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Philippine Predicament

in a U.S.-Iraq War: Issues and Prospects

by Renne F. Gumba, IP Executive Director

 Unfolding Scenario

It all started when  terrorists launched a horrible attack on key business and government establishments in the heart of the United States of America last September 11 2001 .  Such event caused the launching of an aggressive and massive military and intelligence operation by the world’s remaining superpower.

First, U.S. forces and its international allies entered Afghanistan and waged a war ostensibly to capture the supposed mastermind of the New York attack, Osama Bin Laden, and to topple the Taliban regime. The second objective was easily achieved amidst token resistance, although  Bin Laden remained elusive. 

 Eventually, U.S. appropriated for itself the role of a global police and vanguard against international terrorism. President Bush himself has drawn the line with the now-famous quote “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorist”. He even ventured into naming countries in the so-called “axis of evil”, those which endanger international peace and security. Among them is Iraq and its Saddam Hussein regime.

The present U.S. efforts against Saddam Hussein is supposedly intended to thwart the latter’s capacity to produce, to distribute and  to utilize “weapons of mass destruction.” President Bush explicitly stated that US is even willing to take a unilateral action against Iraq.

However, this aggressive stance is tempered by the practical need to rally international support through the Security Council of the United Nations. An initial decision to avoid military action was drawn and U.N. weapons inspection teams were eventually deployed again in Iraq. 

U.S. advocacy for a strike against Iraq persisted, although with limited success. U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell presented to the U.N. Security Council the allegedly reliable intelligence materials validating claims against Iraq. The Council however remained resolute in its decision to allow weapon inspectors to finish their job before making any decision. Relations among The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members, a cold war- period alliance led by the U.S., is also experiencing strain because of the issue on military strike against Iraq. France, Russia, Germany, and others are also among the countries that refused to support deployment of military forces in Iraq and reiterated their commitment to exhausting diplomatic solutions.

  Philippine Response

  The Philippine government’s response to this unfolding scenario is characterized by ambivalence. For example, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stated support to the U.S. posturing (even echoing Presidents Bush’s sentiment that Iraq will be ultimately responsible if war breaks out) while her Vice-President,  Teofisto Guingona openly disagree with military action in Iraq.

  Moreover, there is evident confusion in setting up the formal structures for responding to and handling information on the issue. An example is the contradicting statement between National Security Adviser Roilo Golez and Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople regarding the closure of the Philippine embassy and evacuation of the diplomatic officials from Iraq to Jordan. Although attempts to rectify such fiasco were made, a bitter taste in the mouth of Filipinos remained: How do we formulate a coherent and responsive position on the issue amidst ambivalence and confusion in the formal structures of the government? 

 Key Issues

  The issues generated by potential U.S.-Iraq battle, as far as the Philippines is concerned, revolve around three areas: the economy, security, and foreign relations.

  In the economic sphere, the Philippines is most vulnerable in terms of its overseas contract workers in the Middle East.  An active involvement in the war (such as supporting the U.S. incursion) will unavoidably expose Filipinos to retribution and harassment from the Iraqis as well as their supporters among other Muslim countries .  

Moreover, the country’s fuel supply will also suffer from any war in the Middle East, since the bulk of our reserve comes from that region. A rising fuel cost worsened by limited supply will undoubtedly spell disaster for the Philippine economy.

In terms of national security, an active role of the Philippines against Iraq exposes it to a war which the country may not have the capacity to handle. The Philippine armed forces badly need modernization, especially  if it is expected to handle any external confrontation and conventional warfare. Aside form that limitation, terrorist activities and Muslim fundamentalism within the country may be intensified.

Finally, the present situation also marks a crucial conjuncture in the country’s foreign relations. In an international context increasingly characterized by hegemony of the U.S. and polarization between the “hegemon” and its opponents, Philippines can either commit itself to a subservient role or assert its sovereignty and independence.


A pragmatic approach to the unfolding situation is called for. Careful weighing of the country’s gains and loses for every position it takes is badly needed. The Philippine government must get its acts together for a coherent and rational response to the impending U.S.-Iraq confrontation.

Moreover, an articulation of civil society’s sentiment on the complex web of issues  will be very important, if only to serve either as anchor or counter-check of the “official” position which the government is taking.




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Last modified: 01/21/05                                                                                                                                                                                         Copyright© ADNU Institute of Politics 2002