by E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Cultural Studies Center
The history of the Philippines as a colony and neocolony can be divided into three parts. The first designates three hundred years of Spanish domination of the archipelago from 1565 to 1898 after the subjugation of tribal resistance in the main island of Luzon. The second includes about four decades involving the annexation of the islands by the United States following the Spanish-American War of 1898 and its pacification from 1899 to 1935, when it became a Commonwealth up to 1941. The ascendancy of U.S. monopoly capital and finance at the beginning of the twentieth-century replaced that of Spanish merchant capital and its moribund feudal arrangements (Magdoff 1982).
From 1942 to 1945, the Japanese militarily occupied the major regions of the country but left local governance to a “puppet” regime of elite natives. The return of U.S. forces destroyed the Japanese authority and restored the status quo before the war.
In 1946, the Philippines was granted nominal independence but not full sovereignty, given the presence of U.S. military bases and effective control of key political, military and economic institutions by Washington. With recent bilateral agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to buttress military and political dependency, the Philippines’ status as a neocolony of the United States nas been re-confirmed.
Re-visiting Spanish Hegemony
The Philippines came under the formal political authority of Spain in the time of European rivalry over control of trade with Asia and the Americas in the 15-16th centuries. Following Ferdinand Magellan’s discovery of the islands in southeast Asia in 1521,Miguel Lopez de Legaspi claimed the archipelago (named the “Philippines,” after King Philip II of Spain) for Spain in 1565. Lacking any cohesive unity or common loyalties, the indigenous tribes based on subsistence agriculture fell victim to the Spanish strategy of “divide and rule” and its superior weaponry used for pillage, plunder, and killing (Veneracion 1987).
Given the distance from Spain, the islands were ruled from Mexico approximately ten thousand miles away. Few lay Spaniards settled in the Philippines. The pagan natives were christianized by missionaries of the religious orders–the rationale given by the Spanish monarchy to the Pope for taking power–so the Roman Catholic Church virtually ruled territories that yielded foodstuffs, human labor, and timber needed for the galleon trade. This lucrative exchange of Chinese porcelain, Indian textiles, etc. for Mexican gold and silver required the Philippines as a transhipment point between Mexico and China.
The profit gained from the galleon trade offered the main reason for subsidizing the “civilizing mission.” The Church’s evangelical apparatus of catechism and sermons was mobilized to justify appropriation of land and other natural resources extracted via heavy taxation, enforced labor, and assorted tributes. This missionary salvific disccourse portrayed native resistance to Church abuses and government impositions as pagan wickedness, not a legitimate defense against violence (Eadie 2005). Coopting the village chiefs, the missionaries and civil officials reinforced the patron-client system of asymmetrical harmony. Cultural ties of reciprocity and indebtedness to the local leaders were manipulated to insure the regular centralized routine of the accumulation process.
The lack of adequate civilian personnel to maintain ecclesiastical and bureaucratic discipline compelled the State to develop a local agency, the principalia (principal personages), to manage the procedures of taxation, sexual/domestic conduct, civic projects, security and indoctrination to reproduce the feudal-tibutary social relations while producing food, shelter, clothing and other means of survival. This also explains the theocratic dominance of the friars in mediating between the mercantilist State and the natives in the cabeseras (geopolitical town complex) which broke apart the kinship or datu-sacop system of the pre-conquest polity.
Colonial discipline of the native subjects involved coercive and ideological mechanisms to enforce extraction of goods/services for use and others for exchange. Pre-capitalist forms and feudal instrmentalities dovetailed to constitute the political economy of the Spanish possession. Apart from the local chiefs and their extended families and retainers, the natives were thus reduced to serfs or even to virtual slavery. This excluded the Moros or Muslims of the southern islands of Mindanao and Sulu who successfully resisted Spanish military and religious incursions from the time the Muslim chiefs Soliman and Lakandula were subdued in 1572-74.
Despite reformist measures introduced in mid-19th century, Spain never developed the potential for self-suficient agriculture and sustainable industries. The archaic state’s practice of imposing bonded labor for infrastructure projects, as well as the excesses of the friars, led to over 200 revolts of peasants and workers–from Malong’s revolt in Pangasinan (160-61) to the numerous revolts during and after the British occupation of Manila in 1762-64 (Constantino 1975, 112-14).
