When Bridges Collapse

Bridge ruins through the Donskoy Chulek Riverand people mostly get wet like in Zamboanga today (link) – just rebuild them. Diplomatic bridges burning like those to Kuwait recently (link) are more serious. The EU-Philippines bridge still stands, even if there have been differences (link) – with most of the drama on the Philippine side. One should remember that the EU Parliament represents the people of Europe, and that there is a sizable segment of the population that does not want to fund governments that harm their people. And of course the EU has strings attached to its help – it wants to develop allies with similar values. Every major player in the world does. And so do major political groupings. Why does the Naumann Foundation, close to the German Free Democrats (Liberals, also color yellow over here) invite the Liberal Party with VP Robredo to Berlin? Why does Akbayan partner with European Socialists?

Bridges and Respect

Bridges are important in this world. Some may be at times heavily guarded and seldom crossed, like in Cold War days the Glienicke Bridge or Bridge of Spies between West Berlin and Potsdam. Bridges between people and groups are even more important. One major bridge is mutual respect. The Mogadishu rescue operation in which German commandos stormed a Lufthansa plane held by Palestinian terrorists only got to “roll” when the Chancellor’s Chief of Staff – who was onsite at the airport in Somalia – personally asked the Somalian President for permission by phone, and got it. Ever since borders have fallen in Europe, police may cross borders in hot pursuit of criminals – but must radio their colleagues in the next country to take over the chase. Italian police help out on one particular weekend of the Oktoberfest when many Italians come – to keep them in line as guests.

Now what would happen in the case (highly improbable) that Italian police saw it fit to interfere in a fight between, let’s say, drunken Italians and equally drunken Australians protecting their girls from Italian advances – a kind of fight which is indeed possible given the ways of both countries? Not just mediate and talk to the Italians, separating the crowds, but dealing with the Aussies also? Forget it. No more Italian police in Munich next year, I am sure. But that isn’t happening for now. Serbian police hitting Albanian soccer fans (link) is more likely – the Balkans are a lot more tribal. Now how about maids in Kuwait? Yes, one died. Many may want to leave, but already seemed to have been some cooperation in place between Kuwait authorities and the Philippine Embassy. If escapes were necessary, there are discreet ways to do that. But it seems Mocha wanted a presscon.

Bridges and Borders

Fools. Kuwaitis have dealt with a real occupation by Saddam Hussein. And Arabs have their pride. Cayetano’s strangely worded “apology” saying (link) “We are apologizing for certain incidents that the Kuwaiti view as a violation of their sovereignty” in combination with the arrogant demeanor of Cayetano sounds somewhat like saying “oh, we didn’t know you were that sensitive”. Coming from a country, the Philippines, that is known for hypersensitivity to foreign criticism – not only during this administration but even before, even making a big fuss about Spanish biscuits or American TV. But that same country is arrogant, even pushy when it comes to defending even Filipino criminals in other countries. Now things have gone beyond the usual wars of words. Filipinos have crossed a real red line and ACTED in a foreign country. And not just caused shame to Kuwait by filming it.

There is allegedly a story in the Middle East where two sons allow the neighbors to steal their goat. The father tells them to get it back. More bad things are done to the family, every day. The father keeps repeating to them to get back the goat. Meaning: restore respect, restore old boundaries. Europeans also have their boundaries – the deportation of European politician Giacomo Filibeck was specifically mentioned in a speech of a partymate in the EU Parliament (link).  The attack on him was seen as an attack on all. Strangely, Duterte has not reacted with his usual personal slurs. The warning of possible trade privileges being taken away (link) was part of the recent resolution. No need for drama at all. What else is there to deal with except Duterte and the Philippines? Well, there are millions of refugees, restive Russia, troubled Turkey, a now-difficult USA, and Syria and..

Bridges you burn

True, a Filipina was killed in Kuwait. Might have been that some wanted to leave their employers. But if you already agreed to work with Kuwaiti authorities, you stick to it. Lodge a protest if they don’t let certain maids go. And the EU? If you sign agreements that your dried mangoes, among other things, may be imported without customs duties into the EU and one of the conditions is that you adhere to human rights, then don’t complain. Nobody in the EU is telling Duterte what to do. Simply giving a fair notice – something Boracay never got – of consequences to the relationship.

There was a woman from Mindanao I knew who liked to say “that’s unfair!” in a mock-sissy tone. Fairness is for sissies some do think. Fair or not, “you have to die one death”, they say in Bavaria. Meaning you have to make some choices. Tokhang or sell your dried mangoes duty-free to the EU. Be decisive. “He who dies earlier is dead for much longer” is another Bavarian saying. Real strange. But maybe it means eternal life and rest in peace. And at some point decisions are forced upon you. It is fair if you know your choices well in advance. In contracts, laws, treaties. In daily life as well.

Mutual trust is the second aspect of bridges of understanding. Fairness and predictability breed it. Even if the Philippines miraculously were able to get rid of Duterte, many might not trust again. Even an intact bridge might not be one people cross if they are unsure of what is on the other side. Unpredictable and unfair shakedown artists – or reliable partners of all sorts? A bridge can have gates that are closed on one side. Kuwait has temporarily closed its gates. What is most likely next. Which bridges will still collapse? Which bridges will be burnt, built, restored? Or even abandoned?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 27 April 2018

One thought on “When Bridges Collapse

  1. https://www.facebook.com/richardjavad.heydarian/posts/942845622558151

    An Unmitigated Diplomatic Disaster

    Four from our embassy staff detained; three of our diplomats facing arrest; our ambassador already expelled. Meanwhile, hundreds of distressed and endangered OFWs are hopelessly beyond the reach of our Special Response team, because the Kuwaiti government will no longer tolerate these rescue missions, no matter how urgent and indispensable. If anything, abusive employers may get even more alert and aggressive now, if not worse, while other Persian Gulf kingdoms are making sure a similar thing will not happen in their own jurisdiction. Result? Tens of thousands of OFWs in need of help could now be beyond the reach of our government’s help. As the legendary French diplomat Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord put it, “It is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.”

    Let me be clear: We shouldn’t apologize to anyone for taking care of our own citizens, even if in defiance of international law, when host nations fail to live up to their side of the bargain – namely, upholding the basic human rights of guest workers per bilateral and international agreements. The Kuwaiti government has been a huge source of disappointment year after year. As many as 120 OFWs died or were killed in the country last year due to violence and inhumane working conditions. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! And thus, we should give our utmost support to our valiant Foreign Service Officers and embassy staff who put themselves at risk for the interest of our country.

    Yet, the unfolding diplomatic crisis in Kuwait is unquestionably the result of irresponsible, amateurish, self-aggrandizing action of publicity-hungry few, whose incompetence and self-absorption has resulted in a dangerous escalation with a key partner nation with far-reaching implications. Make no mistake: Kuwait wouldn’t have responded this way if not for the virility of the video shared by super-trolls on Facebook. Let’s not kid ourselves: Kuwaitis don’t watch mainstream Filipino media, but they surely use social media outlets avidly. So stop blaming the mainstream media, it’s so lame! Where is the accountability? Where is the government of the “best and brightest”? Where is the sense of honor? Where is the “real change”?

    This is a classic case of how NOT to do diplomacy. Duterte deserves a better team! We deserve better as a nation!

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