Know the President (2)
As I wrote in this space last March 13, President Duterte is not anti-American. He is simply a nationalist espousing then President Carlos P. Garcia’s “Filipino First” policy.
On those occasions when the President fired off seemingly anti-American tirades, I surmise that it was because he felt then, as he feels still, that US policies are at times stacked against Philippine interests. We are America’s friend and ally, are we not? So why are we not being treated like one? That is the question that begs an honest answer devoid of any Machiavellian ingredient.
That said, let us take a quick look at the recent past to understand that this perceived radial shift in Philippine policy is not of the President’s but of America’s making.
The President and I belong to what I call the “Hi, Joe” generation. World War II had just been won. The gratitude of Filipinos to America’s greatest generation was overflowing. When we were growing up, every white man that we met was American to us and we shouted in greeting: “Hi, Joe!”
We learned to sing with gusto the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” We honed our forensic skills by reciting Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” The writings and speeches of Jose P. Laurel, Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Tañada sounded strange and too faraway to be of any significance.
We knew more about the lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt than we did about Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Aguinaldo and Artemio Ricarte. America was good and could do no wrong. Or so we thought.
So what caused the President to distrust America? What drove him to conclude that America was not, after all, a fair and dependable ally? It all boils down to a bloody incident in Davao City when he was then its mayor: I call it “the Michael Meiring incident.”
Meiring, an American, was a mysterious figure engaged in mysterious activities. He occupied a room at Evergreen Hotel in the city. On May 16, 2002, a bomb exploded in his room and when authorities arrived at the scene, he was found drenched in his own blood, unconscious, a leg blasted off. The room was severely damaged by the explosion. He was taken to a hospital in the city for urgent medical treatment. In the meantime, criminal cases were prepared against him.
Later, three Americans who identified themselves as FBI agents, together with Philippine military personnel, arrived at the hospital. Under the pretext of taking Meiring to another medical facility, they convinced the hospital authorities to release him to them. And without so much as informing Mayor Duterte, Meiring was taken out of the hospital; the next news we heard was that he had been spirited out of the Philippines straight to America.
Upon learning what had happened, Mayor Duterte was furious. His anger was such that you could slice it with a razor, so to speak. He railed against the FBI agents and their Philippine military escorts. It was total and absolute disrespect for Philippine civilian authority. It was a slap on the face of the mayor of Davao City. It was arrogance as arrogance can be.
What made things worse was that when asked, the US Embassy professed ignorance of what had transpired despite the fact that news of the bloody incident was commented on for days on end over the airwaves. By then, criminal charges had been filed against Meiring, and the US Embassy requested to cause his return to Davao to face prosecution. The request was ignored, and it remains ignored to this date. The last news we heard of Michael Meiring was that he fell to his death from a hotel balcony.
No wonder the President has reservations about trusting the Americans too much. Under the circumstances, would you not entertain the same reservations? Would your trust in America be as total and untarnished as before, given these facts?
But while we can learn a lesson or two from the past, we should not permit it to control and direct the course of our every action. We will not move forward if we
allow the past to keep pulling us back.
There is a lot of meeting to do respective of PH-US relations. The carrot-and-stick strategy is passé and will not pass the President’s scrutiny. Perhaps treating the Philippines as America’s equal rather than its lackey would be a good start. Right now, as I see it, the ball is in America’s court.
Jesus Melchor V. Quitain is undersecretary, Office of the President.
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