Magazine article Newsweek

'What's Right, Not Popular': The Philippines' Arroyo on U.S. Troops and the War on Terror

Magazine article Newsweek

'What's Right, Not Popular': The Philippines' Arroyo on U.S. Troops and the War on Terror

Article excerpt

Byline: Lally Weymouth

Last week President George Bush gave what was only his third state dinner since coming to office, this time in honor of one of his staunchest supporters, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Her country had closed key U.S. bases in 1992, but Mrs. Arroyo welcomed American troops back in the fight against Al Qaeda. And she enthusiastically backed Bush on Iraq. Afterward, she met with NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:

Weymouth: Was it unpopular to bring U.S. troops back?

Arroyo: It's very popular. Surveys show a big majority want American troops in the Philippines. I had no problem with the U.S. sending troops last year. But I had to make sure that it could pass the test of the Constitution because some opponent filed a [lawsuit]. But the Supreme Court said that it was constitutional.

Are the U.S. troops going to train your forces to fight terrorism or engage in combat?

U.S. troops cannot fight in the Philippines. That's against the Constitution. How do we define their role? Is it just training or is there other assistance above training but less than fighting... [For] example: intelligence-sharing and advice.

I know the pain of having to deal with terrorism. And that's why after 9-11, I was one of the first to join the international coalition to fight terrorism. I felt that the move into Iraq was a logical step to fight this common threat of terrorism.

Your position on Iraq was unpopular in the Philippines.

What was not popular was [agreeing to] send troops to Iraq. Yes. But in my presidency I've been guided by what's right, not what's popular.

How do you think it turned out? Is the world a safer place now?

Definitely, the world is a safer place. And the bulk of those who disagreed with me now agree that the world has become a safer place. We have specific evidence in the Philippines to support this contention. The Iraqi regime was supporting terrorist cells all over the world. We had to expel three Iraqi diplomats from the Philippines because of evidence that they were either in touch with Abu Sayyaf or doing their own espionage. Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law was in the Philippines at least up to 1995, funding people who became part of Abu Sayyaf. Plans [were made in the Philippines] to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 by Ramzi Yousef. Those were terrorist cells with Iraqi connections. So our own experience with the Iraqi regime, our own experience with terrorism. …

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