POSTSCRIPT / September 20, 2005 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Angelo, GMA's favorite truck driver, now jobless

ANGELO’S FALL: Remember Angelo dela Cruz, the truck driver whose kidnapping in Iraq led to the early pullout of a Philippine military-police contingent from that war-torn country in 2004 and soured the Arroyo administration’s relations with the White House?

Angelo is now jobless. He has been dismissed from his job as a rockloading operator that Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas had arranged for him at Clark Field with the help of then Clark Development Corp. president Emmanuel Y. Angeles.

From a daredevil driver in the Middle East and later rockloader at Clark, the 48-year-old father of eight from Mexico town is now down to being an occasional jeepney driver plying the Angeles-Magalang route.

His take from his on-and-off “pasada” is a far cry from the $900 he was earning in Iraq and the P14,400 he was receiving monthly as rockloader at the Clark terminal of Philippine Coastal Storage and Pipeline Corp. This last job involved tending to tanks storing fuel from Subic and loading it into tankers.

I wonder what President Arroyo, whose brinkmanship sprang this cabalen of hers, would say if he now sues for illegal dismissal.

* * *

SPEAKING UP: Based on my conversation with Angelo in Angeles City yesterday, it seems he had earned the ire of a co-worker and a supervisor who felt that the driver who rose to fame after 17 days in the hands of Iraqi extremists has grown swellheaded.

There are actually other OFWs who had questioned the attention and gifts — including a house and lot — showered upon Angelo after President Arroyo had him freed by calling home the Philippine team helping deodorize the US invasion.

Even when he was still in Saudi Arabia, where he worked for nine years, Angelo had this propensity to protest when his or his co-workers’ interests were put in jeopardy. He spoke up when others would keep quiet just to keep their jobs.

A Coastal manager, who happened to be a ka-barangay of a co-worker who had a spat with Angelo, allegedly gave him a piece of paper last Aug. 14 (two days after his birthday) telling him that he was being dismissed.

* * *

ARBITRARY DISMISSAL: The manager reportedly read to Angelo the contents, written in English, informing him in effect that his bosses were not happy with him and were therefore dismissing him effective on the day he signs the document.

Angelo, who had dropped out after his second year in high school, refused to sign until everything was clear to him.

With that, he was barred from the premises and his pay stopped. To his embarrassment, this man who used to run suicide deliveries in the war zones near the Iraqi border could not even enter the Coastal compound to get his clothes and shoes.

He said he was not aware of any charges having been filed against him as due process requires. There being no formal charges, but just an arbitrary notice of dismissal, it seems he has not been given the chance to defend himself in a proper forum.

I wonder what Pat Sto. Tomas, the labor secretary herself, would say.

* * *

ADVANCED PULLOUT: The advanced pullout of the Philippine contingent at a time when Mr. Bush was running scared to stay for another four-year term marked the start of souring relations with the White House.

Knowing the political implication of Manila’s pullout, together with other allies also calling home their troops, Mr. Bush appealed to Ms Arroyo to stay the course. But to save Angelo, Ms Arroyo heeded instead the kidnappers’ pullout demand.

There was a hurried study in Manila of how the Arroyo administration should position itself in the event that Mr. Bush loses to Democratic Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

Ms Arroyo was the first leader, a woman at that, from this part of the world to rally around the Stars and Stripes being waved in Iraq. But after Angelo, there was suddenly a chill in the winds blowing Manilaward from the White House.

* * *

SEASON OF DISCONTENT: The flow of promised US aid, including military materiel, got jammed in the pipeline despite supposedly firm commitments cemented during Ms Arroyo’s official visits to Washington.

White House types were suddenly talking of their disappointment with Manila’s neglect of the security net that the US had helped throw across our Southern backdoor to stem terrorist infiltration. They noted that Mindanao has continued to be porous, with terrorists coming and going through the area at will.

There were also worried comments on Ms Arroyo’s flirting with the Chinese dragon, including an agreement for the joint exploration of suspected oil deposits in the Spratleys being claimed by China and the Philippines.

Some old-time American investors feeling the competition of other foreign interests in Manila have been complaining of policies that threaten to wipe away their traditional advantage in this former US colony.

Aside from the chill, there were other signs that the season of American discontent had started to blow across the islands.

* * *

CLEAR SIGNS: One of the clearest signs was the series of reports emanating from the US embassy in Manila to the home office on just how President Arroyo has been driving the country to the cliff, and how the Philippines was ripe for some convulsive change.

In one such report, a senior embassy official described President Arroyo in his generally negative report as “weak and reactive.” He added that the unsteady hand of the President was an open invitation to a coup d’etat and similar mass disorder.

While a number of oppositionist commentators in media have used practically the same description of President Arroyo, it became a bit worrisome when the embassy of the No. 1 partner of the Philippines spouted the same line.

With the embassy quoting obviously disgruntled American businessmen and chambers of commerce, it is debatable if its report should have been taken seriously or dismissed as a lazy compilation of what friends of the embassy have been complaining about.

* * *

SINISTER TWIST: Such country reports, which are also being done by banks and similar institutions, are actually routine. The media and experts in the private sector also do it.

Even spying on the host government by embassies accredited to it is also routine. Everybody does it all the time.

But what should have been a normal activity took on a sinister twist when classified reports of the US embassy were leaked out and interpreted through the jaundiced eyes of politicians.

The line that emerged from the series of leaks of embassy reports was that the Arroyo administration was on the verge of collapse.

And since the reports being quoted were US embassy papers, there emerged a corollary line that the US was pushing for the fall of Ms Arroyo, possibly because of the Bush administrations dissatisfaction with her.

* * *

MISSED ELEMENTS: If the Federal Bureau of Investigation is to be believed, there was an FBI analyst who had access to these diplomatic reports and must have discerned the same line mentioned above.

The FBI seems to imply that this analyst (who happens to be a Fil-American) contacted members of the political opposition in Manila to alert them of the developing scenario of Ms Arroyo about to be ousted presumably with the aid of US elements.

This stream of negative US embassy reports on the Arroyo administration led to the assessment in opposition quarters that with Ms Arroyo’s decline, they better hasten her fall by destabilizing her regime and share in the spoils of political warfare.

But like a lazy reporter’s hurriedly written story, the embassy reports did not have depth and breadth.

It turned out that there were important elements that were not considered in the analyses (such as the pro-administration military and police, and the bishops’ conference opting to give the President the benefit of the doubt). These made the analysis less than solid.

* * *

END GAME: The last chapter of this diplomatic drama is yet to be written.

The details of the end game are still being sorted out in Washington and New York, where President Arroyo tried once again, just last week, to dance back into the embrace of Mr. Bush.

Ms Arroyo tried really hard. Even as she held the gavel as a supposedly unbiased presiding officer of the United Nations Security Council, she did not hesitate to recite the anti-terrorism lines that Ms. Bush loves to hear.

It seems that the world of Ms. Arroyo is going full circle, with her going back to where she started — as a staunch ally of Mr. Bush. Will he still believe her?

Despite the overreaching influence of America, however, the fate of Gloria Arroyo will be sealed not in Washington but in Manila.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 20, 2005)

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