MANILA, February 9, 2004 (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - If those panicky Yanks are so scared of photographers, get them out of Roxas Blvd.!

One of the most disgusting sights of Roxas Boulevard, through which millions of people pass daily, is that of an armored military Humvee, with a small cannon, guarding the United States Embassy. Right in front of a busy thoroughfare at that.

Are we in a state of war, or what? No wonder both here and abroad, there are rumors of a coup-a-minute.

It gets worse. Last Friday (February 6), a gray Land-cruiser passed in front of the barricaded US Embassy, and two visiting American tourists from Beaver Springs, Pennsylvania, asked the driver to stop for just a minute, so they could proudly snap a photograph of their Embassy, which they could show to the folks at home.

Would you believe? Immediately blue uniformed American Embassy guards rushed over and halted the vehicle. Should the driver have made a run for it – after all, the Land-cruiser was legitimately on a Philippine public road, not on foreign Embassy property? But there was this armed Humvee with its little cannon. You remember from those Iraq war "mistakes" how trigger-happy Americans are.

So, the Embassy guard, a Filipino apparently himself, with a blue security shirt and black pants, sporting a patch stating he belonged to the "US Embassy Security Forces" angrily asked the "offenders": "WHO ARE YOU?" An amazed Howard and Sharon Benner retorted: "Why are you stopping us?" The Guard growled: "No one is allowed to take pictures of the US Embassy!"

Mrs. Sharon Benner said she had simply snapped a souvenir photo of the gold metal plate "sign" of the Embassy – as they had done in other countries they visited.

The Guard demanded that they get off the car and proceed to the US Embassy Security Control Area to delete the picture from Sharon’s digital camera. Sanamagan!

The question is: Are American security guards permitted to simply yank – better, jerk (those jerks!) peaceful civilians off our Philippine streets and frogmarch them inside the gates of the US Embassy? This is not a joke. I thought we had won Independence in 1946.

Now here’s the rub. The vehicle so arrogantly stopped by the US Embassy Guards – on Roxas boulevard – was my, yep mine, Land-cruiser – with National Press Club stickers on the front windshield and rear window. The reason for these labels is that this is the vehicle used by us for Press Business.

The Benners had been the foster parents of my daughter Sara Soliven De Guzman (who also writes an occasional column for The STAR, when she can take time off from being academic Vice President of O.B. Montessori Center). In short, she had lived in their home (Howard was Rotary District Governor) while she completed her high school studies in Pennsylvania on a Rotary Fellowship. They had come to the Philippines for the first time and are our houseguests. That day, Sara had been showing them around. They had toured Intramuros, and on the way home the Benners had asked to see their Embassy – and thus encountered this awful experience.

Sara told the indignant Guard that she would be the one to go down to the Security Control Center inside the black iron gates of the Embassy. The Guard demanded she also bring along the ID of the person who had snapped the photo, so she got Sharon’s Pennsylvania State Driver license.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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