* I am currently back in the Philippines for the summer, this is my first of hopefully regular blog entries…

** translation notes: Kuya=Older Brother, Tito=Uncle, Lolo=Grand dad, Ate=older sister


My Philippines knows that America has never been our friend.  But the Philippines is also made up of many who see things another way.  Both coexist, and both are made up of the people that I still hold out hope for, that I still believe can stand on their own two feet, even if it means working up the nerve to take what it deserves.

So yeah.  Obama came by the other day.

The US presidential visit came and went on 28-29 April and most people were very welcoming of him and the new PH-US Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement to surrender more sovereignty over to kuya USA.  “America the good.”  The Philippines is one of the few countries left in the world that generally still believes this.


An effigy of Obama (at the reigns) and PH pres BS Aquino (the dog pulling the imperial chariot).

The other day, my tito Boy (Dad’s elder brother) was telling me about how he felt that his brother made a mistake in taking us to Canada.  Their father, my lolo Dandoy (ie. Alex Sr.) was a member of the Filipino Scout Rangers (under US command), and was awarded an American military medal for his service during WWII.  Captured at Corregidor with General MacArthur’s US troops and forced into the “Bataan Death March,” he took a chance and attempted escape by jumping off a bridge they were marching over.  He was shot in the side by Japanese troops while trying to swim away.  He was lucky to be rescued and brought back to health by indigenous Aeta’s who were in a nearby boat. He went on to join a rebel guerrilla force against the Japanese. My lolo was always pro-American—despite all the broken promises [like payment, a pension, and US citizenship] they gave to those brave men and women that sacrificed for them wearing their uniform during that war.

My tito Boy’s story was all about how we should have become American citizens instead of Canadian.  It echoes the undying wish of many Filipinos the Philippines should be a US state. ‘They took Hawaii and Guam,’ I’ve heard said many times in the last few days, ‘so why not the Philippines?’ Ignoring that Guam isn’t a state but a protectorate, the yearning is a real one, the belief that if only kuya America would take us in that we would finally rise out of hardship.  When America first bought the Philippines (in 1898 when an American newspaper proclaimed that they purchased ten million niggers at $2 a head), the Filipino believed this an outrage, that we were more than capable of taking care of ourselves—and we waged a costly war on this belief.  American propaganda disagreed, we were too savage (no matter how noble), and still required tutelage in statehood, in democracy.  After WWII, having destroyed our nation with US bombers, they decided that they had tutored us well enough (any more would require costly infrastructure rehabilitation after all) and formal ‘independence’ was granted (kuya is kind).  Fast forward to today, and the Filipino and American mindsets have in a way reversed since 1898, the Filipino believes that we are not able to govern ourselves, while the American simply doesn’t want formal control (exploiting and governing is too messy a job—one better left to the locals).

And so it was that in the in the days before and during Obama’s visit, that discussion of America the good was again on the lips of my fellow Filipinos.  The morning news had audience tweets and word-on-the-street segments where people would exclaim their joy that kuya (or even “papa” a couple times) America would come to protect us against big bad “Red” China (and yes, they call it Red China).  Many openly called for war. They were equally vocal about the thousands of protesters (of whom I was one) that filled the streets to present the other point of view: that the US isn’t here to care and protect its little brother (I guess that’s the 2014 version of Little Brown Americans as we were “lovingly” called during the American occupation of 1902-1946). On the passenger vans I heard people ask why people still protest when America is here to help against China, that we need them because our government is too corrupt to help its own citizens, that maybe if we are nice to them they will ease visa restrictions to the States, etc, etc…

These are odd arguments to me, and fascinating in how they show human nature’s great propensity towards hope (without struggle) rather reality.  Obama himself in his statements has been unequivocal in his statements that the American return to the Philippines is not to protect the country from China but to “help” build the Philippines capacity against ‘terrorism’ (read: local anti-government rebellions).  That it considers China a friend (as it should, that friend loaned them over a trillion dollars and its not wise to get into a fist fight with you loan shark).  And that even in mentioning that the US and PH have a mutual defence treaty dating back from 1951, it has never resulted in the US coming to the countries aid (though it has resulted in the Philippines sending its own troops to fight American wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan).

ImageIn the new agreement signed by the BS Aquino government three house before Obama’s arrival, the Philippines has again welcomed the official unofficial return of American bases.  Officially no, there will be no US bases, but they will be allowed to build military structures to be owned by the Philippine government that Philippine personnel will not be able to access without the permission of kuya.  The US navy, army, and airforce will also be able to make use of the nation as a port.  And US military personnel presence is now allowed to significantly increase from the already disastrous number allowed with the Visiting Forces Agreement that have seen Americans take part in combat operations on Philippine soil.  So yes, no official bases, but there will be bases.  And yes many are expressing support.


I don’t blame the people for this mindset, the levels of hardship continue to worsen, and no matter who becomes president (or whatever other official) can’t seem to, or are unwilling to, fix it—so a savour from outside seems attractive enough. But there is another point of view that isn’t nihilistic, one that many are close to but hesitate at the last step:  to recognise that the problem is systemic, and that solving this issue will require us to choose to sacrifice (rather than to have sacrifices forced upon us).  Most already openly admit that the Philippine government is corrupt and geared towards the rich.  The difficult part is to realize that kuya A (nor any other kuya or ate) isn’t going to save us.  America (and the other imperialists) benefit too much from Filipino poverty, and the Philippine elite will never willingly give up its power (because face it, most of you wouldn’t either).  So it’s this last step that is the hurdle.  If Philippine democracy (the actual kind with the actual people in control) is to be had, if a national industrialization policy is to be enacted (to develop the nation and lift the people out of poverty), if we are to be able to finally stand as actual equals with the other peoples of the world… well… it isn’t going to just happen.  It’s not going to be given.  So that leaves what?

I understand why the people hesitate.

But I also understand that we’ve been hesitating for decades, and that each passing decade brings greater hardship.  Things are pretty well hard enough ain’t it?


Try as you may though to control the mindset of a population, the more overtly repressive the regime, the more you promote resistance.  And in the Philippines that resistance is a doozy.  In the countryside, New Peoples Army guerrillas continue to wage a simmering civil war.  And at the same time the county has one of the most organized, yet diverse, progressive movements in the world.  Under the BAYAN alliance, forces openly fighting against the system through legal means brings various sectors (from workers, to women, to indigenous peoples, and more) together to fight as a united force.  Their battlefield is parliamentary, judicial, on the streets, and in the media.  Obama’s visit sees all three fully active.  Progressive partylist congress people are vocal in the house as well as in the media, the constitutionality of the new agreement is being put to court, and thousands protest on the street burning effigies and facing police truncheons and water canons.  The national democratic movement is alive, kicking, and an inspiration to Filipinos who continue the struggle began with the Katipunan and Andres Bonifacio against Spanish colonialism.

The Philippines.  It’s an interesting place filled with fascinating contradictions and an overwhelming hope that better days are ahead.  Thing is, it’s up to the Filipino to decide exactly whether or not they want just to hope, or if they are willing to sacrifice for the reality.


* video, photos and text by alex felipe, BAYAN-Toronto, 28 April 2014 *