International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

July 28, 2004

July 28, 2004





**  The Philippine troop pullout proves to terrorists that "it works to blackmail."


**  Arroyo's decision triggers mixed reactions in the Philippines.


**  Militants win a "moral" and "political" victory; Arroyo faced a lose-lose situation.




'A setback for global politics'--  Global dailies agreed that Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo committed a "grave mistake" by negotiating with kidnapped truck driver Angelo de la Cruz's captors, setting an "international precedent" that would only "encourage terrorists."  Many editorials asserted that the loss of another coalition member in Iraq was a "victory for anarchy" that dealt a "great blow to the U.S."  Spain's left-of-center El País commented that, "it is one thing to abandon a forced partnership whose vision one does not share," as in Spain's case, but another thing to do it "at the command of fanatic murderers."  Centrist and conservative papers noted that conceding to terrorists' demands might "open Pandora's Box, setting a precedent for other countries" to abandon the U.S.-led coalition.  Critics of the troop pullout also predicted that more coalition allies will "follow in the Philippines' footsteps," leaving the U.S. to "maintain peace and order in Iraq on its own."


'Manila's toughest decision'--  Philippine editorials split over the hostage crisis.  By pulling her military contingent out, Arroyo "may have taken a first step in liberating [Philippine] foreign policy," argued the independent Business World.  Similarly, the conservative Manila Bulletin observed that "it took the near-death experience" of Angelo de la Cruz to "shatter the illusion of 'special relations' with the U.S. almost overnight."  In contrast,  critics of Arroyo's decision warned her move will "embolden terrorists," making abductions of Filipinos a regular "part of their violent program" and could hinder "long-term relations between Manila and its allies."  The pullout of Filipino troops will only appease terrorists temporarily, and will encourage them to continue blackmailing coalition members to "disengage from Iraq and surrender the struggle to the rebels," according to the independent Manila Times.


'A pact with the devil'--  The kidnappers placed President Arroyo in a difficult situation:  whatever decision she made was "certain to be met with disapproval."  For the terrorists, the withdrawal of the Philippine contingent was reason to celebrate a "moral" and "political" victory, which will without a doubt "boost [their] confidence" and gain them "enormous credibility everywhere."  The Australian tabloid Daily Telegraph held that Arroyo "made a pact with the devil" in order to save de la Cruz's life.  The UAE's expatriate-oriented Gulf News added that negotiating with terrorists gives them "a sense of power" and the appearance of bringing a government "to its knees."  Independent Media Indonesia countered, however, that by giving in to de la Cruz's kidnappers Arroyo "put national interests above everything else" and "demonstrated a human commitment" surpassing the "norms in international ties."


EDITOR:  Rachid Chaker


EDITOR'S NOTE:  Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.  Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.  Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet.  This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.  This analysis was based on 50 reports from 22 countries, July 14-July 27, 2004.  Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.




GERMANY:  "Defeat"


Peter Sturm commented in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (7/21):  "It is nice to see that a Philippine hostage was set free, but the community of nations suffered a defeat.  Irrespective of the situation in Iraq, the step of the government in Manila shows its internal constitution.  The mission of [Philippine] soldiers was not popular, and since President Arroyo likes to trim her sails to the wind, this kidnapping came at the right time.  We are anxiously waiting to see who will pay with his life for this.  Dangers are looming not only in Iraq...since kidnappings take place in the Philippines, too.  It is possible that the president thinks she must show how indefatigably she is fighting terror.  With the overhasty withdrawal, she has now 'only' risked the lives of nationals from other countries.  But the terrorists follow their own logic.  Indulgence will only spur them according to the motto: it works to blackmail others.  This is why we must fear that difficult times lay ahead for the Philippines.  And then the people would like to see a government with clear principles."


"At The End, There Is Only The Pure Doctrine"


Malte Lehming filed the following editorial for centrist Der Tagesspiegel (7/15):  "Yesterday, the Philippines began to withdraw its forces from Iraq, since a Philippine hostage may otherwise have been decapitated....  What do the terrorists really want?  The supporters of the pure doctrine (SPD) quickly offered an answer:  The terrorists want to drive a wedge between the allies in Iraq and our elections.  As evidence they submitted the attacks in Madrid....  If it were that simple!  As the mastermind of the attacks in Madrid, security agencies arrested Rabei Osman Sajed Ahmed who bragged about the attacks, saying the preparations took two and a half years.  This is a long time, which means that Ahmed's motivation had nothing to do with the Iraq war and the Spanish participation in it.  But since the attacks had a political effect, the terrorists have acquired a taste for such attacks....  In principle, the SPD are right, since one should not talk to terrorists à la al-Qaida.  Signs of weakness only stimulate them, but even the U.S. government no longer sticks to this policy.  In April, it decided to leave Fallujah, a stronghold of the rebels, to themselves.  The rebels celebrated this as a victory.  And since then, Fallujah has turned out to be a reservoir for the anti-American guerrilla force....  The result of such sin of omission can be seen in Afghanistan where the elections had to be called off again.  The Philippines allowed others to blackmail them.  This was wrong.  Unfortunately, there is hardly any other government in the fight against terrorism that would have the moral right to condemn it.  And nobody any longer listens to the SPD in their ivory tower."


"Giving In To Terrorists"


Business-oriented Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg declared (7/15):  "The fact that Philippine President Arroyo has now given in to pressure from terrorists does not make her not only a bad ally, but with her withdrawal she also created a triumph for the terrorists in Iraq for which, in a worst case scenario, other hostages will now have to pay with their lives....  Now it is becoming obvious that the Manila government entered into a political venture whose consequences it did not fully realize.  The question of war and peace was easily answered like the current troop withdrawal.  The kidnappers will celebrate, even though the planned withdrawal was moved up a few weeks.  They have achieved an important victory and asserted all their demands.  This will certainly encourage them to take further people hostage.  It will also create much more threatening situations for those who are in the hands of terrorists and who come from more steadfast countries.  The kidnappers will now try to set an example to show what will happen if governments do not give in."


