By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
Posted by Bulatlat.com
Those who are watching the first 100 days of the new administration can now start focusing their lens on President Benigno S. Aquino III’s coming visit to the United States in September – his first major official foreign trip. The decision to make the U.S. as his maiden foreign destination is not only symbolic but will have far-reaching implications not only on foreign policy but also on the so-called special relationship between a former colony and a superpower. In the long run, it will have broad implications on the Filipino people.
Of course, the presidential spokesperson says Aquino III, together with other heads of state, is going to address the United Nations General Assembly when it convenes next month. The more important agenda, however, pertains to the event that will happen at the White House and other meetings with high U.S. officials. The new president will make a courtesy call to the world’s most powerful leader – a traditional ritual performed by the Philippines’ past presidents from Manuel Quezon to Ferdinand Marcos and until recently, Gloria M. Arroyo who made several visits to Washington, DC.
A meeting with the U.S. president will underscore the importance given by the Philippine government to “special ties” with a former colonial master. But these “special ties” have nothing to do with people-to-people friendly relations. These ties have been shaped largely by economic and military considerations that were proven to be inimical to the Filipino people’s sovereign and territorial rights even if being friendly with Uncle Sam guaranteed support for any sitting Philippine president.
In the post-World War II era official visits by Philippine presidents to the U.S. embodied the country’s commitments to onerous economic and defense agreements that laid the foundations of an unequal neo-colonial relationship between the two countries. Time was when the Philippines had to undergo economic reconstruction as a result of the destruction wrought by the war between the U.S. and Japan yet American rehabilitation funds were tied to extending parity rights to Americans, allowing the stay of U.S. military bases and supporting wars of aggression in Korea, Indochina, and elsewhere. Ferdinand E. Marcos was propped up by the U.S. as America’s spokesman in Southeast Asia when the U.S. needed a coalition of forces from the region to support its wars of aggression in Indochina. Marcos played the role of America’s mouthpiece so well that his dictatorship lasted long enough thanks to continued U.S. support. The Americans dumped him when he became a liability and built up Corazon C. Aquino as the “third force” for succession. As a president, Aquino backed the renewal of the U.S. military bases and unleashed a U.S.-inspired “total war” policy against rebels leading to more human rights violations.
During the Bush regime, Mrs. Arroyo paid several visits to Washington, DC where she also met Pentagon and Congress leaders. The numerous agreements that she forged – most of them confidential – led to the Philippines playing the role as America’s “second front” against terrorism thus paving the entry of U.S. forces and military installations in the guise of war exercises and special trainings. Since 2001 the increase of U.S. military aid and intervention led to the escalation of extra-judicial killings and other war crimes amid the intensification of Arroyo’s counter-insurgency campaign against the Left, whether armed or unarmed. Yet, despite the financial commitments made by the U.S. government Arroyo’s nine-year presidency saw the highest unemployment rate in 50 years, widening income disparities, corruption, election fraud, plunder, and political repression.
In late May this year when the results of the presidential race had yet to be completed the U.S. ambassador to Manila, Harry Thomas, Jr., was the first foreign envoy to congratulate Aquino III. Their talks at Times Street touched on continued U.S. support, special ties between the two countries, and an invitation for an early state visit by the president-apparent. The Times Street talks have been followed by high-level meetings with U.S. state department officials led by Secretary Hillary Clinton, a new military assistance package, an offer of a missiles and war aircraft sale, and port calls by warships from the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM). This week, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) announced the release of $434 million to fund three projects in the Philippines for five years. The MCC board is chaired also by Clinton.
In reciprocity, Aquino III said he is looking forward to the U.S. visit with an upbeat expectation of bringing “gifts” back to the country.
America’s current interest
Begging an immediate answer is what America’s current interest is in the Aquino III presidency and what possible “commitments” are on the table to emphasize the two countries’ “historic ties.” The lingering economic recession, increasing unemployment, and budget cuts or streamlining in the U.S. raise questions how much economic or military assistance is left that can be given to the Philippines and other countries – and in exchange for what.
The recent visits of high U.S. officials in the Philippines signal a continuing interest in the country in the context of America’s geo-strategic interests in the region and the rest of the world. The underlying framework of these objectives is chiseled in U.S. President Barack Obama’s National Security Strategy (NSS, May 2010) and the U.S. military’s new counter-insurgency (COIN) guide of January 2009. Although both doctrines reiterate the need to maintain the superpower’s access to world resources especially oil and other energy materials, they also stress America’s right to pre-emptive and unilateral strikes against “terrorism,” rogue regimes, and emerging powers, such as China, seeking to challenge the U.S.’ global power.