Crisis of the Mercantilist Dispensation
With the termination of the galleon trade in 1813 and the abolition of government monopolies of tobacco and other export crops, the metropolitan city of Manila was opened to foreign trade in 1835. Liberal ideas entered the islands, a consequence of the exposure of Spain to Enlightenment philosophy before and after the Napoleonic wars (1808-14) and the South American wars of independence. Conflict between the absolutist monarchy and the forces of liberalism led to the republican interlude (from 1868 on) and the appointment of Carlos Maria de la Torre, a prominent liberal (Zafra 1967,157-163). De la Torre exempted from tribute and coerced labor the Filipino workers in the Cavite arsenal who subsequently mutinied when his successor, the conservative Rafael de Izquierdo, restored the status quo. The Cavite revolt of 1872 and the execution of the three secular priests (Burgos, Gomez and Zamora) signalled the resurgence of hitherto inchoate dissidence of urban intelligentsia and guilds in the islands.
Meanwhile, capital accumulation via commercial agriculture and export trade passed into the hands of Anglo-American merchant houses. To these were attached mestizo families, owners of sugar plantations and hacenderos of other cash crops (rice, hemp, tobacco, coconuts). An ilustrado (enlightened) stratum of these families emerged in the 1870s and 1880s; foremost were the “propagandists” (Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Jose Rizal, Isabelo de los Reyes, etc.) who advocated peaceful reforms and representation in the Spanish Cortes (De la Costa 1965). This were all denied and their advocates punished by death, imprisonment, or exile.
Parallel to that assimilationist movement existed a separatist movement of the peasantry and mutual-aid cooperatives of workers and artisans inspired by millennarian agitations and the secularist movement among Filipino priests against the arrogant friars. This was led by Andres Bonifacio and the secret organization, the Katipunan (Association of Sons of the People) inspired by freemasonry and the delayed impact of the ideas of the French and American revolutions. Earlier insurrections, particularly instigated by indigenous cults and seditious anti-clerical groups of uprooted tenant-farmers, converged in the 1896 revolution that led to the establishment of the first Philippine Republic after feuds between the collaborationist elite factions and the grassroots radical-democratic peasant-worker revealed basic contradictions among classes. This explosion of emancipatory desire by the disenfranchised rural folk was undeterred by sustained Catholic proselytizing and the terrorist measures of desperate Spanish governor-generals. The decay of Spanish colonial domination could not be reversed by the end of the nineteenth century.
The Nightmare of Spanish Colonization
The Spanish destruction of the self-sufficient baranganic communities by taxation and forced labor (polos y servicios) disrupted the village economy of kinship-based clans. Population was reduced, farm lands laid waste, including whatever trade and industry flourished. The Spanish historian Antonio de Morga lamented that due to the despotic backward policies, the natives abandoned “their farming, poultry and stock-raising, cotton growing and weaving of blankets” (Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970, 104), From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, Spain exploited the natives to support the galleon trade that enriched the friars and local bureaucrats, the Chinese traders, and native mestizo families.
Whatever changes were carried out in the nineteenth century did not significantly improve the conditions of the majority since the specialization in export crops (controlled by Anglo-American agents) prevented the growth of a diversified economy. The nascent capitalist sector benefited only a few propertied families and foreign merchants. In terms of Christianization, very few Filipinos really understood Catholic doctrine, hence the mixture of miracles, idolatry, veneration of icons and images, superstition and rudimentary Catholic rituals that constituted the belief-system of ordinary christian Filipinos today.
In general, the cultural development of the country reflected the bankruptcy of Spanish political and economic policies. It reflected the decay of the metropolitan order in a grotesque caricatured form. Spanish was not made the lingua franca of the colony, hence a bizarre ethnolinguistic mutiplicity continues to distort Filipino efforts at national self-identification. Hispanization survives only in certain customs and habits (fiestas, family rituals, etc.). The historian John Phelan observes that “although partially Hispanized, the Filipinos never lost that Malaysian stratum which to this day remains the foundation of their culture” (1967, 26). Spanish colonialism, in short, ruined the indigenous life-forms and the supporting economy it encountered, while enriching a few oligarchic sectors and intensifying its own paralysis and decadence.
The American historian Nicholas Cushner concludes his account with the belief that Spain’s “more subtle influence on attitudes and social conventions remains part of the fabric of Philippine society” (1971, 229). However, profound Americanization of the collective Filipino psyche from 1899 to the present may have pronounced the final demise of this influence today despite superficial vestiges now extravagantly commodified for tourist consumption.
