07/18/04 — Tough test: Philippines president gets deadly ultimatum

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Tough test: Philippines president gets deadly ultimatum

It was, admittedly, a painful dilemma that faced Gloria Mecagapal-Arroyo, the president of the Philippines.

Terrorists in Iraq had captured a Filipino truck driver, Angelo de la Cruz, father of eight. They showed videotape of him on an Arab television channel, and they said they would cut off his head unless the Philippines withdrew its 51 police officers and soldiers from a multinational force in Iraq.

De la Cruz’s family pleaded with Ms. Arroyo to pull the Filipinos out of Iraq, as did anti-American protesters and Catholic leaders in her country. Their pleas were made all the more poignant by memories of pictures of other foreign hostages taken captive by savage terrorists in Iraq. The standard pose has the hostage seated on a floor with masked barbarians standing behind him. One of the terrorists holds a big knife.

Soon after the pictures are shown and the terrorists’ demands are broadcast, the hostage is slaughtered without mercy.

Ms. Arroyo was determined not to let it happen to one of her subjects. She gave in and ordered that the 51 Filipinos return home as quickly as possible.

The ominous consequences of that unfortunate decision may well be felt by many people in many countries.

Ms. Arroyo once promised to stand by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. She said the Filipinos wanted to be out front in the war on terror because they knew what it was like to live under terrorism.

She could have been referring to World War II when the Philippine islands were invaded by the Japanese and their residents were held captive until they were freed by — who else? — American soldiers.

Most nations don’t negotiate with terrorists who take hostages, much less capitulate to them. To do so only encourages more kidnapping and killing. If terrorists learn that they can gain something by slaughtering someone, they are more likely to do it.

Ms. Arroyo chose to protect Angelo de la Cruz, one man in trouble. Her real responsibility was to safeguard a principle more important than one person, and to lessen the chances that many others might be endangered. She flunked her difficult test.

Published in Editorials on July 18, 2004 12:26 AM