ANA MARIE PAMINTUAN: UNWAVERING SUPPORT

MANILA, September 29, 2003 (STAR) SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan  - It got little play-up here, but the spin of at least one American newspaper on the US visit of President Arroyo was that she was the first world leader to respond to a call from US President George W. Bush for more foreign troops to keep the peace in Iraq.

"We would like to send more (troops), and we hope that the United Nations can be more involved," the President told reporters at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan, according to the Washington Times.

Earlier, the President had told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that the Philippines would send more troops to Iraq, in addition to the 86-member humanitarian team now in a camp south of Baghdad, if the UN would shoulder the expenses.

That’s one big if. Still, the Bush administration can use even a best-efforts pledge from a cash-strapped Third World ally when the US president’s call is ignored by the international community. Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t make a commitment even after being feted by Bush at Camp David.

US military resources have been so stretched that Washington has called up 10,000 National Guard troops and placed 5,000 more on standby for three-month training followed by a 12-month tour of duty in Iraq. When even the UN headquarters in Baghdad has been bombed twice in a month, that’s a deployment no one will relish. * * *

In connection with this, the US Embassy had earlier called my attention to a statement on Aug. 20 of State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, regarding troop contributions to Iraq.

Boucher said 27 countries had sent a total of about 21,700 troops to undertake "stability operations" in Iraq.

The 27 are Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, El Salvador, Estonia, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

This was before the arrival of the Philippine team.

Moldova, Portugal and Thailand also committed to send troops, with 14 other countries considering contributions. * * *

President Arroyo has flip-flopped on many controversial issues throughout her incumbency. But in her support for the US-led war on terror, she has not wavered, even as US troops sink deeper into the Iraq quagmire and Bush founders in the surveys. A Malacañang official said President Arroyo’s offer to send additional troops was in line with efforts to remove any potential kinks in Bush’s forthcoming Manila visit.

Her unstinting support calls to mind another staunch ally of Uncle Sam. Ferdinand Marcos had addressed the United Nations General Assembly during his first term as president, and became the first world leader to express support for the "Tonkin Gulf" resolution. This was the resolution passed by the US Congress on Aug. 7, 1964, which the administration of Lyndon Johnson used to justify US military intervention in Vietnam.

The Johnson administration had reported that on Aug. 4, 1964, in the Gulf of Tonkin, North Vietnamese torpedo boats had attacked without provocation US destroyers that were feeding intelligence information to the South Vietnamese.

Johnson’s boys drafted a resolution, which the US Congress passed days later, authorizing the use of all necessary measures to repel attacks against US troops and defend US allies in Southeast Asia. There were debates on what the resolution actually authorized, but Johnson used it to send American boys to war in Vietnam, and Richard Nixon also used it to justify US military involvement in Southeast Asia. In 1970 the US Congress repealed the resolution.

North Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, in a meeting in 1995 with former US defense secretary Robert McNamara, said the torpedo boat attack never happened. In 2001, it was revealed that Johnson himself doubted that the attack took place.

Marcos, however, backed Johnson’s moves. In return, the Philippines received $200 million in US aid during Marcos’ first year in office. Shortly thereafter, we had troops in Vietnam helping Uncle Sam. * * *

Marcos got $200 million and Washington’s backing throughout martial law. What does Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo hope to get in return?

She will always say that she has only national interest in mind in her support for the US-led war on terror. Her critics, on the other hand, will always suspect that she wants Washington’s backing for her expected candidacy in 2004.

Sources hinted that the formal announcement of that intent to run is expected shortly after her return from Europe. Also expected soon is the announcement of a key Cabinet-rank appointment related to the war on terror.

Other sources say the President’s announcement about her political plans will be made no later than Oct. 10, or at least a full week before Bush arrives for an eight-hour visit. The talk is that Washington does not want Malacañang to make it appear that President Arroyo has been encouraged in any way by Bush to change her mind about her avowed withdrawal from the 2004 race.

Does that mean Washington has another candidate in mind for the Philippine presidency next year? The Americans insist they don’t meddle in local politics. But the perception that may never go away in this land of "mental colony" is that the Americans wouldn’t mind having someone sympathetic to the US ensconced at Malacañang. Candidates may be lambasted as US puppets by the trite ideologues of the left, but a pro-US bent has never been a liability for presidential candidates in this country.

Thus every serious presidential bet’s spin doctors wouldn’t mind if their candidate is projected as Washington’s choice. In this endeavor, non-candidate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is pulling away from her potential rivals. * * *

THE OTHER NON-CANDIDATE: Meanwhile, businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. continues to agonize over his plans for 2004. A highly reliable source had told me earlier that if Speaker Jose de Venecia’s plans for a constituent assembly were to materialize, Cojuangco stood a good chance of becoming prime minister.

Consa (or con-ass, as critics prefer to call it), however, appears to be in limbo, with the Senate determined to keep it that way. This has nothing to do with national interest, and everything to do with self-preservation. A shift to a parliamentary form of government could spell the end of the careers of several clowns at the Senate.

Then again, De Venecia may yet pull off a hat trick when Congress returns to work after the September-October junket season.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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