Saturday, October 22, 2011

Iraq, the VFA and Senator Santiago

A few years ago when a Filipina named Nicole lived on the front pages of all the newspapers in the Philippines and occupied the lead story in relentless television coverage about her bad night on the town, a great many people attacked the US, its motives and its military manners. Her accused abuser, a young man of low military rank and poor judgment, was tried before the court of public opinion and found guilty. A lower court also found him guilty, but evidence was not very important in that finding. Nicole was found innocent by reason of being a Filipina.

During this period of outstanding ratings for the media in the Philippines, even  congressmen stepped shrilly before the microphones to decry the "unfair" treatment the Philippines had been given in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). This is the agreement that defines how military people are to be handled between the two countries;  visas, imprisonment policies, etc. Under the VFA, Filipino soldiers who break laws in the US are to be held and tried in the US. US soldiers who break the laws in the Philippines are held by the US (at its Embassy) until convicted and sentenced by Philippine courts.

Senator Santiago's cry stands vivid in my memory. "The humiliation! The humiliation!" she exclaimed, obviously feeling that the disparate clause about prisoners was an intentional insult hurled at the Philippines by arrogant officials in the US.

Fast forward to the Spratley Island tussle with China now going forward and we note there are no more headlines condemning the US, no more attention getting cries by Senator Santiago, no more marches down Roxas Boulevard by Filipinos condemning the US, not even a whisper of a demand that the VFA be re-written.

Why? Because it is patently clear that the Philippines gets more in terms of defensive aid than it gives up by some rarely used inequity in the imprisonment clause. No congressman in his right mind would today disrupt the defensive support being offered to the Philippines by the US to argue the imprisonment clause.

Now the VFA has not changed. It is still the same words as when Nicole ruled the Inquirer roost. The Philippines held the same advantages then as it has now. And if a US soldier beats the tar out of a Filipino during this week's Spratleys joint training exercise by the US and Philippine military, the US soldier will not be imprisoned in a Philippine jail.

The reason the VFA has not changed is that the US would end the defensive alliance before abandoning her soldiers to a court system that cannot be trusted to rule in law, that is too susceptible to rulings of influence over evidence.

The verification we have for this is with us today in Iraq. The US would like to leave troops in Iraq after the end of the year to continue to support Iraq, and Iraq would like to have them there. But Iraq won't accept the US demand that its troops be given immunity from prosecution. The US does not trust the Iraqi judiciary.

So the US will leave Iraq on December 31, 2011. Period.

The US stands by her principles, and one of them is not to leave a soldier behind. The soldier offers his life; the US will return the commitment. Hundreds of lives will be risked to rescue one man trapped behind enemy lines. And the US will not turn its soldiers over to a haphazard standard of justice. Even if those soldiers make a mistake. She will punish her own. As Private Smith was ultimately punished, in proportion to his misjudgment.

Now Philippine hostility toward the VFA and US was expedient at the time. It allowed the Philippines to smack at an overbearing power-monger and feel important. It was the easy way. Playing the victim card in a long-term love-hate relationship. Blaming. No one was willing to step forward to defend the Agreement for the POSITIVE benefits that squarely are granted to the Philippines under the VFA.

And it was truly a wonderful media moment. Three years worth.

I suppose this is common in mankind in general, just not the Philippines. Little manipulations to appear wise and capable. But what is starkly clear is what a mistake it would have been if emotion had gotten the better part of judgment, and if Nicole had not recanted her charge. Either the US would not stand ready to support the Philippines today, or the Philippines would have to run to the US to craft a quick agreement to counterbalance China's bullyism in the West Philippine Sea. With an imprisonment clause the US would accept.

I have discovered that this is typical of the way the Philippines operates. Transactionally. For its own advantage as the times change. Not according to an enduring principle.

There is no enduring principle that would have Philippine leaders stand proudly behind the nation's alliance with the US to bridge over a bad night on the town by TWO irresponsible drunks.

I will soon do a blog about "The Philippine Dream", for I don't know what it is. I know what the American Dream represents to all the immigrants who have flocked to her shores for 235 years. But I have no idea what guiding principles are held up by Filipinos to inspire them to grow stronger and richer. Without guiding principles, it is impossible to adhere to a consistent course through all the transactional and political winds that arise from time to time.

As for responsibility, I believe Philippine media should explicitly step forward and ask Senator Santiago what she thinks about the VFA today. Now she was not the only critic of the VFA; she was just one of the loudest and most shrill.

If she supports it, she should accept responsibility for her earlier outburst and apologize to Filipinos. She need not apologize to America; the US hears rants like hers all the time. But in seeing the VFA as a "humiliation", she refused to stand up for defense of the Philippines.

Now understand her failure. For Nicole, an irresponsible Filipina drunk out with an irresponsible American drunk, she would toss the agreement that keeps US guns behind Filipino security. She would place the entire country at risk for a headline moment.

Remember, weighty advantages to the Philippines existed in the VFA then, as they do now. And she condemned the Agreement.

Responsibility is a very important principle. She chose expediency. She chose popularity. She did not choose principle.

And if she chooses still to view the VFA as a "humiliation" today, then lots of luck to her in the next election . . .

My guess is the media will not revisit the VFA. It would be a humiliation for them, too. They would have to go back and recant their Op-Ed condemnations of the VFA.

Better to sneak about thinking no one knows about their blatant errors of judgment, two drunks over the security of the Philippines.

And my guess is Filipinos will not demand that their media or legislators step forward and accept responsibility either.

They would have to admit they were short sighted, too. This was an entire nation that could not see past the headlines, that could not see that no contract is ever exactly the same for both parties, that it is a weighing of advantages and disadvantages that make it equal for both. This was an entire nation, an emotional nation, that could not weigh its own security against two irresponsible drunks, and come down on the side of security.

