Again, No Lessons from the past
By Mariano “Anong” Santos
Left: Admiral George Dewey directing the mock Battle of Manila Bay, May 1,1898. US' total casualty: one engineer who died of heat stroke.
U.S. President Obama finally visited Manila, April 28. He was scheduled to drop by last year but he scrapped his plans because of the budget-standoff in Washington. During his brief stay, he assured President Aquino that the U.S. will honor its commitment to help defend the Philippines.
Because of China's aggression in the South China Sea, Filipino leaders could hardly wait to roll the welcome mat for U.S. troops to use again the bases they vacated in September 1991 when the Philippine Senate had ended the U.S. lease on 37 U.S. military installations including the strategic Subic Naval base.
Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have similar territorial disputes with China but they are not relentlessly pursuing to sacrifice their sovereignty with any foreign power. Japan has, of course, to comply with a military treaty that it entered into with the U.S. right after it surrendered in 1945 when WWII ended.
Nationalist writer Manuel Almario wisely noted in a recent article that Japan's military treaty with the U.S. has more teeth with regard to protecting Japan's interest if China declares war over its claim over islands now occupied by Japan. The treaty categorically requires the U.S. to come immediately to the aid of Japan, a former enemy of the U.S., if Japan is attacked by an enemy.
This cannot be said with that mutual defense treaty of the Philippines with the U.S. which carries a weak clause that even if the Philippines is attacked by an outside power, a U.S. military intervention needs first the approval of the U.S. Congress. Well, remember last year when Obama wanted to attack Syria but he had to get first the consent of Congress which promptly rejected his request.
That's similar with the agreement that the Philippines has with the U.S. You can bet that a war-weary U.S. will think twice about getting embroiled in a military conflict with China. It is all about self-interests. On what are those? U.S. is now dependent on its external borrowings on Chinese's huge cash surplus. Then there are Apple's, WalMart's, Skidmore, Owing & Merrill's, etc. multi-billion corporate investments in China.
Above photo: Filipino activists protest Obama's visit in Manila April 28. US to help but won't antagonize China.
It is not about helping the Philippines' maintaining the integrity of its territorial boundaries. It's more like the U.S. maintaining its free access on the water and air space within the disputed area of the South China Sea. To be able to park again its troops in the Philippines makes it easier for the U.S. to get what it wants. Again, that's fine for the U.S. and any country for that matter. The problem is that Filipinos cannot say the same thing for their leaders. This problem plagues the Philippine foreign policy for a long long time now.
Echo from the past
The present concerns of the Philippines in relation with the U.S. are an echo of what the Filipino Freedom Fighters faced in 1898. U.S. diplomats in Singapore, Thailand (Siam, then) and Hong Kong spun a web of deception in negotiating with Emilio Aguinaldo about a mutual military struggle to defeat the moribund Spanish colonialists from the Philippines.
Aguinaldo ignored the admonitions of his foreign affairs secretary, Apolinario Mabini who warned the naïve president of the First Philippine Republic that the U.S. Naval Armada came not to help the Filipino revolutionaries but to make the Philippines a stepping stone to the teeming market of Asia.
Admiral George Dewey and U.S. diplomats and generals were under instructions from Washington's War Department not to put in writing any wild promises they made to lure young Filipino leaders in believing that the Americans dropped anchor at Manila Bay to make sure that the Filipinos would gain their independence just like their Cuban counterparts in the Caribbean.
When independence was proclaimed on June 12, 1898, Admiral Dewey conveniently stayed at his flagship, Olympia, and ignored the festivities in Kawit, Cavite. He carefully did not make any U.S. endorsement of the proclamation and refused to call Aguinaldo, President.
Armed with U.S. guns paid for from the settlement given by the Spaniards as a result of the truce of Biak-na-Bato, Aguinaldo's army won a series of victories against the dispirited Spanish troops until the Filipinos had taken over the Philippine territories except for Manila which the Filipino Army was ready to take over as early as July 1898 when Aguinaldo's troops had encircled the capital city.
Manila was the symbolic seat of the Spanish colonial government. It was the place where Aguinaldo could have declared a complete victory over the Spaniards. But U.S. generals knew that in a matter of few days, battalions of U.S. Army volunteers were due from San Francisco. They pulled every conceivable deception in preventing Aguinaldo and his troops in entering Manila until they could impose their will with their military might.
American dirty tricks
Again, Mabini and Antonio Luna among other patriots were aghast with Aguinaldo who had conceded liberated areas to the Americans. Pasay, Baclaran, Tambo and Paranaque where trenches were built by Filipinos would soon be occupied by newly arrived American soldiers—thanks to Aguinaldo could not see through Dewey's dark designs.
One of the dirty tricks U.S officers did was to scare the remnants of the Spanish colonial government --that the Filipinos would commit atrocities against the Spanish population especially the hated clergymen. The Americans conveniently made a secret alliance with its Spanish enemy to gang-up on the Filipino freedom fighters.
At this point, the Americans realized that the Filipinos were now an impediment on their real purpose of securing a base for their colonial adventure. Manila Bay and Subic Bay were ideal coaling stations---deep water surrounded by mountain ranges that were safe havens from typhoons. Back in the States, the stock market became bullish on the news that Dewey demolished the antiquated Spanish Armada during the mock Battle of Manila Bay, May 1st, 1898.
Even isolationist President William McKinley was close to being persuaded by expansionist- leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and fellow Methodists who saw an opportunity to "Christianize" the Filipino heathens. Instead of just establishing coaling stations, the imperialists wanted the whole archipelago.
Aguinaldo's decision is the reason why the First Philippine Republic was short-lived. After August 12, 1898, Aguinaldo would be on the run—pursued by the new colonialists as the leader of the "insurectos." The yellow journalists in the U.S. presented him to the American reading public as a bandit and the revolutionaries as savages. An estimated one million Filipinos would perish in the Filipino American War of 1899-1903. Historians would call this obscure war as America's First Viet Nam.
Root of Dependency
As a colony, the Philippines did not enjoy much protection from the U.S. Despite of being an American colony, it was abandoned during WWII in favor of the War in Europe. The valiant defenders of Bataan and Corregidor were deceived that a U.S. Convoy was on the way in early 1942 to reinforce the battered remnants of Douglas MacArthur's army. (Some 60,000 soldiers died and yet, war veterans could not even get a fair and decent pension.)
Help did not come—at least, not until early 1945, when the U.S. liberators indiscriminately bombed the Philippines. Manila was the most devastated city in WWII second only to Warsaw. In the presidential elections of 1946, Americans backed Japanese collaborator Manuel Roxas who did what he was told to continue protecting U.S. military and economic interests.
Two onerous treaties—the Parity Amendment and the Mutual Defense Act were dumped on the suffering electorate to be approved in a referendum in exchange for war reparations. The root of Filipino dependency on Washington went even deeper. Analysts said these treaties were the reasons for the Filipinos' economic and political backwardness.
The question again is—did Filipinos learn from the lessons of the past, even as new agreements are being work out with Washington?
Apolinario M. Mabini, known as the "Brain of the Revolution" died on May 13, 1903, shortly after he came back from Guam where he was exiled because he refused to pledge allegiance to the American flag. He served as the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Secretary in the Aguinaldo Cabinet. He was born on July 23, 1864 in Tanauan, Batangas. He obtained his law degree from the University of St. Tomas. At age, 29, he contracted polio which paralyzed him for life—thus, he was called the "Sublime Paralytic." This year, Mabini would have been 150 years old.