"Multiple Setback"


Munich's centrist Abendzeitung opined (7/15):  "The Philippines only withdraws 52 soldiers, but this decision is a multiple setback for George W. Bush, because it is now obvious that he pinned his hopes on wrong partners: insecure partners like the Philippines are no reliable allies.  For Iraq, it is a setback because the country can use everything, but not dwindling international support.  But it is also a setback for global politics.  If governments can be blackmailed, this will be a victory for anarchy.  Those who give in to terrorists in such a dramatic way, consider the fight against them to be lost.  The Philippine president may now be strengthened at home--but the terrorists are strengthened, too."




Center-right Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten editorialized (7/15):  "Governments that withstand kidnappers and terrorists are calling upon their citizens to make sacrifices.  This will be acceptable if one's own policy is clear, credible, and democratically legitimized.  But following the government in Washington, the government in London had to admit that the intelligence services played a dubious role before the Iraq campaign and stirred up the willingness to go to war.  This is a viewpoint that makes it difficult to assess the decision of the government in Manila as a bad example and to differ between brave countries à la Bulgaria that keep their forces in Iraq and cowardly withdrawers à la the Philippines."


ITALY:  "Iraq, One Of The Two Bulgarian Hostages Is Executed"


Toni Fontana writes in pro-democratic left party (DS) daily L’Unità (7/14):  “Horror and anxiety for the hostages held in Iraq.  Last night the satellite television network Al-Jazeera announced the beheading of one of the two Bulgarian hostages that were being held hostage....  Meanwhile, Manila and Washington are having a showdown regarding the withdrawal of Filipino troops from Iraq....  The White House has already stated its dissatisfaction with the prospect of the Philippines’ quick withdrawal of their troops in order to save a hostage of their own.  According to the U.S. administration, The Philippines would be making a grave mistake by ‘sending the wrong signal to terrorists worldwide.’  The message Washington is sending to The Philippines, and others as well, is clear: your soldiers must remain in Iraq.”


RUSSIA:  "Filipinos Shun Allied Responsibilities"


Aleksandr Gabuyev wrote in business-oriented Kommersant (7/20):  "The Philippines has completed the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq....  The

gradual exodus of the multinational forces from Iraq has yet to bring it sought-after stability.  It is the first instance of hostage-taking yielding tangible fruit to the militants....  U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, arriving in Iraq Sunday, protested against the Filipino pullout.  You can understand Mr. Armitage--if all countries in the Coalition stop carrying out their allied responsibilities to spare the lives of their citizens, the Americans will soon be left to maintain peace and order in Iraq on their own, what with the presidential elections in the United States a few months away."


"Victory For Terrorists"


Sergey Strokan maintained in business-oriented Kommersant (7/14):  "A few hours before the deadline expired Manila stated it will pull out its troops from Iraq shortly.  That is another telling blow to the U.S.-led coalition....  Minute as the Philippine military presence is, the question of whether it will withdraw ahead of time is of great political importance.  Washington fears, not without reason, that making a concession, however small, to terrorists in Iraq might open Pandora's Box, setting a precedent for other countries whose governments are under powerful pressure from the public to pull out of Iraq.  As Manila is making it clear that it will honor its commitments, it has clearly wavered by playing up to the militants and giving them cause to celebrate a moral victory."


AUSTRIA:  "Hostage Drama"


Markus Bernath commented in liberal daily Der Standard (7/14):  "These days, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is experiencing the dilemma of a politician who is faced with terror: whether to save the life of a citizen that only got into Iraq through government intervention or preserve the image of the country as a close ally of the U.S. and signal once more to the militant radicals in the Philippines that the government will not appease terrorists.  For the first time since the beginning of hostage takings in Iraq last April, a government is now about to fulfill the demands of the terrorists....  Bringing forward the planned withdrawal of 51 soldiers is...a first concession to the captors of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz.   Terrorists, however, calculate differently:  to them, the murder or release of a hostage does not mean much--their real aim is to generate panic in the government offices and among the public."


BULGARIA:  "The Capitulation Of The Philippines"


Top-circulation Trud commented (7/16):  "The Philippines did no favor to the world and themselves by bowing to the terrorists' ultimatum.  This action sends the wrong message to the kidnappers and encourages global terrorism....  Manila will most likely save its hostage's life by pulling out its troops from Iraq.  This, of course, will not affect the situation in Iraq and will certainly not make it any safer.  But the concession will encourage the terrorists to take more hostages, based on the hope that other countries, when pressured in a similar way, will follow in the Philippines' footsteps....  In the Philippines, too, militant Islam is on the rise.  Terrorists will be emboldened to kidnap foreigners there, too."


CZECH REPUBLIC:  "Influence Of The Terror Of Decapitated Heads"


Viliam Buchert remarked in leading, centrist MF Dnes (7/15):  "Decapitations and video recordings of these murders spread by TV and the Internet are a real perversity, which must horrify every normal human being....  Therefore the one who thinks that with an end of the war in Iraq and the departure of the Americans from the country, the terror of the Muslim radicals will cease, is naïve.  It is stupid and above all dangerous to make concessions to them.  Even for the Czech Republic.  However, most of our politicians would rather keep silent on these things."


HUNGARY:  "What Are We Doing In Iraq?"


Foreign news writer Laszlo Zoldi Szentesi judged in right-wing conservative Magyar Nemzet (7/16):  "As far as Washington is concerned White House spokesman Scott McClellan did not surprise anybody when he said that the [Filipino] troop withdrawal was a bad message to the terrorists.  But the Filipino government did only the same thing that the Spanish government had done before: it simply ignored Washington's opinion.  Regarding Hungary's presence in Iraq, there isn't any reason left for our continued participation in the Iraqi adventure.  Here we stand with empty hands.  We have already served the American interests by giving the life of two of our fellow citizens and we have received nothing.  Here we stand as a helpless, defenseless country, drifting along.  If the tragedy happens tomorrow that we move up one place or two on the Muslims’ hate list the worst can be expected either in Hillah or even in Budapest."