The American Conquest
President William McKinley’s proclamation of the U.S. “civilizing mission,” also known as “Benevolent Assimilation,” emerged as part of global inter-imperialist rivalry in the age of monopoly-finance capitalism. U.S. corporate industries and banks needed a market for finished goods and sources of raw materials as well as business for exporting capital. A guaranteed market for commerce and investments was an imperative for competitive capital accumulation. Maritime supremacy was needed to facilitate trade with China and South America and regulation over the U.S. sphere of influence in those hemispheres.
The Philippine conjuncture then was unique because of the appearance of a nascent Filipino nationality in the stage of world-history. When the Spaniards ceded the islands to the United States in 1898, the Filipinos had already defeated the Spaniards everywhere except the fort city of Manila. The army of the first Philipine Republic (proclaimed in June 1899) fought the American invaders from 1899 to July 1902. Apart from guerilla resistance led by peasant-based leaders, the Moros continued to resist until 1913 (Tan 2002).
Given the advanced mode of industrial production and superior technology and human resources, the US demolished the revolutionary forces led by Emilio Aguinaldo. It was the first bloodiest war of imperial subjugation that opened the twentieth century. From positional to mobile tactics to guerilla warfare, the Filipinos suffered enormous casualties. Frustrated by the popular support for the resisters, the US engaged in genocidal destruction of villages and killing of civilian non-combatants. Torture, hamletting or mass detention in concentration camps, and other savage reprisals led to the death of 100,000 people in Batangas province in one campaign (Fast 1973, 75). General Franklin Bell’s estimate of the 600,000 deaths in the island of Luzon alone, added to the other “depopulation” tactics in Samar and Panay where fierce resistance occurred, resulted in over a million deaths (Francisco 1987, 19). On the victor’s side, over $300 million was spent; 4,234 died, 2,818 were wounded, and hundreds of soldiers who returned home to die of service-related diseases such as malaria, dysentery, venereal disease, etc. (Ocampo 1998, 249).
U.S. monopoly capital distinguished itself from old-style colonialism by its systematic planning, its management of time-space coordinates for limitless capital accumulation. Even before the ferocious pacification campaigns were launched, the US already drew schemes for long-term exploitation of the islands. Geological explorations and anthropological surveys were conducted ahead to discover sources of raw materials and manpower. Compilations of immense data on history, ethnolinguistic groups, flora and fauna, etc. provided knowledge for the succeeding colonial administrators in establishing a centralized bureaucracy, civil service and local governments. Unlike Spanish evangelism, the US colonial machinery was geared to using the country for the thorough exploitation of the newly acquired territory, envisaging the eventual expansion of multinational corporations and ultimate global hegemony.
Knowledge-Production for Profit
One example of how knowledge-production functioned to advance imperial hegemony may be found in the US handling of the “Moro problem.” After thorough research and analysis of Moro history, customs and values, the US negotiated with the Sulu sultan and his datus for acceptance of US sovereignty in exchange for preserving the sultanate’s right to collect taxes and sell the local products. A monthly salary of Mexican dollars for the Sultan was also included in the Bates Treaty signed on August 20, 1899 (Agoncillo and Guerrero (1970, 255-56). This neutralized the effective opposition of some Moro elites. But it did not prevent Generals Wood and Pershing, a few years later, from inflicting a scorched-earth retaliation against sporadic intransigence, resulting in the massacre of thousands of Moro men, women and children in the battles of Bud Dajo of March 9, 1906, and Bud Bagsak of June 11, 1913 (Tan 2010, 130).
McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation,” translated into civil governor William Howard Taft’s slogan of “the Philippines for Filipinos,” legitimized the physical occupation of the islands as a preparation of the colonized for eventual self-rule. While brute force was used to destroy organized resistance by the Philippine Republic’s army, the United States deployed three non-violent instruments of subjugation.
The colonial program was both traditional and innovative. First, by coopting the ilustrado mestizo class, the proprietors of commercial land and the compradors, by offering them positions in local municipal boards, the military, and the civil service, the U.S. drastically divided the leadership of the revolutionary forces. By promising democracy and gradual independence, the US won the allegiance of this educated minority who fought Spanish absolutism. Aguinaldo himself swore allegiance to the U.S. a month after his capture, followed by his capitulationist generals and advisers.
