A Xenophobia, An Insulted Pride, A Harshly Done Reprimand, Or What?

"Get out of the country!"
By Antonio C. Abaya

This was the curt rebuff of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile to representatives of foreign chambers of commerce who had been ‘invited’ to the Senate last June 6 to explain their letter of May 27 to President Arroyo, asking her not to amend the EPIRA law. The Senate has been debating the EPIRA law in an effort to find ways and means to lower the price of electricity in the Philippines, said to be the second highest in Asia, next only to Japan’s.

“Get out of the country if you can’t live with us!” Sen. Enrile snapped at the Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) – representing some 2,000 investors from the US, Australia-New Zealand, Canada, Japan, South Korea and the European Union, who employ some one million Filipino employees and workers – whose spokesman that day was Frenchman Hubert D’Aboville, current president of the European Chamber of Commerce.

D’Aboville has been living in the Philippines for the past 31 years and is married to a Filipina with whom he has four children.

He must have had his socks blown off his feet when he was told to “get out of the country if you cannot live with us!”

This sounds very much like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe telling off foreign investors to stay away from his country, as if anyone needed any telling to avoid a country with one million percent inflation and 80 percent unemployment.

Or like the military junta in Myanmar refusing to allow foreign aid and foreign aid workers to enter or land in the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy delta, even while one million of their impoverished people languished in makeshift shelters., without adequate food, water, medicine and housing.

But Sen. Enrile’s bristling xenophobia is hard to understand given that he is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and was an architect and chief administrator of President Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime, which had the backing and blessings of the US government at that time..

The object of his ire, the hapless D’Aboville, tried to ingratiate himself to the senators by starting his statement with a “Magandang umaga sa lahat ng mga ginang at ginoo.” (Good morning to all ladies and gentlemen.”)

Which Sen. Enrile promptly and ungraciously cut off with “We understand English, don’t worry. Like you, I value the correct use of my language and I hope you understand our nationalistic feeling.” Clearly, D’Aboville and his JFC had crossed Sen. Enrile even before they set foot on the Senate floor on June 6.

And what was the cause of this rhubarb? The JFC had apparently committed a faux pas by addressing their letter to President Arroyo, instead of to the Senate or to Congress, which has the exclusive prerogative to amend or not amend any law.

That’s all? Well, D’Aboville refused to specify to the senators the amendments that they were objecting to. He also refused to name the legislators whom the JFC said were “making unwarranted accusations regarding the bedrock principles of the power industry…that are sound and in fact practiced by many progressive power industries around the world.”

But was this enough to warrant telling foreign investors to “get out of the country if you cannot live with us.” This xenophobia is outdated. It was fashionable in the 50s and 60s when communist ideologues like the late Renato Constantino Sr. blamed the underdevelopment of the Philippines on foreign capitalists and the “conditionalities” of the World Bank-IMF. [...]

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Other related blog entries:

Transcript of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s interview after the Senate Committee on Energy Hearing With The Respresentatives from the Various Foreign Chambers of Commerce.

Miriam Hits JFC On IPPs.