"Late Knowledge"


Liberal Hungarian-language Magyar Hirlap contended (7/15):  "It should be noted that one of the players who had a key role in the Iraq war has not yet revealed his own set of arguments to the public.  The person in question is Saddam Hussein.  He could finally explain why he hindered the weapons inspectors in their efforts to try and find nothing.  The problem was not the war itself.  The world finally became freed from a bloody-handed brutal dictator.  The problem was that stabilization was messed up afterwards, mainly due to the fact that not enough soldiers were sent to post-war Iraq.  There is another, more important development, though which does not change the situation at all.  Manila is withdrawing its contingent from Iraq because a Philippine truck driver has been taken hostage.  The consequence of the troop withdrawal will be more hostage taking actions, whereas the ‘consequence’ of the Butler report will only be pile of studies and books."


THE NETHERLANDS:  "A Controversial Decision"


Rotterdams's NRC Handelsbad published a striking cartoon (7/15):  "President Arroyo should have known better.  Giving in to kidnappers will be conducive to more acts of terrorism.  And how much respect will the Philippine authorities enjoy in the eyes of such terrorist organizations as the Southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf's network?  The Philippine decision to pull back its troops from Iraq was controversial.  Manila's complicated relations with Washington constituted an obstacle to unconditional support for the United States.  Many Philippine citizens regard the Unites States as a colonizer, a superpower that imposed its language, military bases, and culture on the country and that was in league with the dictatorial regime led by Ferdinand Marcos.  While the international community, in particular the United States, reacted highly critical to the troop withdrawal, reactions by the Philippine population were mixed.  Today's media both welcomed and disapproved the troop withdrawal.  Meanwhile, more kidnappings are taking place.  Bulgaria has not given in to terrorist pressures and its troops will remain in Iraq.  The country, however, has had to pay for this consistent attitude with the decapitation of one Bulgarian hostage.  Such shocking events, which can sometimes be followed on the Internet, have an enormous impact on politics, the media, and society as a whole.  Any country with troops in Iraq, including the Netherlands is a potential target for kidnappers.  So let us hope that the Netherlands has a scenario 'in case something happens,' although working out such a worst-case scenario is a rather lugubrious chore."


POLAND:  "The Terrorists Got Their Own Way"


Robert Stefanicki asserted in liberal Gazeta Wyborcza (7/15):  "Ostensibly, the pullout of Philippine troops--if it happens--has significant ramifications. After all, the issue for the terrorists was not a military victory, but a political one....  The success will boost the terrorists’ confidence. There will surely be subsequent abductions and attacks.  The Philippines’ succumbing [to terrorists’ demands] will not only further destabilize the situation in Iraq, but could also be detrimental to the Philippines itself, which has a problem with Muslim terrorism....  The coalition should set a date for its pullout from Iraq as soon as possible under the condition that the situation in that country is relatively back to normal.  Then any subsequent abduction and any attack would convince the Iraqi people that the issue for the terrorists is not the freedom of their country, but terror."


SPAIN:  "A Bad Example by the Philippines"


Left-of-center daily El País wrote (7/22):  "The decision by the Philippine President to give in to terrorist blackmail in Iraq...can be understood in strictly compassionate terms, but it is a political mistake of the highest caliber.  It sends a disastrous message to the terrorists, doesn't help the Iraqis, and increases the vulnerability of the citizens from other countries helping the troops in Iraq's stabilization....  Whether Manila's gesture highlights its fragility as a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, is of least importance....  As the facts have shown, the coalition cobbled together by the White House to protect its Iraq adventure is a weak and strange conglomeration.  But it is one thing is to abandon a forced partnership whose vision one does not share--as was the case of Spain [and its withdrawal of troops from Iraq], and quite another thing to do it at the command of fanatic murderers....  The opportunism and harsh inconsistency of Manila's move are delineated even more strongly by the fact that Manila follows a hard-line, no-concessions policy with respect to its own internal terrorism, which is also Islamist, threatening, a practitioner of hostage-taking, and which has resorted to the sword as a political tool."


SWEDEN:  "Iraq Will Need The Support Of Everyone"


Conservative Stockholm morning daily Svenska Dagbladet editorialized (7/15):  "The Philippine surrender to terrorism is happening in a situation in which the work to rebuild Iraq after Saddam Hussein is being legitimized by the UN and the new government in Baghdad, which will need all possible support to have a chance of survival....  In order for Iraq to have a better future, international support is essential of which a considerable part is fighting terrorism.  This is the very same support that the Philippines will need to manage Islamic terrorists that ravage the southern parts of the country.  The next time the bell tolls for Manila, the Philippine government had better hope that its allies will not act in the same way it did."




UAE:  "A Tough Decision Made Worse"


The expatriate-oriented English-language Gulf News editorialized (7/15):  "Philippines President Gloria Arroyo will probably see the assurances she has received from militants in Iraq--a promise to spare the life of kidnapped Filipino driver Angelo de la Cruz in return for the withdrawal of Filipino troops--as a major triumph. While nobody would grudge Arroyo her moment of glory or the relief that the de la Cruz family and Filipinos everywhere, must feel at his imminent release, the promise of freedom has come at a huge price.  Arroyo, pragmatic and tough as nails weighed the cost of one man's life against that of staying the course in Iraq. The latter would have meant that the Philippines' 51-man contingent would have stayed on until the scheduled date of departure of August 20. Unfortunately, she chose to go with the former....  While a human life is important, Arroyo seems to have failed to see the big picture--negotiating with kidnappers sets a bad international precedent.  Philippine administrations that preceded Arroyo's have been down that road before, talking with the Abu Sayyaf militants in southern Mindanao, paying them millions of pesos in ransom. But negotiating with kidnappers in Iraq confers a legitimacy on the militant group that they ill-deserve. It gives them a sense of power at having brought a government to its knees. It will only reinforce their belief that other nationals, who are part of hundreds of foreign troops fighting alongside the US, are fair game.  It is nobody's case that the US has any right to be in Iraq but if reports that ransom has been paid to this shadowy group to secure de la Cruz' release are true, it will only encourage them to strike again."




AUSTRALIA:  "Sending Terrorists A Weak Message"


Conservative commentator Piers Akerman opined in the popular tabloid Daily Telegraph (7/22):  "Philippines President...Arroyo made a pact with the devil to save the life of Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz.  By meeting the demands of his insurgent captors...she has given the upper hand to those seeking to destroy the new Iraq in its infancy....  Having gone weak at the knees and caved in so ingloriously the diminutive Mrs. Arroyo can now count the days before the terrorists of some persuasion will up the ante and make demands on her that...will further undermine her government and the global struggle against fanaticism."


