US: RP no longer part of coalition

- Jose Katigbak -
WASHINGTON — The Philippines has been dropped from the United States-led "coalition of the willing" as the US and its allies adopted a common policy stressing that no concessions must be made to terrorists.

"No. At this point, no," US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said when asked whether the Philippines was still a member of the coalition, consisting of countries that supported the US-led military strike on Iraq in 2003.

The US State Department said the policy centered on an unequivocal rejection of terrorism and refusal to bow to any demands made by abductors in Iraq who have beheaded some captives.

The 32 remaining coalition members are determined not to succumb to terrorist threats, Boucher said in a press briefing here Wednesday.

In Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was told by the US Embassy that the State Department statement "refers only to states that continue to maintain troops in Iraq."

"The US Embassy has clarified that the answer was not intended to mean that the countries that supported the principles and objectives of the Coalition and (which) contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq but… have no troops (there) are no longer considered part of the Coalition," the DFA said in a statement.

The DFA added that all further actions regarding Iraq would be governed by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546, proposed by the United States and adopted by consensus during the Philippine presidency of the UNSC last June.

Boucher said coalition nations would issue similar statements or express similar sentiments in the coming days in the face of intensified bombing attacks and kidnappings in strife-torn Iraq.

The Philippines finds itself in limbo in the coalition of nations against terror after giving in to the demands of militants in Iraq to withdraw its forces ahead of the Aug. 20 schedule to save the life of a Filipino hostage.

Asked to comment on the US State Department’s announcement, President Arroyo’s spokesman Ignacio Bunye stressed that "the President has already responded to this issue."

Asked if Manila remained a member of the Iraq coalition and whether it would be bound by the common policy on kidnappers, Bunye told reporters: "The Philippines remains committed to the fight against terror by whatever label and we have done our work and we have achieved success in this field."

He reiterated that Mrs. Arroyo "has acted on national interest and she does not intend to make an apology" for withdrawing the small Filipino humanitarian contingent.

After the Philippine pullout, Boucher said coalition members felt it important to state publicly that concessions will only endanger all members of the multinational force, as well as other countries, which are contributing to the humanitarian assistance and post-war reconstruction of Iraq.

"We all felt it was important to get out and state clearly what our policy is, particularly on making no concessions to terrorists or hostage-takers because that is one of the ways we could discourage the practice by making it clear to the people who are taking hostages that they are not going to gain anything by doing so," Boucher said.

Asked if he thought Manila’s move had resulted directly to an increase in violence in Iraq, Boucher said: "I don’t think anyone can track that to that extent."

"We’ve certainly expressed our disappointment. We’ve expressed our concerns on policy grounds, but I don’t think I can go beyond that at this point," the US official said.

On Wednesday, a released captive said Iraqi gunmen had freed four Jordanian hostages in a raid. The Arab-based Al Jazeera television said two Turkish drivers were also freed because their firm agreed to stop operating in Iraq.

Italy has been threatened by a military group claiming to have links to al-Qaeda that has demanded Rome to withdraw troops from Iraq by Aug. 15, or face attacks. Italy, a coalition member, has around 2,700 troops in Iraq.

Boucher said the US came up with the initial draft of the policy statement and discussed it with other governments.

"So many will adopt this language, many will express it in their own ways. But the fundamental policy of not making concessions to terrorists and maintaining their resolve I think is something that all members agree upon," he said.

The remaining members of the coalition are: Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Britain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, Slovakia, Thailand, Tonga and Ukraine.
No Concessions
The US has about 140,000 troops in Iraq. Britain, Italy and Poland have about 13,000 troops and the rest of the coalition members provide about 9,000 troops.

Staunch US ally Singapore said yesterday that it supports Washington’s position that coalition forces will not make concessions to hostage-takers in Iraq.

"Succumbing to such threats will only increase the dangers, weaken the Iraqi government and delay Iraq’s reintegration into the world economy," said a spokesman from the city-state’s foreign affairs ministry who was not named.

Singapore was not part of the original US-led coalition in Iraq but it has sent four police officers to neighboring Jordan to train the Iraqi police force.

It also deployed a KC-135 refueling aircraft with 33 servicemen to the Persian Gulf. It is however not clear whether the plane lands in Iraq.

Mrs. Arroyo withdrew the 43-member humanitarian force from Iraq in mid-July, despite the objections of the US and other coalition allies, in exchange for the release of Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz who was later freed.

The President’s move, while applauded at home, was strongly criticized by the Americans and other US allies.

Malacañang has expressed confidence that the US still regards the Philippines as a strong and dependable ally in the campaign against international terrorism.

"We never doubted the steadiness and firmness of the strategic partnership of the Philippines and the United States," Bunye said Wednesday, saying the century-old friendship between the two countries has "withstood the test of time."

The Philippines has also widely been criticized by the US media since the pull-out, questioning its resolve in the war against terror.

In the latest round of criticisms, Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the think tank Cato Institute and a nationally syndicated columnist, said the Philippines should be cut off from getting funds from the US.

Bandow, in a column published in Tuesday’s issue of the Washington Times, said America should tell its allies who have pulled out of Iraq, or are threatening to do so, that real friendship must run both ways and sacrifice must be a two-way street.

"The Philippines surrendered. The Philippines teeters on the edge of failure: inefficient, corrupt, poor, dysfunctional, only semi-democratic. It has grand pretensions, but rarely delivers," he said.

Accompanying the article was a cartoon of Gen. Douglas MacArthur telling the Filipino people "I shall return," next to a drawing of Mrs. Arroyo telling the American people "I shall cut and run."

Bandow said countries should be told that "if they won’t help the United States in its time of need, Washington won’t help them when they call for assistance."

He pointed out that the Philippines relies on the US for aid in defeating domestic Islamic guerrillas and fending off China’s territorial claims over the Spratly Islands.

"And US taxpayers have contributed billions in aid to the Philippines over the years. Washington should say, no more."

"It should cut off one-time clients that are unimportant strategically and faithless morally. America has more important tasks to perform," he said.

"For most of the Cold War, the United States gave a lot and asked for little in return. Now the United States needs help. When asked by supposedly friendly countries for aid, Washington should respond: What have you done for the US lately?" Bandow said.

The Manila Mail
, a bi-monthly Filipino community newspaper which circulates in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia, pondered on what steps the US might take to "punish" the Philippines.

"Probably, the first victim would be the stoppage of hiring of Filipinos by American firms participating in the rehabilitation of Iraq," it said.

"Another would be a possible slowdown in economic and military aid. The NATO-type of military relationship that was given to the Philippines might be scuttled."

"But most of all would be the certain chill in the once close personal relationship between Mrs. Arroyo and the US President," it said. — With AFP

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