4 May 2004
FOP # 16 Yesterday’s Iraqis, Today’s Filipino’s
In this Issue:
Yesterday afternoon, in a posh hotel in Makati City, I heard Nesreen Mustafa Siddeek Berwari speak about the challenges and opportunities for business in rebuilding Iraq. Madame Berwari heads the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works in Iraq. She is the only woman in the 25-member cabinet appointed by the Iraqi Governing Council. Minister Berwari spoke about the poverty and oppression under the regime of Saddam Hussein, who she described as THE weapon of mass destruction. Her country is in transition she said, the security risks are still there but the situation is not as bad as the media make it appear. The situation is good enough in fact to start discussing prospects for Philippine-Iraq business partnerships in rebuilding her war ravaged country. This demand for stronger Iraqi-Filipino partnership and cooperation resonated throughout the forum in the speeches of AIM president Roberto de Ocampo, Mr. Sostenes Campillo, Jr. of the Philippine Task Force for the Reconstruction of Iraq, Undersecretary Manuel Imson of the Department of Labor and Employment, Senatorial Candidate Ms Amina Rasul, and Dr. Federico Macaranas of the AIM Policy Center. Parallels were drawn between the war and post-war reconstruction experiences of Iraq and the Philippines. All these distinguished people were saying that the rebuilding of a new Iraq is already underway and indeed now is the perfect time to talk business. But how can they talk business when the conflict in Fallujah continues to escalate and the resistance to the US-led occupation grows stronger? How can they talk business amidst news of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners in the hands of their US captors? How can they talk business in the wake of the death of Filipino truck driver Rodrigo Reyes?
Herbert Docena offers another, albeit more grounded view of the current state of Iraq-Philippine relations. Whether we like it or not the cold reality is that our two countries are at war and Filipinos in Iraq working on the side of the occupiers are viewed as mercenaries and enemies and obviously not as business partners.
Herbert is an analyst with Focus on the Global South and had just come back from Iraq as a researcher for the Baghdad-based International Iraq Occupation Watch Center. He has been closely following the occupation authorities’ policies and he was in Iraq when the uprising broke out.
This article first appeared in TODAY newspaper on 30 April 2004.
YESTERDAY’S IRAQIS, TODAY’S FILIPINOS:
Why the Philippine Government Must Stop its War against the Iraqi People
BY HERBERT DOCENA
During the 12-hour long road trip across the desert from Amman to Baghdad, the only English words my Iraqi companion and I shared were “Good” and “No good.” Without me asking him, he said “Saddam? No good!” Then he said, “Americans? No, no, no, no, no, no good!” He was furiously gesticulating by swinging his arm and giving the thumbs down signal with each “no.” The desert landscape was stunning but it got boring after a while. Just to entertain ourselves, we¹d go through all the coalition members in Iraq. “UK? No, no, no good!” “Italy? No, no, no good!” “Japan? No, no, no, good!” At first, I was reluctant to inform him that my country also had troops in Iraq. But as we went down the list, I could not bear holding it back much longer.
And so he — one of Iraq’s recently “liberated” men, said, “Philippines? No, no, no, no, no, no good!”
After having spent two months in Iraq during the year-long occupation, I could confidently say that the Iraqis are among the friendliest, most genuinely hospitable people I have ever met — and not just in a tourist brochure sort of way. In a country where almost everyone smokes, taxi drivers offer their passengers a cigarette before lighting one themselves.
Even the most humble of households will not let you go without gorging you on liters of tea. You will not walk down downtown Baghdad without an Iraqi smiling at you or trying to start a conversation with you. Despite their limited English, you’d know that they’d be sincerely and genuinely interested in what you have to say.
So it is always hard, having to tell them that my country is actually at war with them.
Last year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo justified his decision to be part of the US-led coalition by telling us, in so many words, that we are attacking Iraq because Iraqis are planning to kill us. Arroyo said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and had ties to Al Qaeda — even to the Abu Sayyaf. By the time I got back to Iraq, the weapons of mass destruction are still nowhere to be found and the links with Al Qaeda — much less the Abu Sayyaf — now sound more ridiculous than ever. The Philippine government is now saying that our soldiers are there to help the Iraqis, that they are part of a “humanitarian” contingent and that they will remain in Iraq, along with the United States, to “liberate” them and give them the gift of “democracy.” In other words, Arroyo has been saying that the Philippines is part of the occupying forces because, following George Bush’s logic, it is in the best interest of the Iraqis to be occupied. Our troops, therefore, would be welcome because they think of us as friends.
I was there when the Iraqis finally made it loud and clear what they think of us.
A few weeks after I arrived, the Iraqis, responding to clear provocations by the United States, launched what is now turning out to be the most serious challenge to the occupation since it began in May last year. So far, more body bags have been sent back to the US this month, than during the entire five-week combat operations during the invasion last year. The Los Angeles Times calls this “the second war” of Iraq: on one side is the United States and its coalition members, including the Philippines, on the other are the Iraqis.
