AT FIRST, the government said it was not pulling out troops out of Iraq until August 20, the day scheduled for the 51 Philippine soldiers to leave their posts in the war-torn country. But now we all know the government has sung a different tune as the last of the peace-keeping troops was sent home last week to clear the way for kidnapped Filipino worker Angelo de la Cruz’s release.

The release is hailed by some sectors as a triumph for President Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration. It is a triumph indeed, but only temporary.

The repercussions of the pullout as demanded by the extremists and granted by the government, although speculative, are just too disturbing to ignore.

The sudden change of course does not augur well for the government’s counter-terrorism moves in the country. Now, the terrorists here might have learned a lesson or two in Coercion 101.

In a few months, God forbid, it would not be surprising if local terrorists intensify their version of the Iraq incident, which they’ve been doing even before former President Joseph Estrada waged war on domestic terrorism.

The troop pullout would also affect the image of the Philippines in the international community. Since the 9/11 tragedy triggered an extensive manhunt for all terrorists, the Philippines has earned a savory reputation for being tough on extremists.

Now, whatever ground the country has gained in the international arena in the fight against terrorism has vanished into thin air as a result of the government’s decision to have the troops pack their bags home.

The government should have taken the cue from South Korea which also had a citizen kidnapped last month in Iraq. The extremists had told South Korea to send its 3,000 troops home or else they’ll behead the hostage. South Korea did not acquiesce. Although the extremists made good of their threat, South Korea showed it is indeed a tough nut to crack for the terrorists. But, that cannot be said of the Philippines.

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It is not that the Filipino people should not rejoice in seeing de la Cruz free, but it would have been better if he were released not because the government gave in to the demands of the terrorists, but because the extremists had been made to see the folly of their action.

Compromise with terrorists and submission to their demands should have no place in the civilized world. No ifs, no buts. No exceptions to the rule.

Bargaining with terrorists has never been a good idea and never will be.

Human nature dictates that once persons attain success through threats and violence, it is most likely that they will repeat those to achieve that high point again. Otherwise stated, if a method is proven effective, they’ll keep on using it until they’re stopped or they find something new or more satisfying to do.

True enough, a dangerous precedent might have been set when the government decided to send its peace-keeping troops home because of extremist threats.

Let us just hope that it would be a case of one step backward and two steps forward for the country.

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