Top 10 Reasons Why Philippine Independence is Illusory Rather than a Reality
Kenneth E. Bauzon, Ph.D.
Posted by CenPEG
June 26, 2014
When President Diosdado Macapagal issued Presidential Proclamation No. 28 on May 12, 1962 shifting the date of the observance of Independence Day as a public holiday from July 4 to June 12, the move was popularly greeted especially among the country’s elites and the mainstream media at that time. Riding on the crest of nationalist sentiment, the Proclamation explained the rationale for the shift in dates in part as follows: "... in commemoration of our people's declaration of their inherent and inalienable right to freedom and independence,” in obvious reference to Philippine Revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo’s proclamation of the country’s independence from Spain on June 12, 1898 from his home’s balcony in the town of Kawit, Province of Cavite. Both Spain and the United States (US), however, totally ignored this proclamation as null and void as negotiators from these two powers proceeded – as though they were in control of the whole situation -- to negotiate and eventually agree on the terms of what came to be known as the Treaty of Paris of 1898. Under this treaty, Spain would transfer sovereign control over the Philippine Islands to the US for the sum of $20 million; at the same time, Spain would also relinquish colonial control of other possessions, e.g., Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam, to the US allowing the latter to enforce its laws and policies over these as “appurtenant territories.”
Despite the meaninglessness of Aguinaldo’s proclamation, having been nullified by the imposition of a near-half-a-century of US colonial rule, the symbolism of the date has retained a steady appeal among the population so much so that it continues to be the preferred date to this day of the observance of this public holiday. Thus, either on this date or the weekend closest to it, Filipinos around the country mark the occasion with public speeches over flag-waving enthusiasts in rallies and parades led by public officials and civic leaders. The Filipino diaspora in such cities as New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and San Diego, in the US as elsewhere, mark such occasion as an obligatory ritual complete with beauty pageants, dinner-dance parties, raffle contests, float contests, and concerts, among others, participated in by just about every patriotic-riven club or organization found within the Filipino expatriate community. It is a time that those who partake in these events regain their self-esteem and feel good about themselves as Filipinos. At least at the symbolic level.
Without questioning the sincerity of the late Pres. Macapagal and those who partake in the Independence Day events, it is the contention in this piece that true independence entails much more than showing up at these events or offering lip-service to the significance of the day. Therefore, in the spirit of healthy criticism of this reflexive national habit as well as an appraisal of the broader national condition that pervades today, including the essential historical and contemporary context, e.g., neoliberal globalization, that the country finds itself in, I offer herein a distillation of what I regard as the ten most significant factors inhibiting true independence.
To clarify, by the term independence, I mean to include most definitely the essence of sovereignty. As defined in any standard introductory political science text, sovereignty means simply the ability of a nation (or a state) to make and enforce its own decisions and actions through its institutions without being dictated to or unduly influenced, directly or indirectly, by forces – both internal and external -- whose interests and motives are not of those whom these institutions purport to represent and serve. These decisions and actions may pertain not simply to the protection of the physical and internationally recognized territory, or the preservation of the national patrimony (physical, natural resources) of the nation. They also pertain to the well-being of the general population, or the citizenry.
A convenient way to avoid futile debate as to the meaning of “well-being” is to simply refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the most important and, by its title, universally-accepted, pieces of public documents to come out of the post-World War Two period. Perhaps unbeknownst to many, the term “human rights” in this document is understood with two integral and complementary components, namely: political and civil rights, and social and economic rights.(1) The former includes affirmative rights for citizens to enjoy their freedoms as well as negative injunctions against the state or its agencies that may be tempted to tamper with these freedoms, including those normally associated with due process and political participation. The latter, on the other hand, ensures equity in the distribution and, hence, enjoyment of the country’s economic and social resources so that the most vulnerable members are afforded protection and means of survival through programs and regulations designed to affirm what essentially means socio-economic justice. Historically, the former has been more popular in North America and the West, while the latter has been indispensable component of just about every country in the Third World (or the Global South) especially among former colonies for European or north American powers, at least at the rhetorical level.