Second, by imposing a large-scale public education program to train lower-echelon personnel for a bureaucracy headed by American administrators, the U.S. answered the grievances of the peasantry, artisans and workers against the monopolistic, hierarchical practice of the Spanish-dominated Catholic Church. As a pedagogical tool, the learning of English facilitated wider communication among widely scattered communities, transmitting bourgeois values and serving as the key to obtaining privileges and opportunities in careers and jobs. The massive dissemination of American cultural products (books and magazines, music, films, sports, theater, etc.) reinforced the colonial mindset of the indio masses that would last up to today. This included the pensionado system of government-funded scholarships, the forereunner of fellowships funded by Fulbright, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, and other privately-endowed exchanges promoting the positive side of U.S. “compadre” or philanthropic colonialism.
Third, by propagating through schools and mass media the ideals of liberty, brotherhood, and meritocracy, the US cultivated among the masses the illusion of equal participation in government via elections, social-welfare programs, and token land reform. This synchronized with the democratic ideals expressed by the nationalist propagandists Rizal, Mabini, and others, ideals already embodied in the republican constitution, thus gaining a measure of consent. With the final actualization of these three modes of fashioning the colonial subject of U.S. monopoly capital, the apparatus of the colonial state can now be safely transferred to the mestizo elite and its clientele.
One symptomatic evidence of U.S.-style pedagogical strategy during the war is the incidence of soldier-teachers and hundreds of civilian volunteers from the U.S who fanned out across the islands. Public schools were opened everywhere. The University of the Philippines (established in 1908) and the Bureau of Education spearheaded the training of “Americanized” natives for the professions and the civil service. By 1907 the US established the Philippine Legislature comprised mainly of mestizo elites and token “nationalist” veterans. By 1916 the colonial bureaucracy was in the hands of the comprador and landowning elite, with the American governor general exercising veto power.
The self-proclaimed nationalist leaders Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena took turns sublimating the nationalist aspirations of the people by leading missions to Washington delivering pleas for immediate indepence. This was a shrewd maneuver to calm down the turbulent peasant insurrections in the twenties and thirties, culminating in the Sakdalista insurrections from 1930 to 1935. The Philippine Commonwealth formed in 1935 with the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Law marked the advent of U.S. neocolonial retrenchment.
Crafting A Neocolonial Strategy
After the hasty proclamation of the end of the Philippine-American War in 1902, the U.S. began constructing its hegemony via popular consensus. Schooling, the civil service, and bureaucracy served as ideological apparatuses to accomplish that aim. Since the U.S., unlike Spain, did not claim to save the souls of savage pagans, its “civilizing mission” inhered in the tutelage of the natives for a market-centered democratic polity (insuring free trade and free labor) suited to the needs of finance-monopoly capitalism.
Even before armed hostilities ceased, President McKinley formed a civil government to replace the military officials who managed pacification. In July 1902, the U.S. Congress passed the first Philippine Organic Act establishing the Philippine legislature as provided for by the 1916 Jones Law which promised eventual independence. But it was the 1909 Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act that guaranteed its export-oriented agricultural economy even after formal independence in 1946. It tied the client Filipino sugar landlords and compradors, together with their political representatives, to serve U.S. imperial goals. The Act eliminated the tariff on sugar and created a captive market for American products. However, not much foreign investment came in because earlier legislation limited the size of land holdings, thus preventing American attempts to initiate plantation production of cash crops. This resulted in the conflict with the U.S. sugar beet industry and American investors in Cuban sugar that led to demands for Philippine independence to eliminate U.S. preference for Philippine sugar.
Beginning in 1924, the Filipino oligarchs had to maneuver and negotiate the terms of independence to insure the preservation of their wealth and privileges. In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie act was passed restricting the free entry of Philippine sugar while providing for the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth, an interim formation which served as the blueprint for the post-war neocolony. From 1935 to 1941, the Commonwealth and its American stewards faced growing unrest from a politicized peasantry and impoverished urban workers not fully disciplined by the client-patron pattern of political domination.
Class war resurfaced with the 1935 Sakdalista insurrection on the eve of a general referendum on the ratification of the Philippine Constitution. This was a symptom of the failure of US colonial policies in eradicating the fundamental problem of land ownership and feudal practices. In 1903, 81 percent of all land holdings were cultivated directly by their owners; by 1938, the figure had declined to 49 percent, with the polarization increasing in the post-war decade when, by the 1950s, two-thirds of the population were landless, working as sharecroppers (Fast 1973, 76). In short, US colonialism thrived on the social and political exploitation of the countryside where the majority of Filipinos lived, thus nourishing the source of anti-US imperialist insurgency from that time to the present (for more data on structural inequality, see Canlas, Miranda and Putzel 1988).
