WikiLeaks and Kristie Kenney
Sen. Joker Arroyo has warned journalists, but also business people, academicians, civil society leaders, and of course government officials from accepting invitations to lunch, cocktails or dinner from foreign embassy officials who want nothing more than to “pick your mind” in exchange for a good meal and stimulating conversation.
The warning comes in the wake of the WikiLeaks release of sensitive US State Department cables from several embassies, including the one in Manila.
In some of the cables, US Embassy officials name their sources whom they freely quote and even provide their own interpretations, exposing what were supposed to be private conversations to public scrutiny.
If the “suki” of the diplomatic corps end up heeding Arroyo’s warnings, then that just might bring an end to popular three-hour lunches and the free exchange of ideas—an amalgam of chismis, opinion, observation, insider information—that parties recognize as necessary to the give-and-take of diplomacy.
As even Arroyo himself acknowledges, the transcripts of the conversations, as far as the diplomats remember what transpired, should be considered “raw information” that has yet to be validated by other sources or further research. It’s poor foreign policy indeed to base actions or positions on unverified information gathered while both parties were imbibing wine in the middle of the day.
Perhaps if WikiLeaks is to be acknowledged as accomplishing anything good for mankind, it would be to bring an end to diplomatic intelligence-gathering. No more long lunchtime conversations and cocktail parties where chatter substitutes for thoughtful analysis. No more false amity where, in exchange for a meal in a restaurant which one could otherwise ill-afford to patronize, one spills out information and opinion, under the illusion that one is not accountable for its veracity or even reliability.
For in the WikiLeaks age, there is no such thing as anonymity.
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CERTAINLY there are things in the WikiLeaks revelations that still manage to surprise us. For one thing, it shows how pro-GMA Kristie Kenney was, not just in her public pronouncements and her almost constant presence at Arroyo administration events, but even in her supposedly private and confidential assessments of Filipino officials and personalities.
During her term, Kenney tried mighty hard to win the “hearts and minds” of Filipinos. So much so that a popular radio talk-show duo even suggested that she run for senator because she had a good chance of winning. She appeared in morning TV shows, game shows and noontime variety shows, even dancing to popular tunes and joining dance troupes in their gyrations. Her face was a constant presence in newspapers. Why, she even made it to the “Best Dressed” lists of some magazines!
But there was a reason behind this seeming media whoredom, for during her stint as ambassador, Kenney had reason to work hard to distract Filipinos. In my view, the biggest issue during Kenney’s term was the Subic rape trial, where a young woman from Zamboanga accused a group of four American Marines of raping her after they met in an Olongapo disco. The gang rape went public after the Marines dumped the victim in the Subic freeport as they rushed to their vessel to beat their curfew.
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THE ARROYO administration was complicit in derailing justice for “Nicole,” the name adopted by the victim, who decided to push through with the case despite the efforts of the Department of Justice—from the secretary to the public prosecutors—to discredit her and weaken the case.
Just remembering how Daniel Smith, the lone Marine who got sentenced after the case was finally brought to trial, was sprung from jail to enjoy the gentle amenities of the embassy’s grounds, sets my teeth on edge. And remembering further how the entire matter concluded—with Nicole revoking her original charge and Smith flying to his freedom after the Court of Appeals dismissed the charges—makes my blood boil.
Public reception of Nicole’s story was skeptical from the start, and some seemed more inclined to worry about the pretty-boy Marine than about how our so-called “partners in defense” (they were here for a joint military exercise) abused their visiting privileges.
But real condemnation should be reserved for President GMA and her officials, who went about systematically destroying the young woman’s story (and even taking deliberate recklessness in its handling of evidence), pressuring her family to make her back down, and even facilitating her migration to, ironically, the United States.
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SO COULD anybody blame Kenney for just loving Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) to bits?
GMA certainly made it easy for the American diplomat to soothe ruffled feelings and paper over the offense committed by Smith and Kenney’s own efforts to spring the Marine from his rightful detention. And the Arroyo administration more than bent over backwards to accommodate the US government’s wishes, to the extent of debasing the status of our courts and opening our country to ridicule.
I wrote previously that I didn’t blame Kenney, and the American government, for doing all they could for an American citizen and ensuring that he got the gentlest treatment possible. That is what all citizens hope their own governments would do for them when they get into trouble abroad.
But the Philippine officials not only accommodated the Americans, they went well beyond the call of duty to anticipate their needs, even if it meant ignoring the human rights of a Filipino citizen. And that all this happened at home, in plain view of Filipinos, is all the more condemnable.