Dependence Day

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With no sense of irony, it seems, did the United States “grant” Philippine independence on the same date as its own independence day, nearly half a century after Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed independence in Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898, and the First Republic was established in Malolos, Bulacan on January 23, 1899.

A succession of administrations from 1946 onwards saw nothing wrong with the presumption in the US’ July 4 “grant” that independence is a gift from the American government rather than a reality that had already been won from Spain through the sacrifices of an entire generation of patriots when the US occupied the country at the turn of the 20th century.

It took four Presidents — Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, and Carlos P. Garcia — before the Philippine government, through then President Diosdado Macapagal, corrected that travesty by declaring June 12th as the country’s true Independence Day.

Despite that significant change, no other Philippine President, with the exception of Garcia, whose promise to adopt a “Filipino First” policy earned him the threat of a coup d’etat, ever saw the need to depart from Roxas’ pledge in 1946 to follow in the “glistening wake of America” and to “place our trust in (its) good intentions.”

It was during Quirino’s term that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines was signed. But the unpopular Quirino didn’t quite suit US interests, particularly its need to keep the country in its orbit by, among other means, defeating the Huk rebellion. Thus its support for the presidential ambitions of the pliable Magsaysay, during whose watch the Huks were indeed crushed with CIA help, and the web of military and other engagements he entered into with the US bound the Philippines even closer to its former colonizer.

After Macapagal, Ferdinand Marcos sent the Philippine Civic Action Group (Philcag) to Vietnam in support of the US war of aggression there, and cleared with the US his declaration of martial law in 1972. Among his justifications for one-man rule was that it would enable him to reverse the decisions of the Supreme Court that tended to foster economic nationalism.

Corazon Aquino was confident that she would get US support when she ran against Marcos in 1986, and depended on her US links to help keep her in power.
It was during the term of Fidel Ramos, Aquino’s successor, that the first Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed, and a law passed further liberalizing the climate for foreign investments.

Supposedly a nationalist, Joseph Estrada’s watch was short-lived, but was significantly characterized by the signing of the second Visiting Forces Agreement, and the passage of a law providing more incentives to multinational firms.

Estrada’s successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo repeatedly visited the US, pledged unconditional Philippine support for any and all US responses to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and signed the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MSLA) that even further strengthened the Visiting Forces Agreement. The VFA provisions contrary to Philippine interests demanded renegotiation, but Arroyo yielded to US pressure to keep the Agreement as it was — and as it still is.

During the term of Benigno Aquino, III, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed, which further expanded US troop access to Philippine military bases. His administration also solicited US help in putting a halt to Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

What all of these demonstrate is how the dynasties that have been in control of the Philippine government since 1946 have been, and still are, dependent on, and beholden to, US approval, patronage, and support.

Rodrigo Duterte seemed determined to chart a new course. He recalled the cost in Filipino lives and the brutality of US intervention in the Philippines, and pledged to pursue an independent foreign policy, which can only mean departing from every administration’s policies supportive of US economic and military interests no matter the damage to the Philippines’ own.

He also promised to put an end to the Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) war games by the end of 2016, declared that the country would no longer participate in US military exercises and that it has “separated” from its imperial patron, and harshly criticized the US human rights record during the Philippine-American War and the US occupation of the Philippines.

These promises have been exactly that — promises. Mr. Duterte’s control over both Houses of Congress could have enabled him to amend or outrightly abrogate the multitude of treaties and agreements that bind the Philippines to the US. But the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty is still in force, and so is the VFA, the MSLA, and EDCA.

In violation of the Constitutional ban on foreign military bases, the US now has access to at least five Philippine military bases all over the archipelago, and is constructing storage and personnel facilities in which to house its troops and their equipment. Despite Mr. Duterte’s description of the September 2016 war games as “the last,” the US-Philippine Balikatan war games were still held last May in affirmation of the regime’s continuing commitment to preserving US influence in the training and indoctrination of the Philippine military.

Of equal significance is the Duterte regime’s focus on amending the Constitution not only to weaken its Bill of Rights provisions but also to remove from it the prohibitions on foreign ownership of land, public utilities, and mass media as well as to provide even more incentives to foreign companies.

As if the country’s continuing to be a US dependency were not bad enough, Mr. Duterte has further compromised and damaged Philippine sovereignty by surrendering to Chinese military and economic interests.

Not only has he turned a blind eye to Chinese militarization of the area and even its forces’ harassment of fisher folk in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone. He has also encouraged the further enhancement of the dependency mindset so rampant among many Filipinos by declaring that the Philippines, rather than relying on its own resources, needs China’s support, and that it will protect the country. He has at the same time opened the country to Chinese corporations, allowed the entry of over a hundred thousand Chinese businessmen and gaming company staff, and in at least one instance, welcomed a Chinese warplane’s refueling in Davao City.

Chinese interests are deeply involved in the “rehabilitation” of Boracay, where tourists have been barred for six months in apparent preparation for turning that island into a gambling resort controlled by a Macau-based company. Chinese contractors including two blacklisted by the World Bank for corruption are also part of the multi-billion reconstruction of Marawi City, which the regime bombed into rubble last year.

Instead of a country firmly committed to an independent foreign policy, the defense of its sovereignty, and the pursuit of true independence, what the Philippines is turning into during the two years since Mr. Duterte came to power is a client state that’s even more dependent on the imperialist powers, and in mortal danger of being the doormat not only of one foreign overlord, but of two.

June 12 should remind the Filipino people of those aspirations for social change and authentic independence that drove the Philippine Revolution and that have been at the heart of their shared history and common purpose for over a hundred years. But the realization of those aspirations — the transformation of Philippine independence from illusion to reality and the making of a just and prosperous society — will never happen as long as the country is ruled by the descendants of the principalia that collaborated with Spanish colonial rule, and whom the US trained for “self government” during its formal occupation of the Philippines to assure the country’s transformation into a neo-colony once its “independence” is “granted.”

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from PCOO.

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