But while the first war last year was easy because it was against a widely despised regime; this one, because it is against the Iraqi people, is proving to be more dangerous. The Shia majority, whose anger at Saddam Hussein the US manipulated and whose relief at his ouster they used to induce collaboration, has turned on the United States. Rather than fight the Sunni Iraqis in a civil war that would benefit the occupying forces, the Shias are lining up in long queues donating blood to Sunnis and praying with them in the same mosques. For the Iraqis, this is now the “war of liberation” that the Americans had always promised them. The Iraqis are liberating themselves from the “liberators.”
“What the Americans don¹t understand is that this is a revolution,” an Iraqi sheik told me. “Those who can¹t fight give money. Those who can¹t give money, give food. Those who can¹t give food, give blood. Those who can¹t give blood, give their children.” Tribes and clans, he added, are now choosing who among their sons and daughters will take up arms and fight.
Indeed, this fight is so popular that even women and children are involved. And why not? Just for the past two weeks alone, in the town of Fallujah, the occupying troops have indiscriminately killed around 900 Iraqis, many of them women and children. Before I left Iraq, some of our journalist friends who managed to sneak into that besieged town were able to rescue a two-year old boy who had lost both of his limbs, both of his parents, and all of his brothers and sisters. This is the boy that we, by virtue of our government’s decisions, are at war with. In our name, the coalition forces are killing Iraqis. Little wonder that instead of throwing flowers at the coalition troops, the Iraqis are now throwing hand grenades at them.
The coalition troops may yet eventually temporarily pacify the situation and crush the uprising but they — or we, if our government continues to invoke our name — are already defeated. They may win some battles here and there but as one Iraqi said, “They have already lost the war.” For what this spontaneous, increasingly popular, and rapidly spreading uprising has made very clear is this: the United States — and therefore, all those who support them — are not wanted in Iraq, are not wanted by the Iraqis. The Americans — and therefore, the Philippine troops under their command — are not seen as liberators. They are seen as occupying armies, as invaders.
Worse: Trapped inside their base in Hilla, a city two hours south of Baghdad and one of the areas where Iraqis have attacked coalition troops, our soldiers are seen as nothing more than mercenaries. Paid to fight a war not of their choosing, our soldiers are putting their lives on the line — not to defend us Filipinos, but to defend the interests for which the United States invaded Iraq. The only military objective of the US and its coalition now is to pacify the Iraqis — to make Iraq safe not for the Iraqis, but for the United States and all those who will profit from the occupation. Over the past few months, the US has been organizing investors’ conferences to entice multinational corporations to take advantage of some of the world’s most investor-friendly policies as put in place by the occupation authority in Iraq. Among those who have indicated their intention to open their doors in Iraq is McDonalds. One way, then, to think of what our soldiers are risking their lives for is to think of Ronald McDonalds. Our soldiers need to make Iraq safe for him to sell BigMacs.
The Iraqis are among the world’s friendliest people but they know the difference between “good,” “no good,” and “no, no, no, no good.” For while Iraqis are most hospitable to guests, they apparently don’t take kindly to people who force their entry. They know that liberators, guests, or friends don’t do the things that the United States, assisted by a coalition that includes the Philippines, are now doing to them in Iraq. Friends don’t bomb their hosts’ house, only to rebuild them later, partly using their hosts’ money, using their own plans and designs. Friends don’t sell off their hosts’ possessions, as the US is doing by privatizing Iraq’s state-owned corporations without Iraqis’ consent. Friends don’t kill their their hosts’ children, as the coalition forces have done in Fallujah. If the Iraqi resistance succeeds and the day of reckoning comes, the Iraqis will go down the list of countries that took part in the occupation, and remember.
And it will be difficult to convince Iraqis that the actions of our government do not necessarily reflect our will. When the Japanese were kidnapped, I spoke with an Iraqi resident of Fallujah who claimed to know where the hostages were and pleaded with him not to harm the hostages since they are anti-war activists and like majority of the Japanese don¹t approve of the Japanese government¹s participation in the occupation. He didn¹t believe me. “But Japan is a democracy,” he said, “and they said they came here to bring democracy.” “If the Japanese government support the occupation and Japan is a democracy then surely it follows that the Japanese people also support the occupation!” He was angry. Everyone thinks I’m a Japanese in Iraq but when I told him I was Filipino, the first think he asked was “Do you have troops here?” I said yes, and he said, “Oh, so I could also kidnap you!”
He spared me. But if he did abduct me, it would be the Philippine government and not the Iraqis who would have held me hostage. For if the Philippines were truly a democracy and Filipinos have no reason to fight Iraqis, as the Iraqi’s logic suggested, then why is our government at war with them?
I guess the best way to understand how the Iraqis feel now is to imagine how it was like to be Filipinos at the turn of the century, just as the Americans began their occupation of the country. If the Americans invaded the Philippines and American soldiers are patrolling Manila in their tanks and helicopters and they are indiscriminately killing our mothers and brothers wouldn’t we as Filipinos also fight back? Didn¹t we fight back one hundred years ago when the Americans came? If Iraq were part of the occupation troops and I happened to share a ride with an Iraqi, wouldn’t I also say, “No, no, no, no, no good!”
In Iraq, I walked the streets as my mind raced back to the Philippines circa 1899. For Fallujah, think Balanginga. Back then, we were the first Iraqis.
But now, the Philippine government is on the side of the occupation forces, fighting against today’s Filipinos.
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The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on May 5th 2004