Most Filipinos — 85% of them, according to a survey by the US-based Pew Research Center — may think the US their lord and savior. But no matter how convinced they are that their devotion to the US is reciprocated, and that the latter will go to war for them in case of a confrontation with the Chinese bully, on the first day of his visit, US President Barack Obama expertly dodged the question of whether his country would defend the Philippines in the same manner that he unequivocally pledged to defend Japan.
Obama framed his statement in general terms, affirming that the US would come to the Philippines’ defense against any country that attacks it, but at the same time declaring that the US is not isolating China, much less thinking of going to war with it.
The reasons should be simple enough even for Philippine officialdom to understand. Not only has Japan been the US junior partner in Asia for over 60 years, it has also been one of its biggest trading partners and military lapdogs from the coldest days of the Cold War to the present. As for China, not only is it the US’ biggest lender, it is also the biggest market of US multinationals on the planet, their presence in that country being the culmination of a more than century-old dream of access to its teeming billions.
While Obama did say later that the US is committed to the defense of the Philippines under the terms of the Mutual Defense Treaty, that statement has to be understood in the context of his declaration about not containing China. And as former Senator Joker Arroyo pointed out, Obama’s statements merely rehashed what he has said on other occasions. Whether those statements will mean defending the Philippines to the last US Marine is something else altogether — as is the claim by some commentators that the US will be providing the Philippines with the military hardware it needs to meet any external threat.
The first has never happened in the entire history of Philippines-US relations, while the hardware the US has deigned provide has consisted mostly of its military’s rejects. But if you asked 10 Filipinos what the country would get from closer military engagement with the US via the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) the Philippines signed with the US on April 28, eight would say it’s for the defense of the country against China.
Many of them would also rant and rave against their own countrymen who’re protesting the continuing presence of US troops and their de facto basing in the Philippines. Over Internet chat rooms and the social media for example, a veritable league of semi-morons caught in a 1950s time warp claim that the protestors are “stooges of Communist China,” in total ignorance of the fact that no such entity as “Communist China” exists, or has ever existed. (What the world saw from 1949 to 1975 was a country struggling to reconstruct itself within a socialist framework in the aftermath of decades of civil war, invasion and imperialist domination. The phrase “communist state,” like “military intelligence,” is a contradiction in terms; they need to look it up.)
China’s socialist institutions have since been dismantled, and although it claims to be governed by a clique that calls itself the Chinese Communist Party, it’s actually as capitalist as the US itself, displaying the same lust for resources, and as eager to use military power to intimidate other countries.
While it’s true that the US fears China’s economic power and growing military might, they’re actually one of a kind and bound by the same greed for profit and resources that drove the US to conquer the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century — except that the Chinese behemoth entered the imperialist game late, by, among other clumsy tactics copied from western imperialism, corrupting dictators and trying to grab the Spratlys.
It’s not so much the Aquino administration’s lies about the constitutionality of EDCA that’s so disturbing. It’s the near-absolute Filipino belief in US benevolence, goodwill and selflessness despite the US’ abandoning the Philippines during the Second World War; the years when their countrymen were mistaken for wild boar and shot in the periphery of Clark Airbase; the Amerasian children US soldiers left behind in Olongapo and Angeles; the rapes that went unpunished; and the venereal diseases that were among the legacies of those nice boys from Iowa and Kansas who were here to defend the country from “Red China” and the Russians.
That mass delusion has persisted for decades and was evident even during the mad reign of George W. Bush, when, despite evidence that Sadam Hussein’s Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and had no links with Al Qaeda, a worldwide survey found that most Filipinos were in the same company as Poles and Indians in approving the invasion and destruction of a sovereign country that had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The consequence of this imbecility is the Aquino administration’s confidence that it can do anything in collaboration with the US without popular opposition — that it can claim with a straight face that EDCA’s no more than an executive agreement rather than a treaty the Senate has to approve; that the US troops that have been around since 2002 are here only temporarily, as “visiting” forces; and that despite their requiring basing facilities, they’re “only” being provided access to Philippine military bases. It has also studiously avoided mentioning that whatever air and sea craft US troops will deploy will most probably be armed with nuclear weapons, again in violation of the Constitution, just like the presence of foreign troops in the country without the benefit of a treaty.
But does anyone care? Only a handful of Filipinos are concerned over the possible repercussions of the country’s military reengagement with the US in terms of its social costs and impact on its sovereignty and its relations with other countries. That reality is what makes the Aquino administration so cocksure. Because the protests are minority-driven, by stoking fears of the same bogey that kept US military bases in the country for decades, it can return the country to the Cold War past when the Philippines was even more the creature of another power
It is not mistaken. Despite the efforts at educating their countrymen expended by the Dioknos, the Tañadas and the Rectos, despite the lessons of history (among them the need to rely on one’s own efforts and to accept no master), the country might as well be back in the 1950s and 1960s when whatever the US and its local clients wanted they got, thanks to a people comfortable in their ignorance and clueless in their complacency.
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Published in Business World
May 1, 2014