|Iraqi crisis: Terror fallout in the
By Marco Garrido
MANILA - Should war break out in Iraq, the
Philippines will most certainly feel it, and not just in
terms of economic costs and domestic popular opposition
to the war, but in the worst way - in terms of terror.
A local insurgency group has pledged to launch
retaliatory attacks against the government and US
interests in the event on war. Terror threats made by
the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to be
carried out by its armed wing, the New People's Army,
have ratcheted up public anxiety over an imminent war
and have put President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo under
increasing pressure to revise her administration's
position on the war in favor of neutrality.
administration has taken pains to craft a position on
the war that balances contradictory political pressures.
On the one hand, the Philippines is the United
States' closest ally in the region and, more pertinent,
the recipient of massive amounts of US military and
economic aid. Arroyo's recent visit with US President
George W Bush fetched her country a 15-fold increase in
US foreign military financing, from US$1.9 million to
$29 million in 2003, $1 billion worth in trade benefits,
as well as Bush's assurance that he would help Arroyo
combat terrorism "in any way she suggests".
Hence when asked by the United States to give it
"general support" in the event of war, Arroyo reiterated
her commitment, per a Mutual Defense Treaty, to provide
political, logistic, and humanitarian support. She has
since had to refine her position in the face of growing
domestic apprehension over the likelihood of war.
Such apprehension is well-founded. War jitters
have already dragged the peso down to a two-year low and
have jacked up the price of world crude oil to a
two-year high; the lives and livelihoods of the 60,000
overseas Filipino workers based in Kuwait remain in
jeopardy; and the Philippines confronts the prospect of
shortages in oil and basic goods.
political opposition to war in Iraq is fierce and public
opposition to Philippine involvement in the war
widespread. A number of legislators have urged Arroyo to
declare Philippine neutrality. One prominent senator has
lambasted the president for her "canine devotion" to the
United States. The clamor raised by anti-war
demonstrations staged by Muslim and student communities
continues to mount. Leftist quarters have even demanded
Arroyo's impeachment for endangering Filipino lives and
violating a constitutional provision renouncing the use
of war as an instrument of state policy.
Fallout in terror
But the most
worrisome development has been the threat of terror
attacks by local insurgency groups. In addition to the
"sympathy attacks" vowed by the CPP, the Armed Forces of
the Philippines (AFP) has warned against retaliatory
attacks by Islamic militant groups such as the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf. The
AFP expects these groups to target national
infrastructure, foreign embassies, US investments, and
the more than 1,000 US troops stationed in Mindanao for
counter-terror military exercises.
said, nobody will be spared," General Dionisio Santiago
told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the
Philippines. "What [these groups] will be doing will be
just to sow terror so that everybody will realize, and
to make people feel, that being sympathetic with the
Americans will not work."
Five AFP battalions
have been placed on standby in Manila in case such
Recent disclosures by Philippine
intelligence have made the threat of imminent terror
attacks all the more real. In a series of increasingly
serious accusations, the National Intelligence
Coordinating Agency (NICA) has linked Iraqi operatives
and the Iraqi Embassy with a number of local insurgency
groups, including the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf.
The NICA alleges that in addition to funding the
anti-US rallies of various protest groups, Iraqi
operatives tapped members of the MILF to launch terror
attacks in the event a US-led coalition invades Iraq.
Furthermore, the NICA charged a top Iraqi Embassy
official, second secretary Husham Hussain, with
collaborating with the Abu Sayyaf in a bomb attack last
October that killed an American soldier and three
That the government has
since expelled the diplomat comes as small consolation
to a people on alert.
Caught between an indispensable alliance
on the one hand and mounting public apprehension over
the fallout of war on the other, Arroyo has elected to
equivocate. Or at least she has struck a fine position
that would seem to have it both ways: squarely behind
the US case against Iraq yet unwilling to commit to
action without the backing of the United Nations.
"Our foreign policy is based on fear," notes
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Manuel
Villar. "In this particular case, we're clearly afraid
of the US so we will be supporting the US." One might
add that it is fear too - of popular opposition to the
war and terrorist retaliation - that keeps the
Philippines from supporting the US all the way.
While Arroyo said she felt "convinced" by the
evidence US Secretary of State Colin Powell marshaled
against Iraq last week, she demurred to support his
conclusion - immediate forcible disarmament. Instead she
opted for a course that promised more safety than either
side could: to act with the community of nations.
Whether wise or not in the final count, it is certainly
the more astute move, since it keeps the Philippines
from further distinguishing itself in the eyes of those
who would avenge themselves on America's friends. At the
same time, she gives enough lip service to the US
position, which probably resembles her own, to remain in
America's good graces.
In the end, however, the Arroyo
administration's careful position will not spare the
Philippines the economic and political costs of war, and
it will probably not save the country from a hail of
terror attacks once the war begins in earnest.
There is no mistaking that this is a war that is
already being suffered in its threat and will no doubt
exact greater suffering in its reality. Most notably,
not all its casualties will be Iraqi or American or
British. They will include the victims of retaliatory
terror attacks. It will be a war fought in proxy
throughout the world in numerous undesignated
battlefields; not only in the Philippines but in
Indonesia, Malaysia, and, most certainly, the United
This means that this will be a war with
greater stakes than the disarmament of Iraq. Its outcome
will influence the future willingness of nations like
the Philippines to stick their necks out, even this
much, for the United States. For the Philippines, the
question is not really whether the US will win or lose
but how much it will lose.
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