To make the long story short, the criteria for sovereignty as defined above are herein offered as bases for defining independence, in this case, that of the Philippines. And, further, as a test for gauging the extent in which the well-being of the Filipino citizenry is being served, the criteria used to define human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would be offered as essential measurement. While there are other, more vigorous, even more valid, criteria that others may wish to be considered, e.g., abolition of unjust social and economic stratification, these may be long-term and, hence, may not offer the kind of pragmatism required to deal with the immediacy of the situation. Implicitly, the role of the state (or government) in the delivery of the two components of human rights, as described above, to the citizenry would inevitably come to play. Thus, one may see to what extent the state serves (or has served) the best interests of its citizens. Conversely, one may also see to what extent the state has allowed itself to be subverted in order to serve foreign interests and, by extension, the means, formal or informal, by which external interests and forces have sought – and succeeded – to predetermine internal political and decision-making processes to the benefit of these external interests.
No. 10. The baggage of history that Filipinos were made to carry even before formal
independence was granted by the US in July 1946. This includes the shaping of a colonial mentality attained through such devices as colonial education, consumerism oriented around the consumption of US- or foreign-made products, among others, all having the accumulated effect of making Filipinos “love” their own colonial subjugation, something that Frantz Fanon has written about in his classic work, The Wretched of the Earth, in which he described the psychological impact of French colonialism in Africa.(2) In the Philippine experience, the formation of colonial mentality was articulately discussed by one of the country’s most revered nationalist intellectuals, Renato Constantino. In what has become a classic statement on the matter, entitled “The Miseducation of the Filipino,” originally published in 1959, Constantino exposed the falsity of US benevolence through the educational system that was established along with the presumed magnanimity and sacrifice of the so-called Thomasites.(3) This educational system, which featured, among others, a counter-insurgency component, served to mold a servile Filipino mind and to train and educate a Filipino workforce that would provide essential service to the US economy at a critical time when it was competing for hegemony with other rising powers particularly in this part of the world.
No. 9. The verity of the dictum: “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!” Two factors make this apply: 1. The Filipino fetish with “Utang na loob” in which Filipinos would recognize a “debt of obligation” for life (or for a long, long time) to someone who they believe has done them a previous favor; and 2. American opportunism to exploit this particular cultural value, reinforced with such invocations of Filipinos as America’s “Little Brown Brothers” or “Special Relations” between the two countries. Filipinos are often praised for their generousity and hospitality even to strangers. They feel honored by a visit to their home by a foreigner, and would offer their best meal at dinnertime. (A joke one grows up hearing is that a rural family would open a can of sardines to a guest instead of preparing a chicken dish as a preferred way to please!). Filipinos are yet to learn that the test of true independence is not when they do what pleases their benefactors but, rather, when they do what pleases them themselves even if it brings displeasure to the benefactor, on a consistent basis.(4)
No. 8. Impaired by parity. Simply, this means the uncritical acceptance of the belief
both naïve and unfounded from the beginning – that the Philippines and the US were to equally enjoy the presumed benefits that would flow from the so-called Parity Rights as stipulated in the Philippine Trade Act of 1946 (also known as the Bell Trade Act) approved by the US Congress. “Parity Rights” meant that US citizens would have the same rights as Filipino citizens in the exploitation and utilization of Philippine natural resources. The Filipinos (particularly the political leadership) at that time were told in so many words that if they wanted to get the $620 million war damage payment promised in the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946, they would have to first amend the Philippine Constitution, and, secondly, they would have to get the Philippine Congress to ratify the agreement. The Filipino people themselves expressed grateful approval to both, in a plebiscite held in March 1947 with an affirmative vote of nearly 80 per cent of those voting. So, the Filipinos got the money, and the Americans – for the bargain -- got a neocolony! Many scholarly studies have since been conducted demonstrating how lucrative this deal has been for US-based corporations, gaining as much as four times in profits the amount in dollar terms that was invested.(5) With the country now fully integrated into the global capitalist network, under World Trade Organization-enforced neoliberal rules, the Philippine Government is fully committed to complying with the neoliberal mandates of trade liberalization and the privatization of public assets and services. One may anticipate that with these policies, as the government gradually relinquishes its social service functions to private, for-profit providers, and as it sells off public assets to foreign-based corporations, notably those from the US, China, Japan, and South Korea and their native surrogates, wealth gaps among Filipinos would become more pronounced as they begin to feel more like strangers in their own country!