Interlude: The Japanese Occupation
Japan easily occupied the Philippines in 1942 after the defeat of General Douglas MacArthur’s forces of Americans and Filipinos in Bataan and Corregidor. Historians now agree that MacArthur’s incompetence in failing to prepare for the invasion explains the most humiliating defeat for the U.S. on record (Rutherford 1971, 155; Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970). Japan thus became the third imperial power to subjugate the Philippines in less than half a century. But its mode of subjugating the country in three and a half years of occupation demonstrates significant features of the pattern already manifested in the way the U.S. took over control from the Spanish colonizers.
Since World War II was basically a rivalry between two industrial powers, the role of the Philippines continued to be geopolitical (as a military base) and economic (source of raw materials and manpower), Japan needed vital raw materials such as copper and food for its war effort. Just like the United States, Japan carried out methodical reconaissance of the cultural and sociopolitical condition of the Philippines many years before Pearl Harbor. In the 1930s and 1940s, Japanese military spies posing as workers worked in the construction of roads and bridges to Baguio City, the summer capital of the U.S. administration. They also carried out social investigation of the political loyalties of the mestizo elite as well as the mass organizations opposed to U.S. rule. They succeeded in gaining the support of General Artemio Ricarte, a respected official of the Aguinaldo Republic, and of Benigno Ramos, the intellectual leader of the Sakdalista party, as well as nationalist politicians such as Jose P. Laurel, Claro Recto and others, who served in the puppet government of the Japanese-sponsored Republic.
Liberating Asians for Japan’s Empire
The ideological cover for Japanese occupation was the scheme of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” The Philippines would be a member of this grand union of Asian nations all united in emancipating themselves from Western domination, and (in the case of the Philippines) from “the oppression of the United States” (Veneracion 1987, 69). Japan echoed Taft’s slogan of “Philippines for the Filipinos,” and encouraged the use of the vernacular and other indigenous cultural forms of expression.
Although aided by local sympathizers of Spain’s fascism (such as the Catholic Church and mestizo compradors), the puppet Republic confronted the underground resistance of the combined forces of the guerillas of the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces of the Far East) and the far more effective Communist-led Huks (acronym for People’s Army Against the Japanese).
The Huk guerilla army emerged from the peasantry’s experience of dispossession and recalcitrance during the first three decades of U.S. rule. They opposed the Japanese confiscation of rice harvests, administered local governments which distributed land and food, and punished collaborators. When MacArthur returned in 1944-45, however, despite their substantial help in crippling the Japanese defense and liberating large areas of the country, the Huks were disarmed, arrested and even massacred (Pomeroy 1992).
The war was the most horrendous experience for the Filipinos. Aside from Manila being entirely destroyed by American bombing and Japanese atrocities, the country suffered over a million deaths, second to the number of casualties during the Philippine-American War. Fifty percent of Filipino prisoners died while the number of civilians killed in the capital city of Manila exceeded those killed by the Japanese in Nanking, China. If the United States did not give priority to the war in Europe, the Philippines would have been freed from the Japanese much earlier. The people were told to wait for U.S. relief, chanelling all their hopes in the promise of MacArthur to redeem them from suffering. The brutality experienced by Filipinos from Japanese military reprisals, helped by long years of colonial education and tutelage, allowed the majority to welcome MacArthur as “the liberator.” It also tended to glamorize the subordinate position of Filipinos as part of “U.S.-Philippines” special relations. MacArthur immediately promoted the representatives of the pre-war oligarchy to crucial positions, endorsing Manuel Roxas, a former collaborator, as president and installing pro-American bureaucrats and military personnel in charge of the State apparatuses.
Under the Tydings-McDuffie law which created the Philippine Commonwealth, the war-devastated Philippines was granted formal independence. But certain conditions defined the limits of nominal sovereignty. The first condition required the Philippine Congress to accept the terms of the 1946 Philippine Trade Act which provided some rehabilitation money to repair the war-damaged economy. More crucially, the Act required an amendment to the Philippine Constitution that gave U.S. citizens equal rights in the exploitation of natural resources and ownership of public utilities and other businesses.
