Saturday, July 04, 2009

Born on the 4th of July?

The Filipino people used to celebrate their Independence Day on the 4th of July, the same day the people of the United States celebrated theirs.

It was not until 1964 when Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal changed it back to the date when Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed our independence from colonial rulers in Kawit, Cavite in 1898.

Hence, we Filipinos now observe June 12th as our Independence Day while July 4th was subsequently renamed as the Philippine-American Friendship Day.

Our “friendship” with Uncle Sam goes back a long way and it’s a good thing, as many would attest to that by saying that it’s really good to have a big brother looking out for you. Many believe that the Philippines benefited a lot from its friendship with the United States more than the United States benefited from us.

What if I tell you that it's the other way around? Indulge me.

History will tell us that Uncle Sam (even if he will not admit to it or give us proper credit for it) has a lot to thank his Little Brown Brother for, without whom the United States would not have been what it is now today -- the only Superpower in the world both economically (even with the on-going recession) and militarily (can afford to fight war in two fronts e.g. Iraq & Afghanistan).

But somewhere back in time, the United States was not a dominant world power per se. It only became one when they emerged victorious during the Spanish-American War wherein “mighty” Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States for $20 million at the Treaty of Paris in 1898.

The euphoria of winning the war against Spain rubbed on the American politicians and leaders with imperialistic mentality at that time, among them Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, that led to the annexing of the Philippines by the United States, under the guise of "Benevolent Assimilation" to justify the move.

Thus, we can trace the emergence of the US as a world power and the birth of its propaganda machine vis-a-vis its foreign policies with the appointment by President McKinley of Cornell University President, Dr. Jacob Schurman, to the so-called First Philippine Commission, which doomed the aspirations of the Filipinos, headed by Emilio Aguinaldo, of becoming an independent country after 333 years of Spanish rule.

The Schurman commission’s report about the Philippine situation became the blueprint of the United States’ foray into the international stage to quench its imperialistic goals. Many of its succeeding policies that were implanted then and up to the present were lifted or can be traced to that piece of paper. Funny, but the content of which is very familiar to us, people who follow the news everyday-

"Should our power by any fatality be withdrawn, the commission believe that the government of the Philippines would speedily lapse into anarchy, which would excuse, if it did not necessitate, the intervention of other powers and the eventual division of the islands among them. Only through American occupation, therefore, is the idea of a free, self-governing, and united Philippine commonwealth at all conceivable. And the indispensable need from the Filipino point of view of maintaining American sovereignty over the archipelago is recognized by all intelligent Filipinos and even by those insurgents who desire an American protectorate. The latter, it is true, would take the revenues and leave us the responsibilities. Nevertheless, they recognize the indubitable fact that the Filipinos cannot stand alone. Thus the welfare of the Filipinos coincides with the dictates of national honour in forbidding our abandonment of the archipelago. We cannot from any point of view escape the responsibilities of government which our sovereignty entails; and the commission is strongly persuaded that the performance of our national duty will prove the greatest blessing to the peoples of the Philippine Islands."

Despite the objection and opposition of conscientious Americans and the Anti-Imperialist League in the US, the US government proceeded with the annexation of the Philippine Islands, where it ended up embroiled in a bitter and shameful war that it tried to bury in oblivion.

The playwright Mark Twain, one of the leaders of the anti-imperialist movement wrote, “I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti- imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”

He also noted that, “There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it — perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands — but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector — not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now — why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I'm sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.”

The Philippine-American War (or the Philippine War for Independence) was downgraded by US government spin doctors into the so-called Philippine Insurrection Campaign and was omitted in many history books in the United States. You will be lucky to find a book on the subject in most libraries in the continental United States. Instead, in its place, you will find an abundance of thick and glossy volumes that glorified the “Liberation” of the Philippines in World War II.

In these books, they inculcated into the American consciousness the US role in the “just” war: liberating the Philippines from the hands of the evil Japanese Empire. And at the same time, they also etched into the Filipinos' psyche the gratitude to the American liberators that as if by doing so, they would be absolved of their past wrongdoings and that the sins of the past would just go away.

In essence, the Philippine-American War was a war that the United States wants and hopes to forget. It was a war that is bound to be forgotten. But it was a war that they had no right to be in, in the first place. It was a horrific war that the United States refuses to acknowledge its culpability nor issue an apology even more than a hundred years after it happened.