No. 7. Mugged by JUSMAG! Representing the strong arm of the US has been its
military, deemed indispensable in maintaining US imperial interests abroad. In the post-independence Philippines, the US military was represented by the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG). Nope, it is not “joint” as in RP-US military partnership but, rather “joint” as in the collaboration of the various services of the US armed forces, e.g., army, navy, air force, marines, etc., in serving – to this day -- as the conduit for the provision of the logistical and training requirements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). In practical terms, it serves as the US Trojan Horse in much the same way that the Greeks used it against the Persians. In this case, the US – as an external force -- uses it to essentially anticipate if not pre-determine Philippine domestic decision-making pertaining to internal security and external defense matters. Provided for by the 1947 Military Assistance Pact between the two countries, it has been active in working very closely with Philippine military officials – both in laying out broad strategic guidelines as well as in key day-to-day operations in counter-insurgency campaign, and in ultimately insuring that the Philippines will always be safe for US corporate investments and that no unfriendly government is ever installed. Even an official history of the AFP could not keep the secret that “as the clearing house for US military aid, JUSMAG was more powerful than the Philippine Congress which for many years would feel no need to appropriate funds for defense purposes.”(6)
No. 6. Zapped by SAPs! That’s right, those familiar with the odious debts incurred by the Marcos dictatorship know that today’s generation of Filipinos (not to mention those that are yet to come) continue to be saddled by these debts. Much of these debts were incurred from the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which imposed, as conditions for these loans, stringent Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). Serving in effect as the economic version of the Trojan horse, both the WB and the IMF were able to predetermine domestic economic planning and decision-making in the Philippines by getting the leaders to accept the SAPs. When she came to power in 1986, Corazon Aquino was confronted with the question of whether or not to repudiate the odious debts inherited from the Marcos years. She chose to keep them because ostensibly it was better to maintain the country’s good credit rating with these institutions rather than liberate the current and future generations of Filipinos from these debts. She may have had good intentions but, in the long run, these were shown to be naïve. She did not have the foresight to anticipate the burden these obligations would impose on the Filipino people, and she lacked the courage to stand up to these institutions which have all but predetermined the internal economic decision-making processes in their favor. This tradition of subservience unfortunately continues to this day. Among these conditions are already familiar to large segments of the Philippine population even though they don’t realize it: workers who have been prevented from striking or engaging in collective bargaining, because of the condition to maintain industrial peace; school children who have been prevented from going to school or from receiving health care, because of the required cut backs on “non-productive” social and educational programs; farmers who have lost their livelihood due to the elimination of government subsidies; and Juan de la Cruz at large due to the erosion of democratic governance traceable directly to the requirements of SAPs.
No. 5. KO’ed by the WTO! One would wish that legendary Philippine boxing champion Manny Pacquiao could come to the rescue, but from the very first day that the Philippines joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) when it was formed in 1996, the Philippines has already been knocked out by the heavy cost of membership in this organization. No, not in terms of the “fee” that the Philippines has to pay to join the club but, rather, in terms of the heavy obligations that it has to conform with as a member state. It would have to uphold the fundamentalist gospel of “free trade” knowing fully well that it is not synonymous with fair trade, it would have to abandon domestic laws – even laws passed by the Philippine Congress – if these laws do not conform with rules and policies of the WTO under the guise of “harmonization”; it would have to divest itself of public assets and sell them off to private corporations (both domestic and foreign) under the guise of “privatization”; and it would have to reduce if not entirely eliminate its public service functions – again under the guise of privatization – on the logic that the private, profit-seeking sector is better able to provide these services for a fee, e.g., health care, education, transportation, communications, etc. To the poor of the country, Darwin had a message for them a long time ago! If it is not yet evident to some that all of these processes are tantamount to a virtual abdication of sovereignty to corporate-friendly supranational organizations that recognize no accountability to the public, then they are not paying attention enough although the price to be paid may be theirs at a later date.
