POSTSCRIPT / January 4, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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What pressure did US exert on GMA?

TWO-WAY GAME: The guessing game now is on what pressure was exerted by the United States government on President Gloria Arroyo to force her to move an American rapist from Jojo Binay’s closet to the comfort of the US embassy.

Was it the unilateral cancellation of the RP-US joint military exercise set for early this year? The US military made a lot of noise pulling out and sulking in its bomb-proofed tent over the jailing in Makati of the errant Marine.

The GIs did not want to come over for war games? They did not want to learn a few tricks on jungle patrol and guerrilla warfare, on how to survive on soda crackers, instant noodles, salted fish and rice wrapped in banana leaves?

The cancellation was not pressure enough, although some Filipino soldiers might be disappointed not being able to borrow the white warriors’ high-tech gear while transferring Pinoy survival “technology” to them.

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MUSEUM PIECES: Is it possible the US government let it be known that assistance to calamity-hit areas will stop as long as the rapist, Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, lived in constant danger of being raped himself in the Makati jail?

That no-aid threat will not work. Like ants, Filipinos somehow always recover after every disaster with or without foreign assistance.

Or did the US raise the specter of military assistance being suspended? Did they threaten to stop dumping on us war-worn materiel that they no longer need and are too costly to rebuild or keep?

That is not enough pressure. The Philippine military has gotten used during the past half century to flying and sailing American museum pieces passed off as aircraft and naval vessels. Waiting for another five decades for newer models will not hurt.

* * *

TARIFF/CREDIT TRAP: Did the White House warn that selected Philippine exports to the US market would be slapped higher duties if Smith is not turned over before the stroke of midnight of Dec. 31?

That would not be pressure enough since Philippine officials generally do not care about the profitability of exporters, especially if they do not share their bonanza by making “donations” to the foundations of their spouses.

Or was Malacanang told that the US-sponsored credit raters, the hounds of the world’s money lenders, would suddenly find wobbly the state of the Philippine finances, warranting a degrading of the country’s credit standing?

That will not scare Malacanang. We have gone through that rigmarole and survived the worst credit blackballing. Fatalistic Filipinos have gotten inured to the arbitrary revision of alleged credit ratings and their being used to bludgeon client-states.

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WAS IT JOC-JOC?: Or did some naughty bright boy in the White House suggest that they would send home former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante to finally tell the truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God?

By gad, imagine Joc-joc regaling all and sundry about the more than P700 million in fertilizer funds that the Arroyo administration doled out during the crucial last days of the 2004 presidential election campaign?

Hey, that is not fair!

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BRUTE FORCE: Or was somebody in Malacanang shown some photocopies of confidential documents showing multimillion-dollar deposits hidden in US and European banks?

And maybe other documents were waved in the Palace showing the true beneficial owners of valuable real estate abroad that Filipinos, more than half of whom are languishing below the poverty line, are not aware existed?

Remember, American operatives can get any information they want on anyone anywhere. In fact, even where no data exist — as in the case of alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — they can still produce documentary evidence!

Faced with such creative research and brute force, what would you do if you were the harassed president of these islands in the Pacific pretending to be a Strong Republic?

* * *

HOUSECLEANING: If you were the president, maybe what you could do now is (1) fire a few fumbling advisers, (2) minimize talking on the springing of Smith on a Friday night, (3) go into serious soul-searching, and (3) tell the people the thought process that led to that unfortunate stealthy transfer of Smith to American soil.

Of course President Arroyo can, as usual, just tough it out.

With no rallying figure and an alternative platform of government, the political opposition is simply not capable of toppling GMA. Malacanang knows that the best handling of the opposition is to ignore it.

But the problem is not the opposition. The bug is in Civil Society that might shake off the fake euphoria of the Yule season just past — and decide to do some honest-to-goodness housecleaning with the onset of a new year.

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SINKING WITH GMA: The people might be more understanding and cooperative if told of the formidable forces napping at the presidency and the difficulty of making decisions at her level involving an ovebearing superpower.

But even confiding with the people, and finally gathering them into one’s embrace, will not work as long as the President holds back, or is perceived to be holding back.

As long as a critical mass of people believes or suspects that the President is not telling them the whole truth, or that she keeps her cards too close to her chest to protect personal or family interests, any entreaty, any attempt to level with the people, will be spurned.

Is Gloria Arroyo ready to do something like that? I doubt it.

So the problem of her continuing to sink as she wiggles in the political quicksand will continue? Yes, most likely.

The big problem here is that all of us may just sink with her.

* * *

GMA OWNS IT: About the President’s having to stop talking for a while or at least to choose her words very carefully, note that she has started to explain her decision to transfer Smith. She said it was to preserve amiable RP-US relations.

But just before that, clumsy DILG officials who thought they were doing her a favor by springing Smith were saying that it was all their idea and that the President had nothing to do with it.

It is all right for the President herself to finally face the public and explain. Nobody believes her subalterns anyway.

Who would believe that a sub-Cabinet official would engage in such a sensitive operation involving a foreign country without a clearance from, or the instructions of, the President?

Let the President explain. If she has good reasons for transferring Smith, the people would understand. The people hate it when they know somebody is lying to them.

* * *

PALACE MEDDLING: Just a quick reference to the email of some characters let loose to heckle those who disagree with the transfer of Smith to the US embassy without a court order:

Reacting to my Postscript last Tuesday, one reader pretending to come from the ranks of the poor (although he has the facilities of the Internet and email) harped on the Visiting Forces Agreement provision that an erring servicemen will stay in the custody of the US government until all judicial proceedings are completed.

That was not the point in my last Postscript. I am done with that issue. But regardless of how that question of custody will eventually be resolved, my point is that Malacanang meddled in a purely court process when it plucked the convict without a by-your-leave.

That was contempt. That was an insult to a co-equal branch of government. A high official such as the President sworn to uphold the law is not supposed to do that.

* * *

CREATURE COMFORT: Another reader said I was blind not to have seen the real reason why Smith had to be removed from a local jail, which is unlike those in Japan where erring American soldiers are locked up in Japanese cells per agreement.

He said: “ Philippine jail and prison facilities are a disgrace where all the precepts of human rights and human dignity are violated on a daily basis. Japanese jails and prisons are not. Face it, pigs and cows live better than prisoners in Philippine prisons.”

Is it all right then for Smith to have been kept in Makati if we build him a cell with the comfort and amenities he is used to as an American?

Is sovereign custody the issue, or is it just the safety and comfort of the detainee?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 4, 2007)

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