Arroyo’s retreat should not
prompt further blinks


The president of the Philippines has agreed to hostage takers' demands that her nation withdraw troops from Iraq.

THE early departure of the Philippines' small military force from Iraq to meet the demands of hostage takers has caused consternation in the Bush administration and among other allies with troops in Iraq. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's decision is an affront to the United States but should be considered in the context of her country's unique domestic considerations. It should not cause lasting disruption of the close relations between the two countries.

Arroyo agreed to withdraw the 51 Filipino police officers and soldiers from Iraq a month earlier than their planned departure of Aug. 20 after Iraqi insurgents threatened otherwise to execute a Filipino truck driver. Hostage Angelo dela Cruz, 46, a father of eight, thanked the Philippine government on the al-Jazeera television network for agreeing to the withdrawal, which began on Wednesday.

Richard A. Boucher, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said, "We think that withdrawal sends the wrong signal and that it is important for people to stand up to terrorists and not allow them to change our behavior. Our general stance has always been that making concessions to hostage takers and terrorists only encourages that behavior."

Arroyo's decision was especially surprising because of her need for continued U.S. assistance in fighting decades-old Muslim terrorism in her country's southern provinces. Fortunately, Francis Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Manila, gave assurance that support will continue. "We are allies," he told reporters. "We are here for you."

Ricciardone's comments showed appreciation for the political importance of Philippine workers overseas, and the signal that Arroyo's rejection of the hostage takers' threat would have sent to those workers' families. About 7 million Filipinos work in foreign countries, mostly as construction workers, domestic workers and seamen. They send home to their families an estimated $7.6 million a year -- about 7.5 percent of the country's gross domestic product. More than 4,000 Filipino workers remain in Iraq, most of them in U.S. military installations.

The way Arroyo dealt with the crisis had the potential to "alienate the millions of overseas Filipino workers whose dollar remittances had been propping up the economy for decades but who contended that the government had not done enough to protect them," said Maita Santiago, secretary-general of Migrante, a group of Filipino migrant workers.

The Philippines is not the first country to withdraw its troops from Iraq. Spain brought its soldiers home after the March 11 bombing of the Madrid railway system, prompting the withdrawal of troops from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras.

However, the Philippines is the first country to retreat from Iraq in response to a hostage threat by insurgents. The concern is that this could lead to the tactic being used against other soldiers from the 30 nations that have token forces supporting the United States and Britain.

In a speech on Thursday at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Secretary of State Colin Powell praised South Korea and Bulgaria for "not blinking and not faltering even though they are being tested mightily by kidnappings and by beheadings." Arroyo's blink should not set a precedent.



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