Posts Tagged ‘US embassy manila’

In today’s news reports, the word “vandalism” has been used to describe the protest action by militant youth and students at the US embassy yesterday, April 16. The alleged “vandalism” pertains to the paint-bombing and removal of letters from the seal of the US embassy in Manila. One report headlined as “Police caught sleeping as vandals attack US embassy”. (Notice how the usual “militants” tag has been dropped in favor of “vandals” ).

The word “vandalism” is derived from the Germanic Vandals who ransacked Rome and were said to have defaced or destroyed much of the “beauty” of the Empire that was founded on slavery and colonization. Wikipedia says that “The term Vandalisme was coined in 1794 by Henri Grégoire, bishop of Blois, to describe the destruction of artwork following the French Revolution,” The introduction of the term builds on the notion that those destroying art, like the Germanic Vandals, were “barbaric”.

During the Paris Commune, French artist Gustave Courbet proposed before the commune the dismantling of the Vendome Column, a symbol of Napoleon’s empire. Back then, it was a celebrated act of “vandalism”. In certain situations like the Paris Commune, “vandalism” became an act to protest the symbols of the power and conquest. Similar acts would be repeated in history as the portraits of the dictator Marcos would be vandalized in the siege of Malacanang and when the huge bust of the dictator would be destroyed in an explosion launched by the New People’s Army.

But those were exceptional situations because most of the time, the word “vandalism” hewed closer to its ruling-class origins, often connoting an act of barbarism. When I was a young boy, vandalism was a school offense, often referring to writing stuff on the CR wall or on your desk.

The media’s use of the term “vandals” in describing activists was derogatory to the point that it attempts to reduce the protest as  a rowdy mob out to sow mayhem in the streets, much like the German Vandals.

The protesters were targeting the US embassy, long a symbol of US neocolonial rule in the Philippines. They were protesting the opening of the Balikatan war games which aim to use the Philippines as a staging ground for US military power projection in the region. They knew full well that the US war machine has been responsible for so many killings and destruction worldwide. The US has gotten away with mass murder and the unprecedented destruction of public and private property in its bid to be the world’s sole superpower.

The students were trying to tell the US government that it should not  for a second think that it is unchallenged here in the Philippines. Protesters wanted to send the clear message that they were ready to dismantle, figuratively and literally, the symbols of US power in the region.

Some may be shocked or turned off by yesterday’s protest action, in the same way they were probably turned off by the heckling of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. However, the media’s depiction of activists as a bunch of rowdy goons is grossly unfair.

As I wrote before on the heckling of Clinton, protesters sometimes resort to a kind of “asymmetrical warfare” to convey their message and express their outrage. I’ve seen students hurl paint bombs at greedy oil firms’ offices. I’ve seen workers smash windows of workplaces and vehicles during violent suppression of strikes. I’ve seen UP residents topple a guard house to set up a barricade against a demolition team. Protesters defaced or “vandalized” many of Gloria Arroyo’s posters during her reign of terror. Even before that, protesters did the same thing to huge tarpaulins of former president Estrada.

Instead of calling them vandals, media should have asked what it was that caused such outrage on the students that they would get up early from bed and proceed to pick apart, letter by letter, the seal of the mighty U.S. of A.

Yesterday’s action at the US embassy should be taken in its entire political context, and not just viewed based on the specific act of defacing the seal. It was an act of protest– no different from dismantling Napoleon’s Column or blowing up Marcos’ bust– against a neocolonial power that has done the worst acts of barbarism of the past century.   ###

There have not been many mentions of the Philippines in the ongoing Wikileaks Cablegate. One recent classified memorandum from the US embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia includes a discussion between a top US security adviser under Bush and the Saudi foreign minister. One of the topics discussed was whether the Saudi ambassador to the Philippines Mohammad Amin Waly was in some way aiding terrorism in the Philippines.

The February 2007 memo was from US Ambassador to Riyadh James Oberwetter. The document was marked “SECRET” and was distributed via the US Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET) and was thus marked SIPDIS.  Recipients of the memo include the US National Security Council and the Secretary of State.

According to the memo, the private meeting was between Assistant to the President on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Frances Fragos Townsend (not Francis as memo mistakenly states) and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal. The meeting took place February 6 and covered issues such as counterterrorism and regional political issues. The Saudi ambassador to the Philippines Muhammad Amin Wali was just one of several topics discussed. The private meeting was described by the US ambassador as:

“In a following private meeting with Saud, attended only by the Ambassador, APHSCT Townsend raised US concerns with the potential involvement of the Saudi ambassador to the Philippines Muhammad Amin Waly (Wali) in terrorism facilitation, particularly his intervention to get two members of IIRO out of prison.  Prince Saud said some of his actions may have involved bad judgment rather than intentional support for terrorism.  Waly had been investigated, he said, and no evidence was found regarding his involvement.  Since this (Wali) Ambassador’s assignment in Manila would be ending in several months, Saud asked for USG (US government) evidence of his involvement. APHSCT Townsend said the USG would cooperate with the Mubahith in providing evidence.”

