US asks: Can RP be trusted again to keep its word?

By Jerome Aning
Inquirer News Service

Reassessment needed

THE UNITED States accused the Philippines Friday of failing to keep its word of honor and breaking its international commitment by yielding to Iraqi gunmen's demand to pull out its contingent from Iraq.

Worse, a US diplomat seemed to suggest, would any one now trust the Philippines to keep its word in case it found itself in another fix?

"I think it's important to reassess the relationship because a commitment was broken," US Embassy Charge d'Affaires Joseph Mussomeli said in an interview on GMA Network radio station dzBB.

"Whatever the reasons, however good these reasons were, it is not just the United States but, frankly, the entire international community, even the ones who agreed with what the Philippines did, would be worried now that they'd never know when the Philippine government may back down on its word if a Filipino is endangered."

In Washington, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Philippines paid "a very high price" for succumbing to the captors of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz, whom the Iraqi militants threatened to behead if the country did not withdraw its troops.

"In effect, kidnappers were rewarded for kidnapping," Powell said after meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart, Solomon Passy.

"They were paid off. They made a demand, a political demand against the Philippine government, which the Philippine government, a sovereign government, decided that it had to meet.

Down a slippery slope

"When you start meeting the demands of kidnappers, I think you're going down a very bad and slippery slope, which incentivizes kidnappings," said Powell.

"We were very disappointed in the actions of the Philippine government," Powell said. "I'm pleased that the Filipino gentleman was returned home safely, but I think a very high price was paid for the policy position that the Philippine government took."

Asked what repercussions the action might have on US-Philippine relations, Powell said "the Philippine nation and the Philippine people are allies of the United States, friends of the United States, and we have been for many, many years.

"But friends can have disagreements. And those disagreements have to be worked out eventually."

Praise for Bulgaria

Powell hailed the Bulgarian decision not to accede to a similar demand by kidnappers, who killed one Bulgarian hostage and were threatening to kill a second unless Bulgaria's 470 troops were withdrawn from Iraq within 24 hours.

"I just want to thank the Bulgarian government, the minister, and the Bulgarian people for their clear understanding of how you have to deal with this kind of situation, and for their strong support," Powell said.

Mussomeli said the issue was not whether the war in Iraq was good or bad or whether the Philippine troops should have left or not.

"The issue is whether once you make a commitment to do something, you follow through with it," he said.

He also said: "We are, as an ally, disappointed that a commitment that was made was not kept."

Ms Arroyo has said she did not regret the decision she took and that she assumed full responsibility for it.

Washington will decide

Mussomeli said US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, who has left for Washington for consultations, was not called back by Washington but that he, himself, "volunteered" to go back to the US.

"The people in Washington will be the ones making decisions, reassessing bilateral relations. (They will) have the opportunity to hear from Ambassador Ricciardone what's it like in the Philippines, what the Philippines' views are in the whole situation," Mussomeli said.

He said that the whole point of the consultations "is not to punish the Philippines in any way."

A silver lining

"We need to find ways that the bilateral relationship continues and grows," Mussomeli said. "I think the bottom line will be that this is a maturing relationship. There cold be a silver lining to this whole crisis, that we are showing that we could disagree on an important issue and still move on and still be friends."

Mussomeli said the US understood that Filipino interests should always come first, just as American interests always came first for the US.

"We would only disagree that frankly, in the long run, giving in to terrorists is against the most important Philippine interests. And while we're all grateful Angelo is now free, we worry for the thousands and thousands of other Filipino workers who are, we believe, in greater danger now because of this concession to the terrorists," he said.

Mussomeli said the current situation was different from that in 1991, when the Philippine government decided to close down the US military bases.

"I don't envision anything like what happened in the early '90s. And frankly what happened in the early '90s was good for the Philippines. It was a maturing process for both the Americans and the Filipinos to have a more equal and balanced relationship," he said. "

'Bled together for years'

"It was tough for a few years but all in all I think it helped mature the relationship in the long run, that the bases were closed and we moved on from there."

The diplomat echoed Ms Arroyo's words at the Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday that the Philippines and the US would remain allies.

"The Filipinos and Americans have been together for over a hundred years. We have fought together, we have fought against each other...against other enemies. We have bled together, we have laughed and cried together. This is not going to end," he said.

People-to-people ties

"We are bound by all sorts of emotional, political and people-to-people ties. So yes, we are going to remain very good friends even if we argue. Because that's what good friends do sometimes."

Reacting to foreign criticisms of the Philippine pullout from Iraq, Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita said: "He (De la Cruz) is the symbol of the Filipino people. How can you explain that to foreigners?"


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