In effect, the colonizers retained their old privileged status. What was more decisive was the revival of the oligarchy’s sugar industry via tariff allowances and quotas, the abrogation of control over import tariffs on U.S. goods, prohibition of interference with foreign exchange (pegging the local currency to the dollar), and unlimited remittance of profits for U.S. corporations. Free trade guaranteed the status of the former possession as a market for finished commodities and investments as well as a source of cheap agricultural products and raw materials. The Act was rammed through Congress by expelling left-wing legislators in line with the CIA-directed military campaign against the Huks (Woddis 1967, 38-40).
The second condition was the approval of the 1947 U.S.-Philippines Treaty of General Relations which empowered the U.S. to exercise supreme authority over extensive military bases. It also guaranteed the property rights of U.S. corporations and citizens, thus nullifying the sovereignty of the new republic. This was followed by the 1947 Military Bases Agreement that guaranteed the U.S. occupation of extensive military bases for 99 years. This included the two major facilities, Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, used as strategic springboards for intervention in Asia and the Middle East during the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Iraq wars. The Agreement also prohibited the Philippines from granting extra-territorial rights to any other country, and placed no restrictions on the uses to which the bases can be harnessed, nor the types of weapons that can be deployed in them (Labor Research Association 1958).
To reinforce its political and military ascendancy, the U.S. also imposed the 1947 U.S.-Philippines Military Assistance Pact to provide military assistance. Together with this, a US military advisory group (JUSMAG) was assigned to the Philipine armed forces that would exercise direct control by supervising staff planning, intelligence personnel training and logistics. All military hardware and financial backing must be cleared through JUSMAG. Meanwhile, the US AID Public Safety Division managed the tutelage of local police agencies. US-supplied weapons, training and logistics were immediately used in the counter-insurgency campaign against the Huks in the early fifties, and later on, to support the parasitic elite and Marcos’ authoritarian regime in the sixties, seventies and eighties.
In a revealing testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1969, Lt. General Robert Warren clarified the role of the U.S. military in the Philppines: “”To provide advice and assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the form of training material and services as necessary to assure protection of US interests in the Philippines and to promote US foreign policy objectives in the area” (US Senate 1969, 242).
In 1954, the terms of free trade that worsened Philippine dependency were modified in the 1954 Laurel-Langley Trade Agreement which extended parity rights to Americans for all kinds of enterprises. Tariff rules were readjusted, thus shifting U.S. leverage to direct private investments into manufacturing instead of raw material production. Due to import controls imposed by the Philippines, the U.S. established assembly and packaging plants to produce consumer goods, thus competing with local industries. This was the refinement of the elaborate apparatus of the multinational or transnational corporations that would dominate post-World War II international trade. Meanwhile, the Philippine economy continued to rely on the U.S. for selling raw materials and buying more expensive technology. In 1970, the U.S. controlled 80% of foreign investments in the country, approximately one-third of all the total equity capital of the 900 largest corporations. This represented 60% of U.S. investments in south-east Asia at that time (Bayani 1976, 18).
Crisis of the Neocolonial Order
At the height of the Cold War, with the U.S. bogged down in the IndoChina war, the Philippines underwent severe economic and social blockages that destabilized the Marcos regime, an instrument of U.S. Cold War strategy but an ironic comment on the role of the Philippines as a traditional showcase for democracy and freedom in Asia.
Marcos dispatched 2,000 troops to Vietnam at the request of Washington. But his economic base had been deteriorating since he won the presidency in the sixties. Intense foreign stranglehold of the economy led to unchecked flow of capital, acute inflation, devaluation and rise of external debt. Exchange control was lifted in 1962, leading to capital outflow: repatriation of profits exceeded overseas investment. The overdependence on basic exports–lumber, sugar, copper, coconuts, and other extracted products–of low value relative to imported finished goods led to a trade deficit of $302 million in 1969 (Fast 1973, 89). In addition, the failure of the “Green Revolution” and the alleged “miracle rice” varieties (developed by the Rockefeller-funded International Rice Research Institute) aggravated the chronic shortage of rice as staple food, renewing the specter of famine and unrest.