"Arroyo's Deal With The Devil"


An editorial in the national conservative Australian read (7/22):  "Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has presented the decision to withdraw her country's troops from Iraq--and secure the release of hostage Angelo de la Cruz--as driven by humanitarian motives.  While that is no doubt sincere, political and economic motives also played their part.  The decision could prove costly on all three grounds.  Negotiating with terrorists is

an extremely bad idea....  It is hard to see how this feel-good decision contributes to political stability.  The decision is also very bad for the Philippines' APEC partners, all of whom face the threat of terror....  Mrs. Arroyo has just given the international security effort a kick in the guts..."


"Surrendering To Terrorist Demands"


An editorial in the liberal Melbourne Age asserted (7/19):  "The Philippine Government set a dangerous precedent when it gave in to kidnappers....  The Philippine Government has made a mistake not because it chose to withdraw its troops, which it is entitled to do, but because it withdrew them earlier than planned in response to bloody threats.  The Philippine Government's willingness to compromise may damage its relationship with the United States and may also have consequences on its own soil....  The Arroyo Government has now sent a message to the world that it is willing to acquiesce to violent blackmail.  Unfortunately, however, it is unlikely that the temptations of appeasement will lead to peace."


CHINA:  "Why Has The Philippines Bowed Its Head?"


Wang Wei commented in the official Beijing Times (7/14):  "From a recent series of subtle changes to the Philippines government, one can see that the Philippines’ change of heart is understandable.  First, the hostage is a truck driver working for a Saudi company....  Protecting overseas laborers’ interests is one of the Philippine government's important responsibilities.  It has to take this into account in dealing with the hostage issue.  Second, the Philippine government's following the U.S. on the Iraq issue has engendered much opposition among the congressmen and the Filipino people....  A stable social and political situation is fundamentally important for the Philippine president.  Third, recent friction between the U.S. and the Philippines is another factor that has caused the Philippines to soften its attitude on the hostage issue....  Yet the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines was very arrogant when sitting for a Philippine TV interview.  The special political, economic and diplomatic situation of the Philippines determines that it has little space to maneuver.  Thus it can't persist in ‘the deployment of troops’ like the ROK and Japan."


"Philippines Troops Withdrawal A Tactical Action, Not A Strategic One"


Zhou Xinyu and Kang Zixing affirmed in the official Communist Youth League China Youth Daily (07/21):  "Arroyo dared to face the U.S. pressure toughly obviously because she made an evaluation of the wider international environment....  Since the legitimacy of the Iraq war and the deployment of troops in Iraq are both in doubt, the entire coalition military in Iraq is facing moral pressure to withdraw.  Arroyo observed the subtle changes in the situation and that's why she dared to make the decision to withdraw troops.  Experts think that we should not be confused by the two countries' [U.S. and Philippines] tough words.  The U.S. and Philippines not only have a clear understanding of the general strategic situation, but also forgive each other for divergences on certain issues....  Jia Qiang, an expert on Southeast Asian issues from the Chinese Academy of Social Science says that the U.S. is capable of comprehending Arroyo’s difficulties.  The Philippines’ withdrawal of troops is a tactical action, not a strategic action.  Arroyo is a consistently firm follower of the U.S., and if her position became unstable due to the hostage crisis, then U.S. interests would have been even more greatly influenced.  The U.S. wouldn’t not consider these factors....  The precedent the Philippines set may become the example for other [U.S.] allies to follow."


CHINA (HONG KONG SAR):  "Will Terrorists Now Spare The Philippines?"


Michael Richardson remarked in the independent English-language South China Morning Post (7/23):  "...But will appeasement make Filipinos in the Middle East and elsewhere safer?  Will it make the Philippines less likely to be a target of international terrorists?  Or will it embolden extremists to continue attacks because they will calculate that a weak leadership will cave in to their demands?....  It is true that countries supporting the U.S. in Iraq have become more prominent targets.  But al-Qaida was on the offensive long before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, and then Iraq, following the September 11 attacks....  Al-Qaida makes no secret of its aims.  It wants to establish a pan-Islamic federation throughout the world by working with other Islamic extremists to overthrow non-Islamic or un-Islamic regimes and expel non-Muslims from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.  Southeast Asia, including the predominantly Christian Philippines, is to become a caliphate in this global federation.  Is it possible to negotiate an end to terrorist violence with the al-Qaida network or avoid becoming a target by retreating to the sidelines of the war on terror?  Those familiar with al-Qaida's vision for the world and its absolutist doctrine say that neither negotiation nor neutrality is possible."


"Philippines' Withdrawal From Iraq Will Have Profound Impacts"


The pro-PRC Chinese-language Macau Daily News remarked in an editorial (7/15):  "...If the Philippines withdraws troops one month early, it will embarrass Arroyo, as she has stressed many times that the Philippines government will not submit to terrorists.  Besides, she is afraid of offending the U.S. because the Philippines has relied on the U.S.  The early withdrawal will have an impact on other countries that have sent troops to Iraq.  It will be a great blow to the U.S.  However, Arroyo is facing strong public outcry.  If the hostage is not safely released, her new government will face surging charges from the public.  A new political crisis may arise.  In the Philippines, exported workers contribute much to the national economy.  If these overseas workers' safety cannot be protected, it will create a grave problem.  Arroyo cannot ignore the discontent of the U.S. and make concessions to the Iraqi militants just to calm the people....  The Bush administration is, of course, unhappy.  However, they should review why such a situation would occur.  They cannot only put all the blame on others....  In Iraq, many people do not treat the U.S.-led troop as an army dedicated to a just cause.  On the contrary, they see them as an occupation army.  In addition, the Iraqi war did bring about deaths and catastrophe to the Iraqi people.  That's why Iraqi people are full of grievances and some of them want to resist.  The U.S. should have a clear understanding about these."


