Criticisms from within and outside the country were hurled against the Philippine government when it announced, although vaguely, the withdrawal of our troops in Iraq to save the life of our kababayan Angelo de la Cruz, an overseas Filipino worker hostaged by armed anti-occupation Iraqis.

The United States expressed its disappointment and its ambassador here advised our leaders to know who our real friends are. According to Australia, the pullout might set a precedent and invite more attacks. Analyses by foreign media organizations — and some local outfits, too — also regard the decision as a mistake.

Filipino-Americans were more scathing in their reactions. One of them, a conservative journalist, wrote that she is “deeply, mortifyingly ashamed of [her] parents’ native land.” She even went accusing the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” of capitulating to the demands of the “terrorists.” Meanwhile, a Filipino living in the land of milk and honey wrote he cannot think of any “specific benefit the Philippines bring to the United States.”

The latter comment leaves me wondering: If that’s the case, then why are they raising hell about an insignificant nation’s decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq?

On the other hand, a Filipina blogger who calls herself The Sassy Lawyer ( has a piece of advice to those who are provoked by such remarks: She wrote: “Remember that these media men and bloggers are among those that have been lied to and misled by their own government into believing that the war in Iraq is something good and noble. Rather naive and pathetic for them to believe that, but hey, some people would rather live in the comfort of ignorance rather than the disturbing discomfort of reality… Be kind to animals, especially the stupid ones.”

Not that they are indeed dimwits, but it is of course almost impossible for the foreigners and those who are Filipinos only by lineage or birth, to understand how — as political commentators have already pointed out — that in this country with more than seven million workers abroad, Angelo is not just an Angelo de la Cruz, but the Juan de la Cruz.

It would probably be difficult for them to grasp concepts unique to us like kapwa — described by historian Renato Constantino as “the sense of shared Filipinoness and humanity which lies at the core of our beings.” They have seen and observed the two People Power Revolts and the May 1 mutiny, but they may never experience bayanihan — the spirit that fueled these mutinies.

Bayanihan could very well be the same force that compelled President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to decide for the withdrawal. Fresh from a divisive exercise just two months ago, it is not the President’s appeal during her proclamation that brought unity to this fragmented nation. It is Angelo de la Cruz, as the Inquirer pointed out, that made us one again. A President who won in an election widely perceived to be fraudulent could not risk deciding against the cry of a nation that is one in pakikiramay with a kababayan.

But no matter what the wais and rabidly pro-US Arroyo’s reasons are for the pullout — or what scheme she must be concealing beneath those vague statements — her decision serves our national interest which is most of the time confused and bundled with that of the United States. Saving the life of a Filipino is more important than the United States’ need for the presence of our troops to help provide a perception of legitimacy through international support to its illegal occupation of Iraq.

News reports have quoted University of the Philippines Professor Clarita Carlos as saying: “We have to show we are a sovereign country. We have to define what is our national interest, not George Bush. Who cares if they are unhappy?” I agree with her.

What are we afraid of, anyway? It’s not as if our national life depends on the United States. In 1991, we embraced the path to genuine sovereignty when we kicked out their military bases here. Did our economy collapse? No. On the contrary, former Senate President Jovito Salonga said that during the celebration of the 11th anniversary of the Senate rejection of the RP-US Bases Treaty, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chair Felicito Payumo told him that Subic is now employing more than 55,000 workers, way higher than the peak employment figure of 30,000 workers during the US Navy days. Also, as already pointed out by at least two newspaper editorials, while the United States remains an important player, it is still our OFWs that contribute the most to our economy.

Outsiders may hit us as much as they want, but we’re pleased that the government did the right thing. By trying to save one of its people despite pressure from the international community to do otherwise, the state exercised its duty to protect its citizens and asserted its sovereignty.

When there was a clash of principles between Ms Arroyo and the nationalist Vice President Teofisto Guingona a few years back, Malaca???? declared that as chief executive, it is the President’s prerogative to define our foreign policies. The pullout of our troops is a foreign policy decision by a leader of a sovereign country. It is not the business of the Bushes or the Howards — who remain lucky for not having their own children kidnapped and threatened with beheading — to decide what our government wants to do with its troops.

Ederic Peñaflor Eder, 25, is a researcher for a broadcasting network and editor of youth e-zine He is also a founding member of the online group Filipino Youth for Peace.