MANILA,  JUNE 10, 2004
BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven  -  By all means, continue the canvass in Congress. Entertain all the nitpicking remarks, filibustering speeches, and perorations from solons who’re KSP – kulang sa pansin – and demand that their inane statements get written into the record, while the joint chairmen, Rep. Raul Gonzales and Senator Kiko Pangilinan, bang the gavel fruitlessly for "order".

But spare the nation the spectacle of our politicians making fools of themselves – and further destroying the public’s confidence in our admittedly stupid electoral process.

Turn those television cameras off! If we want to see clowns, we go to the circus. There’s no need to bring them into our offices, living rooms or bedrooms by television. Switch off those congressional clowns.

The government cannot order the TV cameras out of the chamber in which the 22-member joint Congressional committee is practically gridlocked in endless discussion, complaint, and debate over questioned COCs, and other cock-and-bull problems. If TV coverage is banned by government fiat, that would raise a howl and provoke furious charges of gagging and censorship. What our TV networks should do is the patriotic thing: Voluntarily give up their silly coverage of those annoying and discouraging proceedings. It’s not gladiatorial combat in the Roman Colosseum we’re witnessing, it’s idiotic conflict in the counting-room, with the bean-counters accusing each other of fraud.

Do we need TV coverage to keep the "canvass" honest? If there was any "cheating", it was done already. What those TV cameras do is "inspire" our senators and representatives to show off, grandstand, and demonstrate their skimpy oratorical "skills". Why inflict this vaudeville show on our exhausted and increasingly cynical public in the name of "journalism"? What we’re seeing on the screen is not democracy in action, but demagoguery in its most grotesque form.

The glacial slowness with which the canvass has been proceeding since Congress belatedly began the official count last Friday was highlighted last Tuesday when the committee failed to process a single item in six hours, and opposition KNP Senator Nene Pimentel delivered such a long speech that every listener was either irritated or bored to tears. Then there was the "dramatic" walkout from the peanut gallery of disgusted onlookers – which contributed to the surreal atmosphere of the occasion. Enough of this comedy, already! Once more with feeling! Switch it off!

Perhaps, when they realize nobody is watching their antics and verbal calisthenics, our "solons" (a misnomer) will settle down to the serious business of canvassing the 200 regional tallies – and we’ll finally learn who was truly elected President, Vice President. In two weeks? Before June 30? Possibly. But if television insists on making that carnival show one of its long-lasting telenovelas, then we won’t know till next December.

Banish those clowns from our TV screens. Give the nation a break.

* * *

Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita should learn to keep his trap shut.

When he told the press that the Philippines may pull out its 51-member contingent out of Iraq when the US and the Coalition hand over "sovereignty" to an Iraqi "interim" government, he spoke out of turn. Ermita has no business making statements like that: Only the President and commander-in-chief makes such decisions.

To begin with, speaking of withdrawing a 51-member contingent sounds petty and ridiculous. Gee whiz, that’s much smaller than your neighborhood Rotary Club or a Boy Scout troop. Fifty-one "humanitarian" workers, cops and a squad of soldiers don’t exactly constitute either an occupation or a defense force. It appears more like an excursion. Sanamagan. We’re indeed a Liliputian country with Liliputian ideas. Ermita makes us sound like a race of mental pygmies.

If we pulled our contingent out, I doubt if anybody – least of all, the Iraqis – would notice it.

What we would be pulling out, really, then, could be our flag. Our flag stands for something or should stand for something. It’s not there to praise Dubya Bush or the United States, but because, I trust, it is there to symbolize that our nation has the guts and idealism to stand up and be counted. To signal our resolution to fight, if need be, in freedom’s cause. Our flag in the desert should also assure the 1.5 million Filipinos who work in the Middle East that our government, our armed forces, our police, and our doctors and nurses, are ready to serve and try to defend them, if emergency should arise.

In international relations, it’s a matter of give and take. What some of our officials want is to take – without giving. Those 51 men and women we sent there volunteered to go. Let not our cowardly officials yank them home at the slightest hint of danger or unease.

If the new Iraqi government, when it assumes office on June 30, says it wants the Filipinos to leave, then leave we shall – with alacrity. It may not even know of course that there are more than 4,000 Filipinos working in their land, many of them in US or coalition-supervised installations. All the new government has to do is also say, "go away", and they’ll depart, too. But the Iraqi government, I’m confident, won’t. Everybody knows the Iraqis need all the help they can get.