"Philippine Troop Pullout Comes At Too Great A Cost"


The independent English-language South China Morning Post judged (7/15):  "The decision to evacuate, while understandable, is nonetheless regrettable.  It makes the Philippines the first country to give in to an Iraqi militant group's demands in exchange for the release of a hostage.  And it sets a dangerous precedent that could embolden other like-minded kidnappers, putting many more lives at risk than the one Mrs. Arroyo may have saved.  Though a handful of countries have recently ended their Iraqi commitments ahead of schedule--Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic--dozens of others remain, helping to rebuild infrastructure and providing security.  The NATO, meanwhile, is set to begin training police and peacekeepers....  The handling of the affair, while meeting the immediate approval of the de la Cruz family and some migrant worker advocates, may play differently in parliament.  The appearance of credibility and firm leadership is especially important now, as Mrs. Arroyo embarks on an ambitious budget-balancing and poverty relief agenda.  The bargain just struck might bring some measure of security to the thousands of Filipinos still working in the region - and keep open a channel of badly needed income.  Unfortunately, it comes at too great a cost to the safety of others."


INDONESIA:  "Arroyo And De La Cruz"


The independent Media Indonesia commented (7/22):  "What has made Arroyo break her commitment…to the U.S. [by withdrawing her troops from Iraq]?  There is only one answer: Arroyo put national interests above everything else and the most important factor in national interests is human beings, her people and her citizens....  Arroyo demonstrated a human commitment that transcends the norms in international ties....  In such a critical situation, a leader must make an important decision.  The decision will certainly not satisfy all people.  But in such a dilemma, the national interests, the interest of the citizens and the people must come first."


"Cynicism Over Decision To Withdraw Philippine Troops From Iraq"


Leading independent daily Kompas commented (7/20): "The stance of the Philippine government, which is seen as easily bowing to the demands by abductors in Iraq, has prompted criticisms and cynicism....  Not only the U.S. and Australia have expressed their disappointment.  The Philippine media has also criticized their government.  They criticized the decision to withdraw the troops as endangering other foreign troops in Iraq....  Regardless of the noble intent to save the life of their citizen, the decision to withdraw the troops has been criticized because it did not consider the broader implications, as it might also harm the Philippines itself.  In military terms, the impact of the withdrawal might not be significant to the security system in Iraq.  But in political and diplomatic terms, the withdrawal has prompted criticism against the Philippines.  The Philippines will be cornered even further compared to other countries that do not bow to pressure from the abductors and have promised to maintain their troops....  The Philippines’ alliance with the U.S. would also be disturbed....  U.S. disappointment over the Philippines’ position in Iraq will predictably impact their bilateral cooperation, in economic, trade and investment relations as well."


JAPAN:  "Pullout To Invite More Hostage-Taking"


The conservative Sankei opined (7/15):  "It is quite regrettable that the Philippines, appearing to succumb to terrorist demands, has begun pulling its troops out of Iraq.  The move flies in the face of earlier separate rejections of terrorist demands by Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and other nations.  The Philippine decision will deal a heavy blow to the international community's efforts in the war on terrorism and...the concession to terrorists by the Philippines will increase the possibility that terrorists will kidnap more foreigners in Iraq.  No nation follow the example set by the Philippines."    


"Filipino Troop Withdrawal A Tough But Understandable Decision"


The liberal daily Asahi opined (7/21):  "We do not support the Philippine government's decision to pull its troops from Iraq because Manila's reaction to Iraqi militants' blackmailing could provoke further hostage cases in Iraq.  However, it might be unfair to unilaterally blame the Arroyo government for giving in to terrorists.  More than 4,000 Filipino workers have found jobs in postwar Iraq and President Arroyo promised her fellow citizens during the presidential campaign in May that her government would protect Filipino nationals working overseas.  The security situation in Iraq is too unstable for the international community to fight against terrorism.  Therefore, it is understandable that the Philippines decided to withdraw its military contingent from Iraq under such difficult circumstances."


PHILIPPINES:  "Doggie No More"

Gemma Cruz Araneta wrote in the conservative Manila Bulletin (7/27):  "As far as I can remember, my colleagues and I have written reams in favor of more pro-Filipino, independent foreign policy and against American bases and Iraq-type interventions, but it took the near-death experience of an hitherto obscure OFW [overseas foreign worker] to shatter the illusion of 'special relations' with the U.S. almost overnight.  I truly hope that after the SONA, the tail will never again wag the dog."


"Pullout Fallout: RP Reviews Ties With U.S., Arab States"


In the widely read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer Jerome Aning said (7/22):  "But Icamina said U.S. President George W. Bush would be making a mistake if he completely dropped support for the Philippines.  'We will be the weakest link in the fight against terrorism, and the U.S. cannot leave it at that.  We are vulnerable to becoming a haven of terrorists as far as Mindanao is concerned,' he said, adding that the Philippines could still expect continued military aid....  Senator Manuel Villar, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, pointed out that while a life was saved, the pullout of troops gave the Philippines a bad image in the international community.  'I'm just not happy about it,' he said over dinner with Inquirer editors and staff on Tuesday.  'It's a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't.  In the first place, we should not have sent troops there.  We should have pulled out our troops as soon as possible.'  Villar described the President's decision to pull out the troops as 'very rational, very wise, but wrong.'  In a radio interview Wednesday, Villar said: 'The country is happy over the release [of De la Cruz], but we can't say this won't affect the image of the country abroad.  And the DFA should move to cushion the damage on our reputation.'  Villar also sought a review of Philippine foreign policy, saying the hostage crisis should put a premium on the safety of overseas workers."


"No Counting The Cost"


Max Soliven of the independent Philippine Star wrote (7/22):  "In the old days, our fathers--even as they had valiantly fought the Spanish overlords (in 200 revolts and rebellions)--honored this concept as palabra de honor.  It means, as you already know, 'word of honor.'  We gave our word, then we reneged on it.  Despite all the chauvinistic bombast about preferring to save one of our own instead of pleasing foreigners, especially those arrogant Damnyankees, the 'hated' Americans who 'suckered' us into the war kuno, many of us realize, with shame, deep down, that we lost our honor and credibility.  You don’t desert your 'comrades' in the battlefield when they are embattled, even if you’ve lost faith in the morality of the war, without saying to them: 'No more.  I’m leaving because this is, I’ve realized, an unjust and cruel war--not one to save the Iraqi people.'  That might have given our nation at least the cachet and consolation of having marched out--out of conviction.  Instead, by our own public admission, we made a deal with the terrorists: we surrendered to their demands to prevent a Filipino countryman from being beheaded, and secure his release from captivity."


