Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 16              May 25 - 31, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


Outstanding, insightful, honest coverage...


Join the Bulatlat.com mailing list!

Powered by groups.yahoo.com

The Never-Ending Presidential Rituals in Washington

Filipinos who want to learn a lesson or two about the neo-colonial relationship between their country and the United States can do so by taking another hard look at those presidential state visits to the United States. They will find that each time the republic’s president goes to Washington, the country always takes in more pain than gain. 

By Bobby Tuazon 

Bush walks Macapagal-Arroyo to a new partnership that could mean stronger U.S. military presence in the Philippines and a more active role for Filipino forces in U.S.-led wars

Malacañang's spin doctors describe the recent state visit of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Washington as "historic" and "symbolic." To our mind, there's nothing historic in the event and maybe it is symbolic but only in the sense that it can be characterized as a visit by a marionette to her emperor, George W. Bush. And there's nothing new to that even.

We've read the words "historic" and "symbolic" before – all embedded in the history of “special relations” between the United States and the Philippines. These were the same words that described the visit of Manuel Roxas to the United States in the late 1940s when he asked for funds to rehabilitate the Philippine economy that was devastated by the Second World War and 

all he got was a pledge of assistance on condition that U.S. investors earn their right to exploit the country's natural resources and U.S. military bases would stay indefinitely.

Despite the huge drain to the treasury, succeeding presidents would take the same traditional expedition to Washington to perform a ritual of reporting and asking for favors, giving the impression that one doesn't become a president of the republic unless you pay a courtesy call to the U.S. chief executive.

In his 20-year rule, first as elected president in fraudulent elections and then as a dictator, Ferdinand Marcos paid a visit to Washington several times impressing the American leaders no end and earning for him U.S. support for his authoritarian rule. He took pleasure in being the United States' "spokesman" in Asia, articulating the hegemonic objectives of the U.S. in the region through its wars of aggression and onerous economic policies.  

It was during Marcos's long reign that the Philippines' commitment to fight Mother America's wars escalated and U.S. investors were given more special privileges. U.S. support and military aid encouraged the dictatorship to launch a brutal campaign of repression against the Filipino people.  

Transition president 

The first ever visit to a foreign country made by Corazon Aquino was to the United States where she was hailed as an extraordinary president and a heroine. The Americans thanked her as a president who guaranteed U.S. interests during the transition from dictatorship to "restored democracy." And incidentally, in line with that, she launched a bloody "total war" campaign against the armed Left and the Moro rebels led by the same generals and with the same U.S. military support that maintained a reign of terror during the Marcos dictatorship. 

As the president with the biggest collection of travel luggage and souvenirs, Fidel V. Ramos was no stranger to America, having been trained there as a West Pointer and as the CO of the Philippine mission to Vietnam in the 1960s. In his visits to Washington, Ramos pledged to champion globalization in Asia even as he secretly negotiated for the return of U.S. military bases albeit in new but more extensive form - access agreement. Support for globalization found Ramos pressing for the ratification of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) by the Senate where he was ably supported by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Blas Ople. As many of its exponents would later admit, GATT did a lot of damage to the country’s poor producers, labor force and the economy itself. 

True to form, Ramos would not leave the presidency without railroading a midnight agreement that would allow the entry into the country of U.S. forward deployed forces and facilities - the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in February 1998. Today, he still shuttles between Manila, Tokyo and Washington as senior member of the Asia Advisory Board of the powerful U.S. multinational investment firm and defense contractor, Carlyle Group. 

It was the misfortune of Joseph Estrada not to have flown to Washington after his election in May 1998 - as his predecessors would upon taking power - because by this time his would-be host, Bill Clinton, was preoccupied with defending himself against an impeachment over charges of immorality. He almost did not make it to the coveted destination until - six months before he would be ousted in a people power - he succeeded in securing a "working visit" to Washington. 

In his only official visit to the United States in July 2001 - his first as president was in 1999 supposedly for an eye check-up - the president tried to enlist the support of the U.S. in his war against the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) arguing that Osama bin Labin had been supporting the rebels for years. He also brought with him a laundry list of military equipment and a request for military assistance for the Armed Forces' modernization program. 

Pomp and pageantry 

Estrada's visit to the United States had its own pomp and pageantry of sorts - air strikes and artillery fire against the MILF in Mindanao that would last for months, with the president later photographed in a commander-in-chief's camouflage uniform, dark glasses and all and his bare hands digging into a lunch of roasted pig and pansit with soldiers amid a smoke of gunfire in the backdrop. 

