WITH the usual irony was June 12 marked this year in a country hardly aware of its history. Benigno Aquino III spoke at Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan, where the First Philippine Republic was inaugurated on January 23, 1899, less than a year after Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was at the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan. Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas was in Kawit, while Vice President Jejomar Binay was at the usual flag-raising at Manila’s Rizal Park.
Aquino spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Mr. Aquino’s presence at Barasoain and that of other officials in the iconic sites of the Philippine struggle for independence was “one way of imbibing the historical significance of these places.”
Lacierda didn’t say who should be doing the “imbibing” of the historical significance of Barasoain, Kawit, etc. But together with the dunces and dupes among the population distinguished by their lack of sense, whether historical or otherwise, the Aquino government is a most likely candidate for history lessons .
A scant two days earlier, on June 10, Mr. Aquino had returned from the United States where he had supposedly obtained a billion dollars in investment pledges. The pledges came despite the US economy’s being in its worst state since the depression, with factories shut down and millions of jobs lost, which suggests that these pledges were made in furtherance of US political aims in the Philippines. Mr. Aquino had also been assured by President Barack Obama that the US is with the Philippines not only in the Scarborough Shoal standoff with China, but in any other conflict as well.
The US has been telling other countries and peoples what they want to hear while doing the opposite for more than a century. Over a hundred years ago, then Commodore George Dewey, who was in command of the US naval flotilla anchored in Manila Bay, even sent representatives to Kawit to attend the proclamation of Philippine independence. Earlier, the US consul in Hong Kong had urged the then exiled Emilio Aquinaldo to return to the Philippines to resume the struggle against the Spaniards.
Aguinaldo took the advice – one of the first instances in which the US actively interfered in Philippine affairs – to mean US support for Philippine independence, but later discovered that he had been duped. For all of US claims that it didn’t need colonies, it had had its eye on the Philippines all along as a coaling station for its ships and as the gateway to the vast China market.
While Mr. Aquino was enjoying a one-on-one meeting with Obama and lunching with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington – and apparently believing what they were saying – Philippine defense undersecretary Honorio Azcueta arrived from Singapore where he had met with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Azcueta told reporters that the Aquino government, obviously on Dempsey’s urging, had agreed to the use by US troops, warships and aircraft of “their” former military bases in Subic and Clark, 20 years after those facilities and several others all over the Philippines had been shut down after nearly nine decades of US occupation, by the Senate’s rejection of a new treaty renewing their lease.
Part of the context of Azcueta’s announcement was the continuing presence of US troops in the Philippines since 2002, thanks to the Visiting Forces Agreement. The VFA does violence to the concept of” visiting,” since as a contingent, US troops have been in the country for ten years, the “visiting” part applying only to individuals, who are, naturally, deployed on a “rotational” basis, as all troops are.
The US has also announced an emphasis on Asia and the Pacific in its “new” global strategy, although US forces have always been very much in evidence in the region. China has interpreted this alleged shift as a threat against it, despite assurances from such US officials as Clinton that the US has only the purest intentions in throwing more air and sea craft and troops into the various countries of Asia, including the Philippines, and negotiating for basing rights with them. Apparently China remembers what US assurances were worth in the past.
Meanwhile, in his speech at Barasoain two days after he arrived from his pilgrimage to the US, Mr. Aquino pledged to defend the Constitution, focusing on the need for it to be observed, particularly by government officials. He did not mention that the Constitution also bars the stationing of “foreign troops, bases and facilities” in the Philippines without the benefit of a treaty, and that the constitutionality of the VFA has itself been challenged. The same Constitution mandates an “independent foreign policy,” meaning focused on the country’s best interests rather than on kowtowing to any foreign power, whether it be the US, China, or any other pretender to global hegemony.
But perhaps charmed by Obama – whose reputation as a liberal apparently applies best to his free use of drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and recently, Yemen, to kill hundreds of alleged terrorist leaders including their families and neighbors – Mr. Aquino also agreed to accept even more US troops for “rotation” in the Philippines, using “their” former bases, since some 8,000 US troops are being redeployed from Okinawa, Japan to Southeast Asia.
No one noted the irony between the celebration of the country’s 114th anniversary as an independent nation, and the Aquino government’s enthusiasm for US approval, patronage and troop deployments despite the perils of playing the US marionette.
To protect and advance its interests, the US demonstrated in Vietnam in the 1960s, in Iraq and Afghanistan in this century, and in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th, that war has always been its preferred option to compel others to bow to its wishes, and revive its failing economy.
Of even more moment is US troops’ being used for whatever purpose it may please Washington, whether by taking sides in a domestic crisis, involvement in anti-insurgency, or, as we saw last year in Pakistan, even in the assassination of anyone it considers a threat to it and its interests even if it means violating the sovereignty of a country it calls its ally.
Meanwhile, Philippine experience tells us that the presence of foreign troops distinguished by their ignorance of other cultures and armed with a sense of racial and imperial entitlement too often leads to such abuses as rapes and the shooting of civilians, among other “irritants,” and, in one case involving US troops currently in Mindanao, these foreign occupiers’ acting like colonial overlords (such as when a US Marine sergeant ordered the closing of a public health clinic in Sulu for allegedly treating terrorists).
One hundred and fourteen years ago, Emilio Aguinaldo declared in Kawit that Filipinos should not allow Philippine independence to be taken from them either through force or with the use of “soft words.” He must be spinning in his grave.