"The Power Of One"


The editorial of the government-controlled People's Journal opined (7/22):  "It had to take a cabalen [townmate, as Angelo de la Cruz and President Arroyo both come from the same province] to make President Macapagal-Arroyo to rethink her policy of aligning our national interest with that of America's.  She had a reason, and she had the moral high ground.  Why?  Because she had been lied to by the most powerful man on earth.  Friends simply don't lie to each other.  The U.S. Senate committee found that the reasons given by the Bush administration for bombing and occupying Iraq...were all baloney.  Even the American people no longer believe in their President."


"Only The First Step"


Walden Bello commented in the leading independent Business World (7/22):  "In withdrawing the Philippine military and police contingent from Iraq, President Arroyo may have taken a first step in liberating our foreign policy.  Now that the toughest decision has been made, it would be logical for her to take the further step of acknowledging that the Philippines participated in the implementation of a wrong policy that has cost the Iraqi people so much in terms of lives, property and security.  A formal apology to the Iraqi people for allowing our government to be dragged into Bush's savak is in order and would be greatly appreciated."


"The Next Angelo De La Cruz"


The editorial of the independent Manila Times said (7/22):  "Nobody wishes it, but there could be a new Angelo de la Cruz on the horizon.  Another Filipino overseas worker could be on the cross hairs of the terrorists' guns.  The next victim need not be a Filipino.  He could be another foreign worker, contractor or visitor in Iraq whose government has sent troops to Baghdad to help rebuild the country....  The pullout of the Filipino troops, in other words, will not appease terror-mongers but would encourage them to continue harassing and pressuring members of the 'Coalition of the Willing' to disengage from Iraq and surrender the struggle to the rebels."


"New Door"


Presidential Chief of Staff Rigoberto Tiglao commented in the Tagalog-language daily Quezon City Bulgar (7/20):  "There are those who say the withdrawal of our humanitarian contingent in Iraq was a shameful thing to do before the eyes of the world. They say we should have taken South Korea's lead.   It stood by its commitment to keep its military forces in Iraq despite the capture and beheading of a Korean language translator by Iraqi insurgents. They say we should not have embarrassed the United States, the one determined to invade Iraq and kick out Saddam Husayn, as it is possible that it will drop us at a time when we are trying to rebuild our economy and wage our own war against terrorism.  After all, the argument further says, Angelo dela Cruz is only one person, and he may be sacrificed.   Someone even said Angelo may be considered a 'collateral damage' of the ongoing war in Iraq. I wonder whether they will have the guts to say those to Angelo's wife and eight children. The hostage crisis in Iraq opens a new door for us to become a stronger republic. With the recall of our troops in Iraq, we showed the world that we can decide for ourselves.   We are not afraid of threats or disparagement by our wealthier neighbors.  Rather, we are prepared to sacrifice for the sake of a son or brother like Angelo. There are some foreign policy experts who say the Philippines should in fact consider itself lucky because of what happened to Angelo.   Unlike other countries who joined the U.S.-led Coalition of the Willing, they say we found a good excuse to get out of the trouble the United States got into. They say it is only right that the Philippines should leave Iraq.  It is because 90 percent of the Iraqis do not want the Americans, who they consider as invaders, continuing to stay there.  Although our troops are only doing civic and reconstruction work in Iraq, one cannot blame the Iraqis for lumping our soldiers and policemen together with the foreign forces that invaded their land.  Besides this, international public opinion is also turning around on the issue of kicking Saddam out of Iraq.  Only recently, the U.S. Senate declared that the war in Iraq was launched based on wrong CIA intelligence information.  The British Parliament's Butler report agreed with the U.S. Senate's declaration that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, contrary to the justification that was used for invading that country.  Apart from this, it also emerged in the U.S. Senate and the Butler report that there was no strong evidence for the claimed collaboration between Saddam and Usama bin Laden, the very reason why the Coalition of the Willing, which we then joined, was formed.  The Angelo dela Cruz hostage-taking issue served as our wake-up call so that we can reflect the truth of this matter deeper.  We must all remember that our withdrawal from Iraq does not mean we have surrendered to the terrorists.  Our fight against terrorism continues.  We shall fight them in our own territory, in the Philippines, not in a faraway country where there is nothing we can do."


"A Difficult Decision"


Manila's Tagalog-language Abante noted (7/16):  "The government has commenced the recall of Filipino soldiers in Iraq in compliance with the heavy condition given by Iraqi militants in exchange for the life of hostage Angelo dela Cruz.  It was a difficult decision for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to make because whatever option she took was certain to be met with disapproval.  If she were not to give in to the pullout of Filipino troops in Iraq and Angelo were to be beheaded, there is no doubt that the whole nation would rise up and would tell the government its decision was wrong.  On the other hand, it is this same scenario that has emerged now that the Arroyo administration has softened its stance and ordered that the Filipino troops in Iraq be sent home.  As expected, the first to oppose the move was the U.S., a known ally of the Philippines which is spearheading the anti-terror drive.  The accusation against us by the U.S. is serious because it is deeply dismayed over the Philippine decision, which seems to indicate that we give greater importance to the life of Angelo than to the country's debt of gratitude to U.S. President George W. Bush.  At this point, President Arroyo earned positive praise from the Filipino people because of the courage and conviction she showed in turning away from, or temporarily setting aside, the country's obligation or commitment to the U.S. in order to save the life of one Filipino.  Perhaps it is

high time that the Philippines stands on its own two feet.  Whatever will be the consequences of this decision, we must all join hands to uphold our sovereignty and defend ourselves and our country from any oppressor." 