The IIRO referred to by Townsend is the International Islamic Relief Organization, a charity based in Saudi Arabia. The US government considers the IIRO branch in the Philippines and Indonesia as conduits for funding the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya. The US government calls it a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group”. The designation was made on August 3, 2006. Apparently the IIRO is not the only charitable institution that the US government has designated as a conduit for terrorist funding.

The IIRO has vehemently denied the allegations of the US government. It said that the evidence presented against it were primarily news clippings and secret evidence which IIRO lawyers have not seen. The IIRO secretary general denied its office in the Philippines supported terrorist groups.

Also during the private discussion between Prince Saud and Townsend, the Saudi official complained of the difficulties faced by the Saudi embassy’s bank account in Washington. Saud said that the US bank was conducting a stringent audit of the Saudi embassy’s bank account, beyond what was required by law.

The US government has expressed its frustration over the Saudi government’s handling of allegations of terrorist funding emanating from their country. “While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority,” says US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in one memorandum.

Other than this minor mention of the Philippines, we have yet to read any cable emanating from the US embassy in Manila. ###


As of Monday, it was revealed that 1,796 cable transmissions from the USembassy in Manila were part of the 250,000 cables that will be released by whistleblower WikiLeaks in the ongoing controversy now known as “cablegate.  None of the transmissions have so far been posted in the WikiLeaks cable reader or in any of the articles from the 5 media outlets given access to the files.

The US embassy in Manila reportedly transmitted some 65 “secret” and “749” confidential files included in the cache. Some 982 files are described as “unclassified”.

Except for two files, all the rest of the Manila files cover the period of January 2005 to February 2010, during the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  The files include “tags” or descriptions of topics such as terrorism, human rights, foreign relations, military operations, military assistance, internal governmental affairs and external affairs.

Umbrella group Bayan was the first to call on the Philippine government to look into the files and determine if Philippine interests were somehow undermined. The group also called on the government to check on the spying activities of the US government, saying that it is a well-known fact that US embassies around the world are intelligence posts.

Malacanang said it was “bothered” over the leaks but declined to comment on the contents, there being none yet. Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda admitted that it is the job of US embassies worldwide to gather intelligence.  The Department of Foreign Affairs also played it safe, saying it was too early to tell what impact the leaks may have on PHL-US relations. Meanwhile, President Aquino has called the release “alarming”.

The Philippine officials’ statements came after US secretary Hillary Clinton condemned the leaks, calling them “an attack on the US foreign policy interests” and an “attack on the international community”. Clinton has been at the center of controversy after a memorandum purportedly from her ordered US diplomats to gather intelligence information on UN officials and diplomats. (Read leaked memo here.)

As expected, the Philippine government has played it safe and has been careful not to add fuel to the fire started by WikiLeaks. Aquino has gone on to say that the information generated by Cablegate can even be dangerous, saying that “a little knowledge is deadly.” DFA spokesman Ed Malaya has sought to downplay the possible impact of the leaks, saying cable transmissions are part of the regular work of diplomats.

The Philippine government has shown itself to be highly dependent on US economic and military aid and private investments.  The entire Public-Private Partnership program of the Aquino government runs on foreign loans and investments.

The US embassy in Manila also sought to downplay the leaks and refused to comment on materials they believe to be illegally obtained. The US embassy believed that the PH-US relations will whether the worldwide diplomatic controversy.

Unsurprisingly, former Philippine president Fidel Ramos also downplayed the impact of Cablegate on the Philippines. Ramos even cast doubt on the authenticity of the files. It bears noting that the US State Department has not questioned the authenticity of the files. Quite the opposite, in vehemently condemning the files as being illegally obtained, the US government has bolstered the authenticity of the leaked memos.

No one from the Philippine government seems concerned about possible damage to national interests that the cable transmissions will reveal. The Philippine government seems to be very understanding of the predicament faced by the US.

It was about a year ago when Hillary Clinton visited Manila to much media fanfare. She was less than a year in office as State Secretary. Little did we know that she was already issuing orders that may have violated international law.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is being investigated both by the US and Australian governments. Sweden has sought the help of Interpol for his arrest. An online petition supporting Assange is now circulating.

US Congressman Peter King (R), who is the incoming chair of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, wants WikiLeaks to be designated as a terrorist organization, citing the supposed dangers it poses to US citizens and interests. He wrote a request to, of all people, Hillary Clinton.

The US State Department, in a recent press conference, has also taken pains to explain that US diplomats are not spies.

The Philippines has no choice but to wait for the US embassy Manila cables to come out. Some of the issues I am curious about would be 1) how the US views terrorism in the PH, 2) how the US viewed Arroyo during the years 2005-2010, 3) how the US intends to keep its troops indefinitely on Philippine soil and 4) what other economic interests is the US trying to gain from the PH.

Cablegate i not just a source of embarrassment for many US officials. It is also an eye-opener on how the US conducts its foreign policy initiatives. It is a reminder of US arrogance and duplicity even towards its own allies.

Given the leaks, the Philippine government cannot simply find comfort in the thought that we have a “lasting friendship” with the US, or that we are a “Major Non-Nato Ally” of America.