No. 4. They keep coming with a smile, bearing gifts! About five hundred years ago,
Machiavelli warned readers of his Il Principe to beware of strangers bearing gifts. This warning was repeated by revered Filipino poet Francisco Balagtas, in his 1836 masterpiece Florante at Laura. Unfortunately, too many have fallen into the trap foolishly believing that the stranger bearing gifts has all the good intentions in the world. Many vulnerable countries in the Global South – including the Philippines – have been the unwitting victims of the “generousity” of the industrialized countries with their “foreign aid”, long suspected of having strings tied to them but not knowing exactly in what form these strings come. Take, for instance, the case of food. Who can impute ill motives to the US whenever it donates (as in “give away”) food, or sells it at below-the-market price in any country in the Global South like the Philippines? Experience since the end of World War Two provides enough reason to be wary: First, flooding a recipient country with “free” or below-the-market-price food products (as in “dumping”) undercuts local producers, e.g., farmers who are no longer able to produce locally grown food crops that they can sell in the domestic market at competitive prices that could compete with the price of cheap imports. Consequently, many farmers, including those from the Philippines, have lost their livelihood, have gone desperate, and have contributed to the worldwide phenomenon of “farmer suicide.” Second, much of the food products donated or sold cheaply are either genetically modified or spliced with genetically modified ingredients. All are patented, and the patents are owned by the more-often-than-not Western-based corporations that sold and distributed them. The trend towards seed patenting by corporations, accompanied by court-sanctioned corporate personhood allowing corporations to claim the same rights, e.g., free-speech rights, and, hence, participate in the political process with the aim of influencing the legislative and policy-making processes, could only lead to one, predictable outcome: corporate monopoly on life as food sovereignty is taken away, and decisions regarding what food to produce, by whom, and for what price get shifted to the verticalized global food production system. One does not need to be a space scientist to realize that this would ensure, in perpetuity, corporate dominance of food supplies, and, in turn, dominance by the industrialized countries that subsidize these corporations to begin with.
No. 3. While one of Adam Smith’s invisible hands strokes us, the other spanks (and
threatens) us! This was expressed most unabashedly by neoconservative columnist Thomas L. Friedman who, in endorsing the use of military force in securing US economic interests worldwide, wrote in 1998: “For globalization to work, America can’t be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technology is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.” Friedman’s commentary did not, of course, encourage but merely affirm the pattern of militarization that has intensified since the end of the Cold War. What has allowed this to happen, i.e., for the US to build its vast arsenal of weapons and be the world’s leading arms trafficker, is a rather obscure provision in the WTO Charter called the “Security Exemption.”(7) What is noteworthy is that while WTO rules formally disallow (as in prohibit) state subsidies on commerce and industry on grounds of “free trade”, it allows this exemption so that member-countries may subsidize their respective arms industries in the name of “national security.” Of course, it does not take much to figure out that this exemption favors the already militarily-strong countries of Western Europe and North America rather than the poor countries of the Global South which can hardly produce food for their own respective populations to begin with, unless, of course, any number of these countries – the Philippines included – are willing to play the surrogate role in behalf of the US (or another militarily strong power), receive military assistance, and are willing to repress their own people in behalf of the sponsor states! To recalcitrant, independent-minded states that refuse to tow the line, the “hidden fist” awaits them.
No. 2. Yes, Virginia, they want us to get drunk and to drown our sorrows! Recall one more time Machiavelli when he advised his favorite prince, Cesare di Borgia, to take the people’s minds off politics by getting them interested in sports! Sports have sedative effect. They re-channel people’s aggressive tendencies into a controlled, regulated setting, and they divert their attention away from pressing social, political, and economic problems confronting them. It spares the political leadership of an otherwise unsavory choice of applying force on a population that may be hard to please. The use of sports as a diversionary tool works the same way everywhere. But there are other forms too. In the Philippines, Filipinos have shown a “passion for shopping”, observes businesswoman Teresita Sy, whose family owns a conglomerate of banking and real estate investments in the Philippines. She adds: “We don’t have a lot of purchasing power, but we love to shop.”(8) This is evidenced by the apparent success of shopping malls in large cities all over in the country, including four so-called mega malls. One such mega mall, called the Mall of Asia, sits on a reclaimed area that juts into Manila Bay, reputedly the third largest mall in the world. One wonders how one of the poorest countries in the world as determined by the United Nations Human Development Index – the Philippines – is able to sustain a mall like this, much less four of them, when even the Philippine peso has lost a significant percentage of its purchasing power! At the psychological level, one could think of these malls as substitutes for the fiestas that used to occur in plazas where one found all sorts of amusements and where one bonded with friends and family in a public setting. Malls have now taken over the plazas in providing the same or similar types of amusements. While people flock to these malls, they are not even aware anymore that they have traded the public plaza for the privately owned mall and with it, much of what we used to cherish in the public domain. For the rise of malls is symptomatic of the gradual takeover of the public domain by private, profit-seeking entities – both foreign and domestic-- and the shrinking of commons represented by the plazas. And, finally,