"In The Name Of Honorable Self-Rule"


A Makati City Tanod editorial noted (7/16):  "It was easy to guess that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's decision to send home our tiny 51-man humanitarian troops in Iraq would be met with displeasure and perhaps even ridicule by the nations belonging to the Coalition of the Willing led by the United States of America.  And as expected, the U.S. and Australia have expressed their dismay over the decision made by the president of the Republic of the Philippines.  With the exception of some critics who give more importance to the country's international relations than to the relationships of Filipinos with each other, it is almost a certainty that the decision of President Macapagal-Arroyo was a nationalistic decision, a decision of a mother of a republic, who gives the highest importance to saving the life of a countryman who is on the brink of death....  President Gloria chose to save a child of the country, and for what she did she deserves to be praised and honored by the whole race as the mother of the land....  Relations between nations are never permanent or forever.  Today's enemy may be tomorrow's friend, and vice versa.  It is time for us to set forth on our journey as a nation in the name of honorable self-rule.  This is something that would not be easy for the U.S. to see, as it has grown accustomed to seeing us like a small puppy whose collar they can drag hither and yon by way of treaties and other forms of international pressure.  President Macapagal-Arroyo has taken the first step toward sovereignty.  There is no other path but to continue forward."


"Not Mice, But Men"


Max V. Soliven wrote in the moderate Philippine Star (7/16):  "…What I fear is the inevitable result: more OFWs will suffer for this mistake.  It isn’t even sure yet, whether we’ve actually saved Angelo from harm at the hands of the now-rejoicing terrorists.  They’ve bludgeoned our Government to its knees, and they know they can do this again anytime they want.   What’s more devastating is the loss of not just our pride and honor, but our credibility....  When GMA, with her eyes wide open, committed our nation to join the fight, she as leader must have weighed and understood the costs.  Now, it has been distressingly demonstrated that we are not willing to bear the burden, nor pay the price....  Will the US impose sanctions? You bet.  And our economy is bankrupt, our fiscal budget kaput, our treasury empty, and our debts horrendous."


"Buying Time"


Ellen Tordesillas wrote in the left of center Malaya (7/16):  "Throughout this crisis, it has become evident that Arroyo is more concerned about her political survival than saving the life of De la Cruz. She knows the danger of being toppled if De la Cruz is executed....  She allows De la Cruz to be beheaded, and the next head that will roll will be hers....  Yet, she has anchored her administration on being the staunchest ally of the United States in Asia....  She has been warned of the economic and political repercussions of becoming a member of the Coalition of the Unwilling like Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. At this time when she is starting her new term with a huge budget deficit, she could not afford to displease her superpower friends.  If Arroyo really wanted to save Angelo de la Cruz, it would not have taken her almost a week to decide to pull out the Philippine military contingent from Iraq as demanded by the Arab militants....  When the official said ‘the government is trying to buy time’, it's not necessarily for Angelo de la Cruz.  Gloria Arroyo needs it too for her political survival."


"The Decision To Withdraw Is A Costly Mistake"


The editorial in the moderate Manila Times stated (7/14):  “The withdrawal of Filipino troops, as announced by the Department of Foreign Affairs, impoverishes the leadership of President Arroyo and the credibility of the Philippines in the world.  It does not make Iraq safer from terrorists.  It does not make the lives of our workers safer in Baghdad and other Middle East capitals.  The decision will even embolden terrorists and make the practice of abducting Filipino workers part of their violent program.  The repercussions could affect long-term relations between Manila and its allies, in terms of military assistance, security cooperation and trade investments.”


SINGAPORE:  "Cynicism Over Decision to Withdraw Philippine Troops from Iraq"


Leading independent daily Kompas commented (7/20):  "The stance of the Philippine government, which is seen as easily bowing to the demands by abductors in Iraq, has prompted criticisms and cynicism....  Not only the U.S. and Australia have expressed their disappointment.  The Philippine media has also criticized their government.  They criticized the decision to withdraw the troops as endangering other foreign troops in Iraq....  Regardless of the noble intent to save the life of their citizen, the decision to withdraw the troops has been criticized because it did not consider the broader implications, as it might also harm the Philippines itself.  In military terms, the impact of the withdrawal might not be significant to the security system in Iraq.  But in political and diplomatic terms, the withdrawal has prompted criticism against the Philippines.  The Philippines will be cornered even further compared to other countries that do not bow to pressure from the abductors and have promised to maintain their troops....  The Philippines’ alliance with the U.S. would also be disturbed....  U.S. disappointment over the Philippines’ position in Iraq will predictably impact their bilateral cooperation, in economic, trade and investment relations as well."


"Manila Buckles"


The pro-government Straits Times opined (7/16):  "The Filipino government's decision to pull out its troops from Iraq is wrong.  With only 43 soldiers and policemen there, the decision will have no material impact on coalition strength in Iraq, but it will have devastating psychological consequences--not least in the Philippines itself.  Symbolism matters, especially in the war on terrorism, which is as much an ideological war as it is a military one.  The decision sends the same message to the world in general and the Arab/Muslim world in particular, as did Spain's decision to withdraw its forces following a bomb attack in Madrid: terrorists are brave, prepared to die for their twisted cause; the anti-terrorists are weak, and will fold under pressure; terror therefore works....  In the Filipino case, the decision is especially foolish and counter-productive, given the reality that Manila is fighting terrorist insurgents in its own backyard, in its Muslim-majority southern provinces.  If its knees can buckle so easily in Iraq, terrorists will assume they will buckle at home too....  Filipino President Gloria Arroyo's decision is a stain on her country's honor and will damage the hard-earned reputation for bravery that Filipino soldiers have won over many wars, both at home and abroad.  The decision also damages the United States, Manila's chief ally for decades, and even now its chief supporter in countering terrorists in southern Philippines.  This is no way to treat a friend, no matter how doubtful or critical one might be of its current policies....  Whatever one's views might have been as to the wisdom of invading Iraq, there is no doubt that the country is now a major theater in the war against terrorism.  There is no doubt, too, that if the coalition were to be defeated in Iraq, everyone, including hyper-critical Frenchmen and hastily-retreating Filipinos, would be worse off."


THAILAND:  "What Did The Philippines Do Wrong?"