That proved to be his final act. At the height of the oust-Estrada struggle early 2001, police chief Gen. Panfilo Lacson reportedly made a sneak visit to Pentagon to sell a civilian-military junta that would replace the beleaguered Estrada but with the latter retained as a nominal civilian president. Before that could even materialize, Estrada was already out. 

Estrada may have been instrumental for having the VFA ratified by the Senate in 1999 but it was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who used it – along with the cold war-relic mutual defense pact with the United States – to re-establish the Philippines as a strategic part of America's military power and armed aggression in Southeast Asia. In her November 2001 meeting with Bush, she agreed to increase the deployment of U.S. forces in the Philippines on the pretext of war exercises and fighting the Abu Sayyaf.  

In the same meeting, the emperor and his vassal also hatched a plan to include the NPA and Jose Maria Sison in the U.S. list of foreign terrorists. Thanks but no thanks to the two leaders, these secret agreements have heightened the wanton violation of the country's sovereignty and increased the level of military atrocities as a result of renewed offensives against both the Moro and NPA guerrillas, their mass bases and suspected front organizations. 

Loyal to Bush

At a time when U.S. armed aggression and its desire to consolidate the American Empire (also known as imperialist power) are igniting outrage and anti-imperialist sentiments in many countries, Bush has found in Macapagal-Arroyo one of a few allies who stood by the side of the aggressor. As a reward, the U.S. emperor invited his puppet to a second visit topped by a state dinner at the White House and a toast for a vibrant friendship and alliance between the countries. The emperor hailed his guest as a defender of world freedom even as in her own country the anti-terrorism bill being pushed by Malacañang will undo what chartermakers have crafted in the name of freedom.  

We may yet see another reward for Macapagal-Arroyo in October when Bush reciprocates by visiting Manila - an occasion that can be used to endorse her candidacy in the May 2004 presidential election. It's all in the script. 

Macapagal-Arroyo also received pledges from her host for a Philippine share in the economic reconstruction of Iraq in exchange for her support for the war against Saddam Hussein. The president has been cashing in on Bush's recent imperial conquests and the pillage of sovereign countries hoping that such support by a small, powerless nation would earn for Macapagal-Arroyo's allies in the construction and trade sector some lucrative contracts. The big puzzle however is how this is going to happen considering that the colonial takeover of Iraq's economy - dubbed as a "mass privatization program" - is being dominated by Bush's own predatory allies in the U.S. military-industrial complex such as Halliburton, Bechtel, Chevron Texaco and other companies. 

Macapagal-Arroyo's trip to the United States reaffirms the decades-old ridiculous doctrine subscribed to by previous administrations that the country's destiny lays in its continuing faith in Mother America. True, these presidential state visits have been somewhat "forward-looking" too - they always looked forward to pledges of economic and military aid in exchange for maintaining a neo-colonial relationship with the United States. But after a century of colonial and neo-colonial ties, the country is poorer than ever, unemployment is getting worse and prospects of a better life among majority of Filipinos are growing dimmer by the day. 

Real issues 

In the first place, not one of those visits ever addressed such important issues as an American apology for the 1.5 million Filipinos killed in campaigns of genocide by U.S. mercenaries during the Philippine-American War and millions others more who died during World War II for defending Mother America. Thousands of old WWII veterans have never been given what is due them including fair war pensions and other benefits. The demand for compensation for the deaths and ecological destruction caused by the toxic waste abandoned by the U.S. military facilities has all but been forgotten. How about the scores of Filipinos who were mowed down by American soldiers around the military bases simply because they were mistaken for wild boars and scavengers?  

Out of friendship and in the name of defense alliance, all violations to the VFA where scores of Filipinos have been killed or maimed are best not talked about in court. We also wonder whether Macapagal-Arroyo took up with Bush the plight of hundreds of U.S.-based Filipino-Americans arrested, questioned or about to be deported like criminals as the U.S. government – under its new homeland security - tightens immigration laws. 

What makes Macapagal-Arroyo’s visits doubly important to the Americans is that they come at a time when the United States is fast losing its traditional allies in Europe, Asia and other regions and it needs junior partners who can be trusted to boost its wars of aggression, forge new security partnerships and consolidate its imperial power. As the puppet president commits herself to support the U.S. imperial agenda the Philippines will be more and more deeply involved in Washington’s armed interventionism abroad even as the country’s own economic and political resources cannot address its own systemic problems.  

Filipinos who want to learn a lesson or two about the neo-colonial relationship between their country and the United States can do so by taking another hard look at those presidential state visits to the United States. They will find that each time the republic’s president goes to Washington, the country always takes in more pain than gain.  Bulatlat.com

Back to top

We want to know what you think of this article.