Meanwhile, the social contradictions between the oligarchic state and the majority of pauperized peasants sharpened. Although the Huks (renamed People’s Army of Liberation) were violently suppressed by the CIA-backed Magsaysay regime in the fifties, they enjoyed popular support in the extremely polarized countryside. Crippled by the arrest of its leaders in 1950, the Huks evolved into the New People’s Army (NPA) when the Communist Party was reorganized in 1969 by Maoist partisans who matured during the resurgence of the nationalist, anti-imperialist movement evinced in massive student demonstrations, peasant and workers’ strikes, and agitation among professionals such as teachers, journalists, lay and religious workers, women, urban poor, and so on.
One of Marcos’ justifications for declaring martial law in 1972 was the threat of a communist takeover. In actuality, it was an outgrowth of Cold War geopolitics and US attempt to re-assert its hegemony in Asia after its Vietnam debacle. Increased U.S. military and political support for the Marcos dictatorship was insured when Marcos’ guaranteed American business 100% profit remittance as well as opportunities to exploit the country’s natural resources, and also engage in banking, shipping, domestic fishing, and so on (Javate-De Dios, Daroy and Tirol 1988). Later investigations revealed that the bulk of U.S. aid ended up in the foreign bank accounts of the Marcos family and their sycophantic cronies (Bonner 1987).
Total US military aid for the Marcos regime exceeded all those given to Africa or to those for Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, or Chile. Napalm and fragmentation bombs, among others, were supplied through JUSMAG to be used against NPA and Moro insurgents in Mindanao fighting the dictatorship. US AID officials trained police in advanced techniques of riot control, interrogation, and torture tactics applied to political prisoners and detained suspects.
US “Special Forces” were also directly involved in counterinsurgency operations disguised as civic action activities, operations which are still maintained under the terms of the VFA and, more recently, under those of EDCA. These two agreements have virtually legitimized the return of U.S. troops despite the dismantling of all U.S. bases in 1992. One can conclude that “US imperialism, with its economic and military stake in the Philippines, is the instigator and mastermind of the Marcos fascist dictatorship” (Bayani 1976, 38). And it continues to mastermind the human-rights violations, extrajudicial killings and torture, of the succeeding administrations, from those of Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos to Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III.
Aftermath of the 1986 February Revolution
President Corazon Aquino’s regime (1986-1990) was marked by the 1987 massacre of 18 farmers in a peaceful demonstration and by numerous human rights violations through hamletting, “salvaging” (extra-judicial killings), torture, etc. (Maglipon 1987). Both Aquino and her successor, General Fidel Ramos, had the approval of Washington in maintaining a stable market for business and U.S. geopolitical maneuvers in the Middle East. After Ramos, both Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pursued the “Washington Consensus” of abiding by the structural conditionalities of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund in its neoliberal program of deregulation, privatization and dismantling of any large-scale social-service programs for the impoverished and marginalized majority of citizens (Eadie 2005; San Juan 2008). All land-reform programs initiated since 1946 have failed to resolve the age-old problem of landless farmers and iniquitous semi-feudal relatons between landlords and rural workers (Putzel 1992).
In 1992, the Philippine Senate voted to dismantle the U.S. military bases, but did not touch the other Agreements that maintained U.S. supervision of the military and police agencies. The end of the Cold War did not witness a decrease in U.S. military intervention. In 2002, after the 9/11 Al Qaida attacks, the US State Dept declared the Philippines to be the second front in the war against global terrorism (Tuazon et al, 2002) and so required special supervision and surveillance.
Secretary of State Powell categorized the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA as terrorist organizations (Fletcher 2013). While the major Moro groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), were not stigmatized as terrorist, the U.S. singled out the Abu Sayyaf splinter group as a reason for justifying the 1999 VFA and the 2002 Mutual Logistics Support Agreement that allowed the initial troop deployment of 600 Special Operations forces to assist the Philippine military in counter-insurgency operations. The killing of a Filipino transgender in October 2014 by US Marine Private Joseph Scott Pemberton called attention once again to the impunity of U.S. personnel in numerous criminal cases. The VFA gives extra-territorial and extra-judicial rights to visiting American troops, an exceptional condition banned by the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Thus the Philippines could not detain the suspected killer, undermining its national sovereignty and its system of justice (Ayroso 2014).
Meanwhile the MILF is in the process of negotiating a peace agreement with President Aquino under the auspices of the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Malaysian government, while the MNLF has fragmented into various camps since the 1996 accord with the government, a conclusion to the 1976 Tripoli Agreement between the MNLF and Marcos (Graf, Kreuzer and Werning 2009). The government’s dialogue with the National Democratic Front-Philippines remains frozen while the Aquino regime is plagued with corruption, disaster relief, energy shortages, and the stalemate with China over the Scarborough Shoal and Spratley Islands confrontation in which the U.S. Navy and Air Force presence figure prominently (Heydarian 2013).