It is better for an entire nation to hide out until it blows over. You know, tippy toe quietly away and hope Joe Am and loudmouths of his ilk shut up.

The moral to my story is:  be true to your principles. 
If you don't have principles, then, by cracky, find some.


  1. And didn't the Filipina make a deal to change her story in exachange for a Green Card? So why would she want to live in the US of A if it was so "tyrannical" and unjust? You nailed it Joe. Filipinos are transactional. The transaction of getting a Green Card dictated her thinking process. On a national level, now that China is flexing its might across the region, Filipinos suddenly see the US Forces as vital for their protection.

    The Philippines, a nation full of hypocrites (don't even get me started on how they practice religion).

  2. Joe, how exactly do you stay true to your principles? Does it have to do with pride, arrogance, integrity, morals? Or is it more inclined with preference? To time it, then choose when and how to stick with your principles?

    I know someone who would never let you pay for his meals, his fair, etc. He gives in eventually, after you insistingly assert your, say, kindness, towards him. I know people who would rather let their children eat noodles and rice for dinner than to eat a loaned can of beef. Maybe Expat has something going there in his comments.

    Some see principles as something similar to an ego switch; turn it on when you've got nothing else going for you. Turn it off when hell, they realize that they could make good use of it some other day.

    It's also funny how most people see those who adhere to their principles as out-dated national heroes. A monument is what these people deserve, most would say with mockery.

    Idealistically, principles should guide people in the decisions they make. But in the real world, you don't actually see people exercising 'hara-kiri' just because they made the wrong ones. They would rather see someone else do it, as if it matters.

  3. Expat, yes, Nicole was indeed transactional. Perceptive pick-up. I'll be sure not to do a piece on hypocrites soon.

    1DC, juices, you are going to make me think on a Saturday night! I may have to make an answer wait until tomorrow, because I don't want to do a quick response to a challenging question. I need to reflect so as to refrain from putting my size 12 shoe in my size 3 mouth. . .

  4. Haha! Joe, don't tell me you're struggling to answer a question posed by a mere student?

    Frankly, i'm just satisfied with the humor in your response. The wit alone serves the inquirer in me with content.

  5. 1DC, I think good principles have to do with pride and integrity and bad principles have to do with pride and a sole focus on self-advantage. Most good principles have discipline and concern for the community as strong elements. Like the Golden Rule. In the context of my article, concern for the well-being of the Philippines should have taken precedence over the tribulations of two drunks. But it did not.

    That's the short answer. The long answer might take a blog or two.


  6. With the great minds of columnists and their englischtzes snobbery, they publish the picture, address, mother and affidavits of rape victim Nicole !!!! They outed her. And these englsichtzes-snob columnists with their well-crafted englsichtzes-perfection did not squabble over ethics. If it were to happen in AMerica, where these columnists look up to, they'd be bashing each other. But this is the Philippines. Where the Filipinos reside and bash Americans of their atrocious written english that are pockmarked with erroneous spellings.

    The columnists and the peryodistas and the great minds of Filipinos are promoting tsismis journalism and HUSTISYA BALUKTOT! These columnists and peryodistas who are goot in political analysis like science cannot even analyze the brainwaves of Hong-kongese government for sending in their forensic experts to look into Chinese Massacre. The Hong-Kongese forensics were consternation when they found out the bodies moved without chalk marks and the whole place was trampled by so-called NBI investigators ( NBIs are lawyers, OK?), PMAyers (must be trained from Quantico and West Point) that carries and flaunt their trademark rolling of "r"s.

    I am glad Nicole has abandoned the Philippines. I am glad that Nicole got a visa to america. Even the highly extremely intelligent pipe-puffing Philippine columnists cannot even conjure a column why in the world a "prostitute" with little money was able to get a Visa to America and never come back? Could it be a tourist visa? Nah, tourist visa expires! Could it be B-1 business Visa? No, she's a "prostitute"! I know it's a visa but it's a humanitarian visa, possibly. A Visa to escape the Filipinos thirst for blood and disrespect of a "prostitute". Because in teh religious country like the Philippines, "prostitutes" are not human. They can be lynch and nobody cares.

    F you Filipnos! F you !

    I wish all Filipinos can all go to AMerica and never come back so I can have the Philippines all by myself.

  7. That is why Gloria Makapal-Arroyo and her crime family is always seen laughing around. Because Gloria, graduate from Columbia U and classmate of It-depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-"is"-is, knows the law and how it should be run.

    The problem with Filipinos is the turo-turo justice or Point-Point justice. They point and you are "it" without evidence and forensics just affidavits and you are "it". Point-Point. Turo-Turo.

    Once it is published in idiotic chaotic Philippine papers, it becomes the truth. And the publication in the papers is their evidence. I've trolled plenty of blogs but they cannot seem to know simple elementary news gathering and coverage. And even the bureaucrats cannot know it. They just pagarparings and the irresponsible political-analyst-cum-journalist publish it away not knowing that it shouldn't be done.

    The pipe-puffing, whisky-swigging, englischtzes-snob columnists are bunch of clueless oblivious naive people that cannot know the collateral damage of their publication.

    They can advice politicians what to do to win the presidency but cannot seem to know or attack bureaucrats of not pagarparings their findings so as "not to jeopardize investigation and prosecution". DON'T THEY READ AMERICAN PAPERS?

    JESUS MARY MOTHER OF GOD. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THE PHILIPHINOS. IF GOD MADE JEWS A NOTCH INTELLIGENT THAN THE REST OF HUMANITY WHY NOT GIVE PHILIPPINES JUST A LITTLE MORE INTELLIGENCE. And please not more intelligence because if Filipinos are given more than what they need they'd think they invented englischtzes. AMEN.


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