MANILA, Philippines – A Filipino truck driver freed by his kidnappers in Iraq was greeted as a hero by his countrymen, but the United States criticized the Philippines (search) for agreeing to pull its forces out to win the release.
"The terrorists had essentially ordered the Filipino troops out, and that was a violation of Filipino sovereignty that a small group of terrorists told the Philippine government what to do and the government did it. That's the concern," Mussomeli told DZBB radio Friday.
"The issue is whether once you make a commitment to do something, whether you follow through with it," he said, but added that Washington was not looking "to punish the Philippines in any way."
Saying "weakness is provocative," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that the pullout could encourage terrorists to try similar tactics to pressure other countries in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. That seemed to be borne out by a wave of fresh abductions in Iraq.
As dela Cruz' had a tearful family reunion Thursday at Manila's international airport, U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone headed back to Washington for consultations on the status of relations with the Philippines.
On Friday, dela Cruz returned to his home village in the northern Philippines to a tribal dance and teary-eyed relatives. Villagers cheered as relatives hugged and kissed dela Cruz when he stepped out of a vehicle and was led into a local school for a welcoming program. A brass band played and young men in tribal costumes banged drums.
The Philippine government won dela Cruz's release by withdrawing its 51 peacekeepers from Iraq to meet the demands of his kidnappers.
"Weakness entices people into doing things they otherwise wouldn't do unless they believed that it would advantage them," Rumsfeld said.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo denied any break with the United States during a foreign policy speech Friday, making clear that she felt she had to put the welfare of its 8 million citizens working overseas at the top of her priorities. Their remittances power the Philippine economy.
"Our foreign policy has not changed," Arroyo said. "We share the same goal, but we may not always walk the same path."
She asked for understanding of the Philippines' "special circumstance."
"Unlike the U.S., Australia, Bulgaria and other countries, 1.5 million Filipinos live and work in the Middle East, and 4,000 are working in Iraq today," Arroyo said. "Arguably, the 4,000 private workers are more valuable to Iraq" than the peacekeeping contingent, she said.
Most U.S. assistance to the former U.S. colony goes to upgrading the poorly trained and equipped military to help it fight terrorism.
U.S. officials have expressed concern over reports that al-Qaida terrorists slipped into the country and trained at Muslim separatist camps in the southern Philippines.
Washington also worries how it would replace the 4,000 Filipino contract workers doing menial tasks on U.S. bases in Iraq if the current spat were to deteriorate into a full-blown crisis.
Diplomats wonder about the Philippines' possible participation in other future peacekeeping operations — and how strong Manila's commitment would be if it had another citizen abducted.
The Philippines has gained a reputation as Asia's kidnap capital. It has been involved in ransoms being paid, particularly in high-profile mass abductions involving foreigners seized by the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
Despite official denials, there have been persistent reports that Manila tried to arrange a ransom for dela Cruz only to be rebuffed by the Iraqi insurgents.
Arroyo said she was acting in the national interest in giving in to the demand of dela Cruz's kidnappers, and public pressure grew on her as the poor father of eight developed into a national icon.
Dela Cruz came home Thursday to what airport general manager Edgardo Manda called "one of the biggest arrivals for any celebrity" in years. Seven of dela Cruz's eight children met him at the airport afte he flew in from the United Arab Emirates.
Dela Cruz has become a national icon for a poverty-wracked country that has more than 7 million of its citizens working abroad, including 1.4 million in the Middle East.
"He is the symbol of the Filipino people," Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita said. "How can you explain that to foreigners?"