NARRATIVES OF FRIENDSHIP
RENATO REDENTOR CONSTANTINO
October 18, 2004
"It always comes back to the present - which is unsurprising, since it's the only place we ever actually are."[i] So wrote the eminent editor Tom Engelhardt as he gazed at the global landscape. Engelhardt gazed at the world and saw America everywhere. He gazed at America and saw Iraq. He gazed at Baghdad and saw Saigon. Engelhardt gazed across America and saw courage and perseverance and turbulence and fear. "Are we in Baghon or Saidad?" he asked no one and everyone in particular as US forces hurled their armed venom at Iraqi cities while American -trained Iraqi troops stayed in the background. The Iraqis had been trusted once when other cities under the sway of Iraqi rebels were under siege. But not after whole formations either defected or refused to engage their Iraqi kin.
"Forty percent of my staff are Vietcong men and women," one of Vietnamese Prime Minister Cao Ky's ministers once told a newsman in 1966. An understatement, the same newsman replied. "American camps and offices teem with them, and the girls whom the American officers take to cocktail parties are more often than not, Vietcong agents. Such agents also exist in the highest ranks of the South Vietnamese government and army."
"Memory," said the novelist Paul Auster, "is the space in which a thing happens for the second time." And if the thing happens thrice? Who's to know? "[M]ost of the towns secretly organized complete insurgent municipal governments to proceed simultaneously and in the same sphere as the American governments and in many instances through the same personnel," said US General Arthur MacArthur of Filipino rebels in a report he wrote in 1900 - a year after America had annexed the Philippines.[ii]
Memory is a curious thing. We can only invent with it according to Alphonse Karr, and yet without it we are led blindly and so easily by invented memories - such as American benevolence and special relations and friendship.
Who remembers the day America granted independence to the Philippines in 1946? Many. Who remembers why independence was "bestowed"? Very few.
The fourth of July of 1946. A "remarkable spectacle" of a day which saw "the world's preeminent power voluntarily relinquishing sovereignty over a nation it had acquired 48 years earlier in the Spanish-American War."
That the Philippines was acquired forcibly at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Filipino lives almost half a century earlier mattered little for the self-satisfied Americans and for most of the rain-soaked crowd of 400,000 who had assembled in Luneta Park and cheered that day. Independence had finally "returned" to the Philippines, said US Sen. Millard Tydings, in "one of the most unprecedented, most idealistic, and most far-reaching events in all recorded history."[iii]
The Second World War left the Philippines in shambles. Filipinos fought at the frontline of the war against the Axis powers and by consequence suffered greatly. Large swaths of Manila, once known as the Pearl of the Orient, was reduced to rubble.[iv] The countryside lay in ruins, government coffers were empty and people were starving.
One day America gazed at his suffering ally and was moved to tears. Generous aid and immediate independence - these are the things that my friend deserves, thought America as he approached his devastated loyal comrade, Filipina. "I'll make you an offer you can't refuse," whispered the solemn Don America Corleone to Filipina's ear.
Filipina nodded solemnly while America made his offer; she knew it was an offer she would find difficult to refuse. "Here is the gift of immediate independence," said America to Filipina, "and here is $620 million in rehabilitation aid." But first, Don Corleone said gently as he pulled back his hand and withdrew his bequest, you must do for me a couple of things:
You must embrace the Bell Trade Act (an instrument drawn up by the US which, among other things, forbade the Philippines from manufacturing or selling any products that might come into substantial competition with US-made products.[v] You must embrace Parity (a provision in the Act which required the Philippines to grant to US citizens and corporations equal access to Philippine minerals, forests, seas and other natural resources). And you must embrace a military bases agreement which grants me free use of over twenty base sites in your land for 99 years - renewable on expiration.
It's just three hugs, Don America sighed to Filipina. But make one less, the good Don warned, and the only payment I will allow you to receive for your suffering in the war will be compensation valued at close to nothing.[vi] God bless friendship: pending Philippine acceptance of the Bell Trade Act, a provision was inserted in the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of the US which prohibited payments above $500 for war damage compensation.
US-bestowed independence, decried Filipino intellectual and industrialist Salvador Araneta, made "the Philippines politically independent on paper, but in reality an economic vassal."[vii] You got that right sneered a US senator named Millard Tydings. The same Tydings who lauded the US turn-over of sovereignty to the Philippines and the same Tydings who, during his sponsorship of the Bell bill in the US Senate, admitted that "most of the people . . . who favored this bill are fundamentally opposed to [Philippine] independence . . . Their philosophy is to keep the Philippines economically even though we lose them politically."
An imperial embrace - this was America's reward for Filipino heroism and misplaced loyalty.
"When the stag, fatally wounded, staggers to some hidden spot to die, the vultures, we are told, start gathering for the feast," wrote the Philippines Free Press on April 5, 1946. "Mortally stricken by this war which has taxed its resources to the limit and sacrificed the flower of its youth, the Philippines stands at bay, and the vultures are gathering."[viii]
[i]"Are we in Saidad or Baghgon?" Tom Engelhardt, www.tomdispatch.com, September 2004
[ii] Renato Constantino, Insight and Foresight, The Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1977.
[iii] "The independence day that wasn't," Alan Berlow, December 17, 1996. Originally in Hector Santos, ed., Philippine Centennial Series.
[iv] Richard Connaughton, John Pimlott and Duncan Anderson, The Battle for Manila, Platypus Publishing, 1995.
[v] Renato Constantino and Letizia R. Constantino, The Philippines: The Continuing Past, Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1978.
[vi] The Philippine Rehabilitation Act, which offered $620million, ultimately benefited propertied individuals and corporations. Moreover, since rehabilitation aid was not confined to Filipino citizens, among the biggest beneficiaries were the American businessmen who had investments in the country before the war in the form of shops, factories, buildings, and mines and other enterprises. The Philippines: The Continuing Past, pp. 198-205.
[vii] Salvador Araneta, America's double-cross of the Philippines: A Democratic Ally in 1899 and 1946, Sahara Heritage Foundation, 1999.
[viii] Hernando J. Abaya, Betrayal in the Philippines, Malaya Books, 1970.