The United States still maintain that the doctrine of benevolent assimilation was the best thing that ever happened to the Philippines. They say that Uncle Sam gave the Filipino people an education. But did Uncle Sam really educate us?

As a result of the 50+ years of benevolent assimilation, the Philippine population was reduced by more than one and a half million out of its 7 million inhabitants, with the island of Samar becoming the poster for genocide when it became a “howling wilderness” on orders of Gen. Jacob H. Smith to annihilate all male natives from 10 years old and above, that was termed as the “pacification” campaign.

Gen Smith’s order was clear to his subordinates, “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn, the better you will please me” in retaliation for the deaths of 40 US soldiers when they were attacked by the natives in the town of Balangiga. The reprisal was indeed a thousand times harsher wherein non-combatants like women and children were not spared by the orgy of death and looting. The American soldiers also carted away everything in sight, including the town’s church bells as war booty.

More than a century later, the church bells have still not been returned to the Philippines, despite repeated demands and petitions from both Filipinos and well-meaning Americans alike, including a failed promise to look into the matter by then President Bill Clinton. The church bells are currently in the possessions of the 9th Infantry Regiment in its base at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea and the 11th Infantry Regiment at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Yes, through the 50+ years of benevolent assimilation, the Philippines has a lot of things to thank the United States for.

The list might be endless, so for the sake of brevity, I'll just focus on some obvious facts--

Long before the Nazis hauled the Jews into concentration camps in Dachau and Treblinka, the United States did it first to the Filipinos in Batangas, Marinduque, etc. by way of the so-called “protected zones.”

Long before the term “hamletting” was coined during the Vietnam War, the Filipinos experienced it first hand from the American occupying forces. Hamletting is the practice of displacing residents and holding them literally under the gun for days on end.

Long before the Nazis practiced the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question", the United States did it to the "Filipino Question."

Long before the advent of “Free Trade”, the US government gave us the Bell Trade Act and other “freebies” towards the “fair use” of our natural resources.

Long before the schemes concocted by the likes of Bernie Madoff and the Banking Sector screwed the American people, the United States Government's Rescission Act of 1946 did them first to the Filipino World War II veterans.

Long before the practice of water-boarding by the US Military in Iraq and Guantanamo came to light, the US Military did it first to the Filipinos a century earlier.

In the words of Lt. Grover Flint during the Philippine-American War, quoted in Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, Stuart Creighton Miller (1982)-

"A man is thrown down on his back and three or four men sit or stand on his arms and legs and hold him down; and either a gun barrel or a rifle barrel or a carbine barrel or a stick as big as a belaying pin, -- that is, with an inch circumference, -- is simply thrust into his jaws and his jaws are thrust back, and, if possible, a wooden log or stone is put under his head or neck, so he can be held more firmly. In the case of very old men I have seen their teeth fall out, -- I mean when it was done a little roughly. He is simply held down and then water is poured onto his face down his throat and nose from a jar; and that is kept up until the man gives some sign or becomes unconscious. And, when he becomes unconscious, he is simply rolled aside and he is allowed to come to. In almost every case the men have been a little roughly handled. They were rolled aside rudely, so that water was expelled. A man suffers tremendously, there is no doubt about it. His sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown. ..."

And let us not forget that the iconic .45 caliber pistol was invented when Gen. Pershing and his men requested for more firepower when they found out that their firearms were proven ineffective in stopping the pesky “Moro Juramentados" in their tracks.

In retrospect, we can aver that Uncle Sam owes his stature (in terms of economic and military power) in the world today to his Little Brown Brother who stood by his side through thick and thin.

And as they usually say, with a big brother like him on our side, who needs an enemy?

Long Live the Filipino-American Friendship Day!

Note: A good friend gave me a book today. I will read it once I'm done with Lustbader's The Bourne Deception, Clavell's Shogun, Cornwell's Scarpetta and Patterson's Cross Country.

photo credits: Life Magazine, New York Journal


karmi said...

Lots of horrible memories and too much sacrife and waste on Filipinos' side. I say waste because a great majority of Filipinos do not even know or care about their history. I'm one of those. I do not know much though I'd like to care a little more.

Arashi-KIshu said...

Amen, brother. Harinawa ay mas maraming Pinoy ang maging tulad mo, na alam kung ano ang dinanas ng Pilipinas bago tayo naging malaya (?)

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