The lead editorial in elite, business-oriented Krungthep Turakij read (7/23):  "We think that the Philippines’ withdrawal of troops from Iraq in order to save the lives of de la Cruz and his family is not the reason for more abductions or violence in Iraq....  We should respect the decision made by the Philippines who have more than 3,000 workers in Iraq.  It’s the U.S. and its allies who should be blamed for having invaded Iraq without paying heed to other nations....  We think that the U.S. should step aside and let the UN take the lead in the peacekeeping mission in Iraq....  And the formation of the new international forces should be on a voluntary basis.  The current method of coercion or applying pressure indirectly to achieve legitimacy should not be accepted."


"All Nations Must Withdraw Troops From Iraq"


Business-oriented, Thai-language Post Today stated (7/16):  "Even though the...hostage-taking of foreigners in order to pressure their countries to withdraw troops from Iraq and beheading them when their demands are not met are inhumane and brutal acts and should be denounced, the invasion of Iraq and killing of hundreds of innocent Iraqis by the U.S., British and Australian armed forces deserve more condemnation.  The Philippine government reserves the right to protect the lives of their citizens by withdrawing troops that have no right to be in Iraq in the first place.  All countries whose troops are still in Iraq but have no right to be there should also withdraw.  That is the best option to end brutality in Iraq."


"Withdrawal Sends The Wrong Signal"


The English-language independent Nation held (7/15):  "Manila's simply bad policy and poor leadership.  Not only has President Arroyo hurt her country's international standing by caving in to threats, she has also put millions of Filipinos, Thais and other risk from terrorists who now know it may well be worth their while to try grab more hostages....  Manila's decision has made the world a more dangerous place."




INDIA:  "Act Decisively On Hostage Issue"


An editorial in centrist The Hindu commented (7/23):  "New Delhi must do whatever is necessary to secure the release of three Indian workers taken hostage by the Iraqi resistance as they are likely to be killed if the demands of their captors are not met.  The resistance has demanded that India and other countries whose nationals are being held hostage withdraw their citizens from Iraq.  If it immediately comes out with a policy statement asking all Indian nationals to leave occupied and war-torn Iraq and committing itself to strict enforcement of this decision, perhaps the lives of the Indian hostages can be saved....  The Bush administration is likely to criticize any move to withdraw Indians from Iraq as surrender to terrorism much as it did after the Philippines pulled out its minuscule military contingent in response to an earlier hostage crisis.  However, the principle that governments should not succumb to the demands of terrorists does not apply in this case for several reasons....  The resistance also appears to represent the true aspirations of Iraqis since its warriors live amidst the people of the country while the members of the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi hide behind the protective shield of the occupiers.  As support for Washington's disastrous Iraq policy dwindles by the day, within the U.S. and internationally, it appears all the more certain that foreign armies will not restore stability or establish a democratic order.  Any association with the occupation or its puppets will be detrimental to India's long-term interests since the resistance apparently embodies the will of the Iraqis...."




CANADA:  "Arroyo Gives Terrorists A Victory"


Contributor Tom Oleson commented in the centrist Winnipeg Free Press (7/17):  "...Today in Iraq and other parts of the Arab world there is a new kink to terrorist blackmail.  Foreign nationals are kidnapped and threatened with death--usually by having their heads cut off in as brutal a fashion as possible--unless their governments withdraw from the American-led coalition working to rebuild that country.  This week, for the first time, one of those governments gave in and paid.  In practical terms, the government of the Philippines did not pay a particularly high price to buy back the life of Angelo de la Cruz....  The country's contribution to the coalition is small--only 51 troops--and not military in nature--it is involved in police training.  It was due to leave Iraq next month anyway.  Even so, Mrs. Arroyo was at first inclined to refuse....  In the end, however, Mrs. Arroyo gave in to strong public sentiment in her country and the domestic political realities her government faces and agreed to the terms.  She paid the ransom.  The hostage is set to be released by the end of July if all Philippine troops are gone by then and if the terrorists stay true to their word....  For Mrs. Arroyo the immediate question is how her action will affect her country's relationship with the United States.  Although American reaction has been restrained, the Bush administration is clearly angry with the Manila government.  The Philippine contribution to Iraq may have been small, but Mrs. Arroyo's support for the war on terror was strong and valuable and greatly enhanced her position with Washington.  She will need considerable political skill to regain that advantage.  More seriously is to what extent the Philippine precedent will encourage the practice of hostage-taking.  Although it has only worked once, it could work again.  The question is: Will other governments faced with death threats to their citizens now be moved to buy their safety by surrendering to terrorist demands and, if they do not, how many more heads will have to roll because Mr. de la Cruz was able to keep his.  He, at least, emerges from this tragedy both lucky and blameless.  The same can not be said for Mrs. Arroyo.  She eased her own immediate problems by paying the Danegeld.  Before this story is over, those problems could look pretty small indeed compared to what she may have created."


"President Arroyo's Error"


Toronto's leading centrist Globe and Mail opined (7/19):  "Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may have saved a man's life by agreeing to withdraw soldiers and police from Iraq, but she has sentenced others to death.  Militants in Iraq are holding truck driver Angelo de la Cruz hostage and have threatened to execute him unless the Philippines withdraws its 51-member peacekeeping contingent.  After at first refusing, the Philippine government said on Wednesday that it was organizing a pullout and had already reduced its forces to 43.  What a terrible signal that sent.  The militants will exult in their victory and try to repeat it by seizing other hostages from other countries.  If their fate does not weigh on Mrs. Arroyo's conscience, the safety of her own countrymen should.  Millions of Filipinos work overseas, many of them in the Middle East.  They are now targets.  At home, the Philippines faces Islamic insurgents of its own who will note the success of their Iraqi brothers and try to repeat it.  If even that prospect does not move her, Mrs. Arroyo should consider her country's honour.  What will she say when she next meets President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea, who refused to cancel plans to send more troops to Iraq even after a Korean translator was beheaded?  What will she say to the leaders of Italy or Bulgaria, who took a similar stand when their countrymen were slaughtered?  If the world has learned anything in decades of fighting terrorists, it is that governments must never, ever give in to their demands.  By ignoring that lesson and betraying the other brave countries that are staying in Iraq, Mrs. Arroyo has covered her nation in shame."



Commentary from ...
Middle East
East Asia
South Asia
Western Hemisphere

This site is produced and maintained by the U.S. Department of State. Links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Back To Top

blue rule
IIP Home  |  Issue Focus Home