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Ruminations on US-Philippine relations

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Andrew J. Masigan

Numbers Don’t Lie

Ruminations on US-Philippine relations

Last week, I attended a forum on the state of Philippine-American relations with American Ambassador H.E. Sung Y. Kim addressing the crowd.

Sponsored by the Asian Society, I expected the talk to be chock-full of revelations and fresh insights considering President Duterte’s many tirades against the United States. We still recall how the President threatened to “break-up” with Uncle Sam in favor of forming a tri-axis of power with China and Russia. On another occasion, he referred to president Obama as a “son of a whore” following his criticisms of human rights violations.

To everyone’s chagrin, the American envoy offered no great reveal nor new insights. He stayed on the safe zone all throughout, stressing that personalities do not dictate relationships between nations.

In the case of America and the Philippines, ours lay on the foundation of our shared values, shared history and shared interests. Besides, the ambassador reiterated, rhetoric is one thing — but public policy is another. As far as diplomatic policies are concerned, the relationship between both nations have never been stronger.

This relationship is best exemplified in the numerous treaties that bind us, said the Ambassador.

Among them is the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the Partnership for (economic) Growth Initiative. Various educational programs further strengthen our bond including the Fulbright Scholarship Program and the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative.

Even more than treaties between governments, however, ties among people and businesses are what really solidify a relationship, emphasized the Ambassador. There are 4 million Filipinos living the US who remit $6.4 billion to the homeland every year. On the other hand, there are approximately 400,000 Americans who call the Philippines their home. In terms of trade, roughly $14 billion worth of goods flow between our countries every year of which the Philippines has a trade surplus of roughly $2 billion.

American companies casts a wide shadow in Philippine business. Texas Instruments is the country’s largest exporter, Convergys is the largest employer and Chevron/Caltex is one of the largest taxpayers.

As Ambassador Kim spoke about the close relations we share, I could not help but ruminate about the other side of the proverbial coin. I asked myself, where does President Duterte’s deep resentment stem from? Why does the anti-American movement fester among us despite having been freed from the eagle’s talons for more than 72 years?

I realized that the grudges are deep since they involve historical events that have profoundly affected the nation.

GRUDGES AND REGRETS
Don’t get me wrong… I appreciate America and all that she has done to contribute to building our nation.

But let’s be honest — America is for America.

Her intervention in our affairs have always been motivated not by sheer love of the Filipino but rather, to forward its own economic and political agenda.

Let’s go back to the faithful months of April to August, 1898. American forces fought side by side Filipino revolutionaries, supposedly to free the Philippines from Spanish stronghold. Filipinos naively believed that this was a benevolent act by the US to help us gain independence. Little did we know, the Americans fought to release us from Spain only to take us for its own. The Treaty of Paris sealed the deal whereby the Philippines, along with Puerto Rico and Cuba, were sold by Spain to the US in a buy one, take three deal — all for a “grand” amount of $20 million. The Filipino was robbed of the independence he fought tooth and nail for. To many, it was seen as a betrayal.

The Taft Commission took effect in March 1900 and the Americans gave itself executive, legislative, and judicial powers over the land.

In the 14 years that followed, more than 34,000 Filipino independistas and half a million civilians were annihilated by heavily-armed American soldiers as the Filipino continued to fight for his independence. Only 4,200 Americans perished in the struggle.

The Americans held the country for 48 years and acted as judge and jury as to when we were “ready” for independence.

Up until 1946, the Philippines was given independence in trickles through the gradual ceding of administrative powers. The 1916 Jones Law paved the way for the creation of the Philippine Senate and Congress. The Tydings McDuffy Law of 1934 set a 10-year period in which the Philippines was to be truly self-governing. In 1935, Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio Osmeña were elected the Commonwealth president and vice-president, respectively, but America still controlled all matters relating to foreign policy and finances.

Upon granting independence to the Philippine in 1946, the Americans reserved their right to enjoy unprecedented access to our economic resources through the Bell Trade Act. The act gave parity rights (or equal rights as Filipinos) to Americans citizens and corporations in as far as the use and extraction of Philippine natural resources were concerned. The Act also declared a free trade agreement between the two countries despite the Philippines being at a huge disadvantage.

Filipino ratification of the Bell Trade Act was made a condition for the release of the $800 million World War II rebuilding fund. It was economic blackmail.

During the American-Japanese War, 260,000 Filipinos fought and died under the American flag. But despite President Franklin Roosevelt’s promise of full veteran’s benefits for the Philippine Army, our veterans were denied disability pay, US immigration rights, and other benefits. The Filipinos veterans were the only ones denied military benefits among 66 US allies across the globe.

In as far as our national identity is concerned, America systematically obliterated the language, customs, and traditions that we inherited from Spain. Worse, they vilified everything that was of Spanish origin despite it being part and parcel of the Filipino psyche. The result was a generation of Filipinos with a convoluted sense of identity. Decades after the American era, the Filipino still struggles with conservative Catholicism and liberal hedonism.

A tipsy participant in the forum was emboldened to ask the Ambassador why Filipinos are not granted visa free entry to the US while Korea and many other emerging nations enjoy the privilege. It was an off-the-cuff question that many wanted to ask but were too embarrassed to.

We all know that Filipinos are made to undergo dehumanizing, embarrassing, and debasing conditions just to obtain a visa. The fact that America designed it this way stings acerbically considering it has freely helped itself to our natural resources for nearly a century. A visa free entry is the least it can offer after all it has taken.

Ambassador Kim replied by saying that the visa requirement among Filipinos is more a security issue than it is an economic one. Still, I maintain, America owes us this much.

GRATEFUL
Like I said earlier, I am grateful to America for all she has done to build our nation.

Unbeknownst to many, America is responsible for establishing most of our public institutions — institutions vital to becoming a self-governing republic. Moving forward, the writing on the wall is clear — the next thirty years will be a tumultuous one what with China rising as an economic superpower with ambitions to spread its territory beyond its lawful domain. China is the biggest bully of the global village and it grabs what it wants simply because it can. China ignores the rule of law and bribes its way with sweet infrastructure deals to get what it wants.

In the wake of China’s creeping invasion, the US will again play an important role in Southeast Asia. It must do so if only to preserve freedom of navigation and passage in the West Philippine Sea. This is vital for America if it is to maintain its economic and military sway over the globe. No doubt, we will be fighting side by side again.

The epoch of Philippine-American relations and our love-hate relationship will continue as we face the village bully together. Our story is far from over.

Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.