POSTSCRIPT / December 12, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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US need not remind us of 'utang na loob'

UTANG NA LOOB: Filipinos are a grateful people. They even die protecting their friends. But being proud, they could be a bit sensitive when these friends make it a point to remind them about “utang na loob” (debt of gratitude).

That was why a number of us were taken aback by the remarks of US Ambassador Kristie Kenny when she went to the foreign office last Dec. 6 to discuss custody over a US marine who had been convicted of raping a Filipina in Subic.

It was pertinent to cite the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, its objectives and the sensitive issues it covers (foremost of which is criminal jurisdiction), but when Ms Kenny belabored the point of American assistance, she touched a raw nerve.

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PAYBACK TIME?: Right after giving the reason why she was at the foreign office (to talk about custody of the rapist), she said:

“The Visiting Forces Agreement governs our military assistance in this country, such as that which we provided after the Leyte mudslides earlier this year, and as we are doing now in response to Super Typhoon ‘Reming.’ In fact, I will welcome our first relief flight tomorrow at the airport.”

She concluded by saying: “I hope you will all join me tomorrow in welcoming the US relief flight.”

Ma’am, we are eternally grateful. But the focus of the meeting with Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo was not payback, but the detention of the soldier-rapist while his conviction is on appeal.

American assistance is not the core of the VFA. The subject of that bilateral agreement is the status of forces. Neither is military assistance germane to the rape case that the ambassador was to take up with Secretary Romulo.

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FULL TEXT: So readers can get the proper context of the ambassadors’ remarks, here is a full transcript of what she said:

“Thank you very much for being here. I came here today to talk to Secretary Romulo. We are working together to fix a problem concerning the seizure of Lance Cpl. Smith and the Visiting Forces Agreement.

“You all know that the Visiting Forces Agreement governs our military assistance in this country, such as that which we provided after the Leyte mudslides earlier this year, and as we are doing now in response to Super Typhoon ‘Reming.’ In fact, I will welcome our first relief flight tomorrow at the airport.

“Lance Corporal Smith is not a private citizen — he is a member of the US military. He was here on a military mission, so he is governed by the Visiting Forces Agreement. It is important to all of us that we get this sorted out so that all sides are in compliance.

“I am not here to complain about the verdict. It was carried out in a Philippine court with a Philippine judge as our agreement calls for. This is simply an the issue of complying with the remaining piece, which is that Lance Cpl. Smith belongs in US custody until the conclusion of all judicial proceedings.

“Our countries have been partners for many, many years. We fought together — our fathers and grandfathers — to defend freedom in the Philippines and to liberate the Philippines. We worked together after the mudslides in Leyte and now in Bicol, and we are going to continue to do that. It is in that spirit that we work together as friends to solve problems. I am very hopeful and confident that we will continue as partners to work through this and to fix this.

“Thank you all very much. I hope you will all join me tomorrow in welcoming the US relief flight.”

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WILSON FORUM: There is always the cultural undercurrent in government-to-government and people-to-people relations.

In a public forum that I joined at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, in 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq, such cultural nuances were evident.

I was in a panel of about 10 senior editors and columnists from Asia facing an audience composed of State department officials, think tankers, members of the academe, and others interested in the US attack on Iraq after the terror attack on New York and the Pentagon.

We the Asian panelists were all civilians, but when our countries’ stand on world issues was criticized, we sometimes acted and talked like officials.

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TWO-WAY STREET: A man in the audience singled me out — in my jusibarong, I was the only participant in native garb — and remarked that the Philippines was “taking advantage” of the US and extracting concessions from Washington when it sent a contingent to Iraq.

“I wish my President could hear you say that,” I retorted, suppressing an urge to mention that while we got peanuts, Pakistan for one got billions by allowing US war planes to overfly its territory on their way to bomb Iraq.

I was sure the gentleman knew the basics of foreign relations, but still I reminded him that diplomacy is a two-way street.

“In this interdependent world, nations use one another,” I said. “Has it not occurred to you that the US has been twisting our arms and is getting much more than we are getting from it in this immoral Iraq deal?”

I wanted to pursue the point — of a self-appointed global policeman doing as it pleases, crossing sovereign borders with impunity, invading without provocation a fellow member of the United Nations that had never threatened it — but the gentleman sat down.

I was not in favor of the Philippine involvement in the occupation of Iraq, but with our pro-US policies being assailed in an international forum, I had to say something. (I did say a lot on related issues, but let that be for some future columns.)

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47TH VICTIM: The bloody score is that 47 journalists have been killed under the Arroyo presidency.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines reports that Ponciano Grande, a broadcaster and former columnist from Nueva Ecija, was shot and killed on Dec. 7. He was the 11th journalist killed this year, which has logged more victims than last year.

Grande was reportedly shot five times with a .45 caliber pistol a few meters from his wife, Annie Liwag-Grande, while visiting his farm in Barangay Sta. Arcadia in Cabanatuan City.

The two assassins reportedly chased Liwag-Grande but did not harm her.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 12, 2006)

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