the blast.

His last wish was not for himself. The day before he got killed, Pintor emailed Ohio’s community paper, Lima News, asking for help in giving school supplies to Iraqi children.

Pintor joined the Army after high school so he could earn his education. “He wanted the family’s resources to be available for his younger brother and two sisters,” said an uncle, David Garrison Jr.

He left behind his wife, Stacy, and a four-year-old daughter, Rhea, in Killeen, Texas. His parents, Alberto and Ellen Pintor, sold their Ohio home last summer and retired in the Philippines.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 31, 2004)

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