No. 1. Look, Virginia, they’re laughing at us. They think we’re fools! Chances are, we are. We have played their electoral politics, have been blinded by the illusion of democracy, and have allowed the corporate media to speak for us. In the meantime, they – our leaders – enrich themselves and their friends while in office, and use their public positions to validate and justify their private agendas. For instance, we envy President Gloria Arroyo when, in 2006, she played golf and dined with ZTE Corporation officials while visiting China and yet we believe naively when we are told by her Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye that “there is nothing unusual or irregular” in her doing so but that she was doing so only to “encourage more investments in the Philippines.”(9) Bunye may have been trying to protect his employer, the President, but his response indicated something more significant: the emergence and consolidation of the neoliberal state in which the state, in this case represented by President Arroyo and now, her successor, Benigno Aquino III, intervenes in the economy in behalf of the private sector – in contrast to the laissez faire economic system a hundred years ago in which the state stayed away from the economy. Leading Filipino politicians have been so ingrained in their belief that public office is for their own enrichment as exemplified by the massive scandal involving the alleged misuse of funds from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) by prominent, and highly placed, Philippine legislators and their respective front organizations.(10) Since the scandal broke in early 2013, a prominent politician involved in this scandal is yet to face court charges and possible jail-time. As illustrated in another essay, when the state turns neoliberal, one can safely bet that the apparatus of the state has essentially been hijacked by individuals whose ideological agenda is so distant from the concept of public service and, therefore, from any notion of democracy.(11)
In conclusion, any further doubts about the absence of Philippine independence should have been dispelled by any or a combination of the above reasons. If at all, any independence is only at the formal level and not to be confused with true independence which serves the interests of its people. Countries that have shared similar colonial experience as the Philippine no doubt also suffer a similar fate from lack of independence. And for countries that are similarly entrapped within the orbit of contemporary neoliberal globalization – with all its rules, enforced by such institutions are the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF – only the most obtuse would fail to see that their much-vaunted sovereignty has long been dissipated, taken over by self-perpetuating, self-selected, and unaccountable institutions beyond their individual ability to control. Coming to this realization is an important step.(12) The next step is to regain sovereignty in all its manifestations through a globalized civil society resistance – outside the sphere of the neoliberal state -- to this brand of globalization.***
Note: Originally published in The Independence Day Issue, Sanlahi, The Filipino American Newspaper (New York), June 2, 2008: 12-13.
Kenneth E. Bauzon is currently Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s College in New York.
(2) Please see the Conclusion of this book in: http://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/fanon/
(3) For full text of this essay, please visit: http://nonlinearhistorynut.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/miseducation-of-a-filipino.pdf.
(4) American scholars themselves have expressed an interest in unraveling the essence of this cultural value as exemplified by Charles Kaut, “Utang na Loob: A System of Contractual Obligation Among Tagalogs.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, v. 17, n. 3 (Autumn 1961): 256-272.
(5) An early indictment of United States post-war economic policies towards the Philippines was prepared by Shirley Jenkins, American Economic Policy Toward the Philippines. Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University Press, 1954. 181 pp.
(7) Please see: http://www.wto.org/english/res_e/booksp_e/gatt_ai_e/art21_e.pdf. A critical discussion on the link between militarism and this particular feature of the WTO Charter is offered by Steven Staples and Miriam Pemberton in “Security Exception and Arms Trade” (April 1, 2000), in: http://fpif.org/security_exception_arms_trade/.
(8) Please see Donald Greenlees, “Filipinos flock to supersized malls,” International Herald Tribune, May 21, 2008. In: www.iht.com.
(9) “Arroyo golfed, dined with ZTE execs in 2006,” Philippine News, May 21, 2008. In: http://philippinenews.com.
(10) Even President Benigno Aquino III is not spared from allegations of involvement in this scandal, casting doubt on the credibility of his daang matuwid (straight path), a crusade-like anti-corruption program. This is suggested in: Charlie V. Manalo, “Abad Covering Up for Noy’s Links to Pork, Malampaya Scam.” The Daily Tribune, June 7, 2014. In: http://www.tribune.net.ph/headlines/abad-covering-up-for-noy-s-links-to-pork-malampaya-scams.
(11) Kenneth E. Bauzon, “Race, Poverty, and the Neoliberal Agenda in the United States: Lessons from Katrina and Rita,” MRZine, February 13, 2009. In: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2008/bauzon130208.html.
(12) An excellent primer on neoliberal globalization is David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005. 247 pp.