The big lie: special relations

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

It seems ironical that the much-heralded meeting between Philippine President Aquino and US President Obama would take place just a few days before the Philippines marks Independence Day. Here is the president of a poor and backward but supposedly independent country seeking and getting the requisite political pat-on-the-back from the president of the globally over-extended albeit still most militarily powerful country and the Philippines’ former colonizer.

It is a testament to how far we have stagnated and, to some extent even retrogressed, as a sovereign nation.

The official statements on the Aquino-Obama meeting keep alluding to the two countries’ “special relations” and “enduring alliance”, echoing a myth cultivated by the US and Philippine governments over the past century.

What is not generally known is that these relations began with the US sending an expeditionary naval force to the Philippines at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in May 1898 to prepare for invading, occupying and turning the islands into a US colony. This was achieved in August 1898 when US forces boxed out Filipino revolutionary forces from the walled city of Manila and prevented them from completing their victory over the Spanish colonialists. As part of a secret deal, the Spanish forces instead surrendered to the Americans, and Spain eventually ceded the Philippines to the US for USD 20million in the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898.

Deceit, treachery and violence has characterized the entire century of “special relations” including the waging of a genocidal war of suppression against Filipino freedom fighters from 1899 to 1913. Numerous eyewitness accounts, including the reports of US troopers and field commanders themselves attest to the killing of several hundreds of thousands Filipinos, who were victims of scorch-earth (“kill-all, burn-all”) and no quarters (no prisoners taken) orders, reconcentration camps and indiscriminate shelling and bombardment such as in Abra, Batangas, Panay, Samar and Sulu.

All these belie then US President William Mckinley’ “Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation” in which he justified the colonization of the Philippines after he reportedly heard the voice of God urging him to “uplift, civilize and Chrstianize” the Filipinos who were depicted as half-savages incapable of self-rule. It took half a century before the US “granted” nominal independence to a people who had fought valiantly to achieve it and had been the first in Asia to inaugurate a modern-day republic, with its constitution enacted on January 20, 1899, by the Malolos Congress.

The truth, as clearly reported in the American press at that time, was that the US was raring to become a global economic and military power. It coveted the “limitless market” in China with the Philippine Islands as its military and commercial outpost and springboard. It also saw the islands as a source of raw materials and cheap labor and a dumping ground for its surplus products and capital in its own right.

After profiting immensely from its first expansionist foray outside the American continent; violently suppressing any attempts to express and rally to nationalist yearnings; rearing a domestic elite brainwashed to maintaining the Philippines as its “little brown brother” in Asia; putting in place an educational system and engendering a popular culture that paints it as a benevolent colonizer — the US took advantage of the country’s prostrate conditions post-World War II to impose lopsided treaties such as the Laurel-Langley Agreement, the Military Bases Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty rendering meaningless the grant of independence in 1946.

Subsequently, US domination of the country’s socio-economic, political and cultural affairs saw the fledgling republic unable to pursue nationalist and democratic policies that would have allowed it to develop into a more equitable, just, prosperous and truly independent nation.

The US had little problem dictating policies favourable to it on the Philippine government, whose officials mostly come from the big landlord and comprador (merchant capitalist) families who benefit most from the backward agrarian economy, being the local partners and agents of US capital. Without exception, all Philippine administrations kept alive the lie that the US and Philippine interests were identical.

US sponsorship of a succession of repressive client regimes culminated in its backing for the Marcos fascist dictatorship, in an attempt to suppress the growing political awareness and resistance of various sectors in Philippine society to the reality of US neocolonial rule amid intensifying economic and political crisis. Only when Marcos had become so politically isolated versus a broad united front of anti-dictatorship forces (that included the armed, communist-led revolutionary movement) and the people’s resistance had erupted into an unarmed popular uprising in the cities, did the US finally withdraw its support for Marcos.

Moving swiftly to regain its fractured image as the beacon of democracy in the world, the US shifted its support for the Cory Aquino presidency. The latter, much to the approbation of the US government and domestic ruling elite, only restored the trappings of democracy but did little to address the festering problems of a backward, impoverished semifeudal society still straining under US neocolonial domination.

For one, the “icon of democracy” set the tone for land reform by exempting Hacienda Lusita, her clan’s vast landholdings, from distribution to landless peasants. She also upheld the “honorable debtor” policy that tied the country to pay back even the onerous debts incurred by the Marcos regime and continued the automatic appropriation for debt servicing that foreign creditors had lobbied for but drained government coffers of funds for vital economic programs and social services.

The US-backed Cory regime “unsheathed the sword of war” against the CPP-NPA-NDF harnessing the US-trained and equipped Philippine military and police forces that had been the dictatorship’s attack dogs against the revolutionary forces and people. In the process her government only managed to blacken the country’s human rights record with more condemnable violations than even those seen during the dying years of the Marcos era. Mrs. Aquino also reneged on her earlier pledge to remove US bases in the country and attempted a last-ditch effort to get Senate approval for a renegotiated RP-US Military Bases Agreement but failed.

After the US bases were kicked out, the succeeding US-backed Ramos regime lost no time in negotiating a status-of-forces-agreement (SOFA) that would provide the legal umbrella for US military troops going to the Philippines for joint military exercises and training, rest and recreation, civic action and humanitarian missions, and other undeclared purposes. The Ramos watch also presided over the almost complete legalization and institutionalization of neoliberal policies and programs sought by the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization, dominated by the US and other imperialist countries.

The short-lived Estrada regime for its part harnessed its clout over the Senate and popularity with the masses to have the SOFA negotiated by the Ramos regime approved as the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The overstaying US-backed Arroyo regime, using the so-called war on terror as justification, managed to slip in the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA) as a low-level agreement that did not require Senate ratification. The VFA and the MLSA together provide the legal wherewithal for the US to station its forces, preposition its war materiel and dock its airborne and naval war vessels (including those nuclear-armed in contravention of the Philippine Constitution) on Philippine territory in an unlimited, open-ended and unregulated fashion tantamount to having its permanent military bases back.

The Arroyo regime opened the doors wide open for the US military to utilize the Philippines as jumping board for its wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan even as it also accelerated US military involvement in the government’s counterinsurgency campaigns against the MILF and CPP-NPA touted as assistance to counterterrorism efforts targeting the bandit Abu Sayyaf that had been upgraded into a full-fledged “terrorist” group with purported links to Al Qaeda. (Next week “Special relations under Pnoy”)

Published in Business World
15-16 June 2012

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