From Cold War to War on Terror
Since 2002, the joint annual military exercises called “Philippine-US Bilateral Exercises” have been held allegedly to give humanitarian assistance during natural disasters to victimized provinces. They also offer weapons, logistics and other support to the government campaigns to secure peace and order in war zones, or in vital metropolitan areas (as in the 2012 exercise around the National Capitol Region). Just like the Civic Action programs refined during the anti-Huk drives of the fifties, these exercises supplement violent repression with psywar and other unconventional techniques to win “hearts and minds,” closely following the U.S. Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009 and its associated field manuals.
President Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya and President Benigno Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan are updated versions of the counterinsurgency strategy and tactics applied by the U.S. in Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They combine intensive military operations, intelligence and civic action or triad operations, conventional warfare methods, and counterguerilla tactics. The U.S. learned as much from its tutelage of its colonial subjects as Filipinos did through a cross-fertilization of security and espionage practices. The historian Alfred McCoy concludes his inventory of such practices with the remark: “Empire has been a reciprocal process, shaping state formation in Manila and Washington while moving both nations into a mutually implicated postcolonial world” (2009, 522).
The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty continues to legitimize U.S. “low intensity warfare,” such as the sustained anti-NPA drives during President Corazon Aquino’s tenure (Bello 1989). During the Arroyo presidency, the U.S. maintained official headquarters of the U.S.-Philippine Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P) inside the Camp Navarro of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Comnmand in Zamboanga City where Moro insurgents are active. Drones and other sophisticated equipment are handled by U.S. Special Forces against the Abu Sayyaf now valorized as an Al Qaida offshoot, with linkages to other recent terrorist groups such as the Jemaah Islamiyah and the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
To supplement JUSMAG, a new agency called Defense Policy Board was created to handle issues of international terrorism, maritime safety, transnational crime, natural disasters, pandemic outbreaks, etc. Other “cooperative security locations” (as these facilities are euphemistically called) are found in Clark, Subic, Mactan International Airport, and in other clandestine areas (Klare 2005). It is in these areas occupied by U.S. advisers and staff where torture, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings occur. One recent case is that of American health worker Melissa Roxas who was kidnapped and tortured by military agents in 2009. Documenting the accelerated kidnappings and extra-judicial murders of activists already publicized by Amnesty International and UN rapporteurs such as Philip Alston, the Filipino group KARAPATAN noted the 1,111 percent increase of military assistance to the Arroyo regime beginning 2001 when the first Balikatan exercise was held (Lefebvre 2010). This aid continues indiscrimiinately with horrendous consequences.
In March 2007, the Permanent People’s Tribunal based in Europe heard witnesses about government abuses and judged Presidents Bush and Arroyo guilty of crimes against humanity” (San Juan 2007, Appendix C). The verdict reviews the U.S. imposition of virtual colonial status on the Philippines via numerous military and security agreements that insured domination over the economy, State apparatus, and internal security.
Under the guise of the global “war on terror” against extremists, the U.S. continues to deploy and station thousands of troops, at any one time, in the Philippines. They participate in combat operations against local insurgents–a gross violation of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Tribunal observed that “because of its strategic location, the Philippines is vital for the U.S. projection of military force in East Asia and as far away as the Middle East,” serving as transit points and refueling stations in its wars of aggression against the people of Afghanistan and of Iraq, as well as the people of the Philippines. President Bush was an accomplice of President Arroyo in the systematic violation of the rights of the Filipino people, which are also crimes of humanity. U.S. mperialism was indicted as an international scourge.
From the sixteenth century to the present, imperialism, whether in the mode of Spanish old-style colonialism, Japanese militarism, and U.S. tutelage in modernization/developmentalism, represents one of the worst manifestations of an oppressive system of exploitation of peoples that have been outlawed by the United Nations Charter and its Declaration of Human Rights. Nonetheless, it persists today in the Philippines where a people’s national-democratic, socialist-oriented revolution, with a long and durable tradition, thrives in a collective project to eradicate this historic legacy (San Juan 2008) The history of the Philippines may be read as one long chronicle of the people’s struggle against colonialism and imperialism for the sake of affirming human dignity and universal justice.
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