* * *

As for me, if I had my druthers, once an interim Iraqi government assumes the helm in Baghdad on June 30, I’d say, let’s all go home. Leave the Iraqis to sort things out for themselves. Do their own fighting. Do their own bleeding, if need be.

The Americans, who’re hemorrhaging badly in that quagmire, with President Bush’s political fortunes sinking into the quicksand of his country’s nettlesome and costly Iraqi venture, would dearly love to leave if they could do so with honor, or with grace. But sadly, it seems, they cannot bring themselves to do so. The trauma of Vietnam haunts them. It is what keeps them there.

I’ve just come from abroad, where everybody seems out to demonize poor Bush for "invading " Iraq. The American President is being dunned everywhere, painted like some bumbling imperialist. He and his "gang", they say, want to grab Iraq's oil.

In Australia, many Aussies decry their Prime Minister John Howard as Dubya’s "puppet" (and Bush the ventriquolist), while in Britain they scoff at valiant Tony Blair as the "Prime Minister who lost his smile," and has become only Bush’s poodle.

Such attitudes, to my mind, are unjust and unfair. Bush, whatever you may think of him and his mistakes, is not a monster. He went into Iraq thinking he was doing the right thing, not because he was greedy or ambitious. (He probably dearly wishes, in his heart, that he could give the whole shebang back to Saddam Insane – it has become, in the American nightmare of ambush, suicide-bombing, sniping and attrition by surly Shiites and unsunny Sunnis, a sort of insane asylum.) The same thing could be said of Blair and Howard.

In the end, if you examine the problem dispassionately, it’s better for us – and for the secular and Christian world – that a mighty nation like America has decided to stand up and fight, with all its resources including the blood of its sons and daughters, the destructive malignity of fanatical Islam. If the Muslim terrorists were not opposed, they’d run throughout over all of us, including in Mindanao – not to mention in Metro Manila.

We were in Madrid last March 11, when those terrible train bombings took place. There was Islamic "blackmail" involved, it must be admitted, since the terrorists who detonated those horrible explosions on trains pulling into the Atocha station and other stations, killing 191 and grievously wounding and maiming thousands of innocent commuters, indicated they had done so in retaliation for Spain having joined the coalition of Bush and Blair in "invading" Iraq. But once you give in to blackmail, it is non-ending. Spain has pulled its 1,300 troops out of Iraq, yet, as recent events have uncovered, the terrorist threat against Spain, with even more deadly bombings being "planned", continues unabated.

The Europeans are belatedly realizing this. European police the other day arrested a number of Islamic militants in various cities, from Spain, Italy, Belgium and France. In Milan, the police nabbed Egyptian suspect Rabel Osman Sayed Ahmed, in connection with his role in the Madrid bombings. About 15 people were arrested in Belgium, two in Milan, while the French are closing in on a ring which threatened to bomb targets in their country.

Once again, it’s good, let me put it plainly, that the US has taken on the battle against terrorism. Sure, that dope What’shisname from moviedom got the coveted Cannes prize for his documentary making Bush look sick, and America stupid. What was the name of his opus? Fahrenheit 9/11 or something like that. Let him have his jollies, and enjoy his celebrity. (They’re billing and cooing over him in elite circles as the Prophet who exposed the Devil from Texas.) When all is said and done, as an unreformed Saluyot from Darkest Ilocoslovakia, I’m grateful that there are still cowboys with six-guns who don’t throw notes verbal or diplomatic codicils and polite resolutions at fanatical Islamic terrorists, but instead give them the business end of the rifle and the rocket launcher.

I guess I’m just a barbarian. Where I come from, up north, being too "civilized" is sometimes a short cut to the campo santo.

* * *

THE ROVING EYE . . . C’mon. Proclaim Maria Gracia Cielo Padaca as Governor of Isabela province. She won fair and square. She beat the pants off exiting Governor Faustino Dy, Jr. by 44,290 votes – campaigning from a wheelchair! Salamabit. Enough procrastination already. That brave lady deserves her victory. What’s this nonsense about the Communist New People’s Army using terrorist tactics to ensure Padaca’s triumph? That’s not what I hear. The Dys have "ruled" for 32 years. Perhaps they ought to take a rest.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved