President Duterte’s foreign policy shift away from the shadow of the United States and into, what for the Philippines can be called ‘unchartered diplomatic waters’ is forcing Filipinos to take a close hard look at our century-old relationship with our former colonial masters.
The recent decision of the American government to unilaterally halt the sale of assault weapons to the Philippine National Police on the pretext of being concerned about President Duterte’s intensified campaign against the illegal drug trade has just highlighted the fact that instead of partnership among equals, what we have is a really lopsided relationship in favor of the United States.
And this has always been the case throughout our shared history. Despite the romanticized version of the Americans coming to “liberate” the Philippines, nothing can be further from the truth.
The simple facts is, the Americans took our independence by force after we had already won it from Spain. And in the century and a half that followed, we have been living under the false pretense of ‘freedom,’ but have all the while been kept under the military and economic thumb of our good friend Uncle Sam.
During World War II, the crucible in which our supposed blood alliance was forged, the Americans early in the war abandoned the Philippines to the deprivations of the Japanese invaders in favor of caucasian Australia. They did not stand and fight for us. Like the British in Malaysia, they tucked their tails between their legs and ran. The history books tell of strategic realignments and repositioning of military forces, but in the Philippines it was plain and simple betrayal.
To cover up the truth, Hollywood tells us of MacArthur’s return. But what of the years that he was gone when it was the blood of Filipino guerrillas that kept the Japanese at bay? The same guerrillas who after the war still had to fight for recognition as veterans, and whose benefits were denied for decades by the same US senate and congress that today is stopping the sale of firearms to our policemen.
While the Americans are well within their rights to stop the sale, their action does offer a disturbing look into the kind of relationship that we share with them. For one thing, it isn’t as stable as we thought it was. Nor as equal. With this move the Americans are signaling not just their displeasure over Duterte’s domestic policies, but more importantly their concern with his overtures to China and Russia.
If the Philippines continues on this path we can expect the American government to react with similar reprimands in the future. They will apply pressure both on the economic and military aspects of our dependence on the United States and they will leverage everything from US visa approvals to humanitarian aid to poor Filipinos.
They of course will couch these in the most reasonable and diplomatic terms. But in they are nothing more or less than their means of forcing us to do what they want. Which is not just unseemly, it is also very ungrateful coming from a country that professes to have an “iron-clad” alliance with the Philippines, and owes a blood-debt to generations of Filipinos who have unwittingly fought for the continuance of the American hegemony in Asia.