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Duterte’s historic, mind-boggling break from the past

If President Duterte completes his term, and I think he will, and if he doesn’t change his view of the world and our place in it, and I don’t think he will, scholars of the future will divide modern Philippine history as the ‘before Duterte’ (BD) and ‘after-Duterte’ (AD) periods.

BD refers to the era of the United States’ formal and informal subjugation of the Philippines, which started when the US, then an emerging power, grabbed control of our government from the Filipino revolutionaries who had brought the waning Spanish Empire in our country down to its knees.

The AD period has just begun, after the President in his hyperbolical manner announced — during his state visit to an emerging superpower, which the US nearly nuked during the Korean war, the People’s Republic of China ­— the Philippines’ “separation” from the US.

Quibble whether that really meant the end of our relations with the US, or whether he was just referring to military arrangements, but his message is crystal clear: no longer will the Philippines be a vassal of the US, and will henceforth pursue an independent foreign policy.

I can’t imagine any past President, or even any other political figure­­, except perhaps Miriam Defensor-Santiago, doing what Duterte has done.

Exaggeration to refer to a pre- and post-Duterte period? I don’t think so. Since the birth of the nation at the turn of the last century, we’ve been under the aegis of the American eagle, so much so that few found it disgusting to have had such a pro-American official of an Indonesian conglomerate, Albert del Rosario, as foreign affairs secretary, who steered the country to become Asia’s American factotum against China over the Spratly dispute. Why on earth antagonize an emerging superpower in our part of the world, which has become in the past few years our biggest trading partner, making up 20 percent of our trade, as compared with the US’ 13 percent?

Our cultural and ideological subjugation has been total that many Filipinos still revere President Ramon Magsaysay, whom the very CIA agent who “handled” him, Col. Edward Lansdale, had revealed in several books how much that “man of the masses” was his marionette. Lansdale even cited a moment’s displeasure where he lost it and punched the man.

In more recent history, there couldn’t have been a Marcos dictatorship without US approval and support­­ – among a host of minor reasons: to ensure Clark and Subic air bases’ strategic role in the Vietnam war, as well as for US capital to repatriate their investments, given the termination of the so-called Parity Rights in 1974. “Minor,” as the major reason was geopolitical: we were a bastion of anti-Communism in the 1970s in this part of the world.

A cartoon from a US magazine in 1905: Duterte hates it.
A cartoon from a US magazine in 1905: Duterte hates it.

Marcos junked in 1986
The US junked Marcos in 1986 and almost totally handled Cory Aquino’s rise to power, as the strongman could no longer rule. The dictator’s kidney ailments had made him a shadow of his former self. His ideas for stepping down fell through, with the Americans concluding that his preferred successor, “Prime Minister” Cesar Virata, would be eaten alive by his wife Imelda or by the magnate, Eduardo Cojuangco.

More importantly, the global debt crisis that was started in Latin America, which the return of Ninoy Aquino from self-imposed exile – whether he had lived or was assassinated – converted into our own debt crisis in November 1983, pushed the country into its worst economic conflagration, compelling the Philippine ruling class to beg the US to intervene.

I myself witnessed how the US really controlled this country in 1989, when I saw from our office F-4 Phantom jets whizzing by toward Malacanang Palace to threaten rebel Col. Gregorio Honasan’s puny world-war vintage planes that were strafing Cory’s residence.

Duterte should keep that incident in mind: the Phantom jets weren’t coincidentally in their Clark air base as their propaganda made the nation to believe. They came from the US carrier USS Enterprise in “Operation Classic Resolve,” which was deployed with all its accompanying fleet of support ships, to defend Cory. A history of the USS Enterprise by the Public Broadcasting System boasted about that episode:

“Enterprise began its 14th overseas deployment in September 1989. In early December, Enterprise participated in ‘Operation Classic Resolve,’ President Bush’s response to Philippine President Corazon Aquino’s request for air support during the rebel coup attempt. Enterprise remained on station conducting flight operations in the waters outside Manila Bay.”

Historians will indisputably prove, as I think several scholars have already done, that our revered “saint of EDSA I,” Corazon Aquino, was a US creation, and puppet. I suspect that roughly the same judgment will be rendered on another currently respected President, the West Pointer Fidel Ramos, who very effectively got the nation to believe in the American (and British) monopoly capitalists’ worldview of deregulation and globalization – which obviously opens the door of any country to them. How could he have won the 1992 elections over such a popular figure as Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Ramon Mitra, with his powerful political machine?

The two more recent cases of our subservience to the US, without most of the nation not knowing it, was the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and President Benigno S. Aquino’s filing of the arbitration case against China over the Spratly territorial dispute.

Bulgaria and Romania entered into their EDCA arrangements (from which ours was copied like a cut-and-paste work) with the US only after ratification by their legislatures in 2005 and 2007, respectively. It took a month in Bulgaria’s case and 17 months for Romania. In our case, Aquino’s subservience to the US was such that no approval by our Senate needed to be sought. Why?

Imperial arrogance
Sheer imperial arrogance on the part of the US perhaps, or it feared that the Senate, as it did with regards to the US base agreements in 1991, wouldn’t approve the treaty.

The more realistic explanation shames us all. Aquino wanted desperately for President Obama to make a state visit, and time was running out, and he could be the only Philippine President during whose term a US head of state didn’t visit the country. It would have been a notable miss given the window that was opened when Obama announced a swing through Asia, to begin with Japan.

But without EDCA, no state visit — that was the clear message of the Americans, foreign affairs department sources had told me. To do so, Foreign Affairs Secretary del Rosario yanked out the then head of the negotiating panel Carlos Sorreta, who had been “asking too many questions” and replaced him with a more malleable foreign affairs bureaucrat. But still, the negotiations didn’t’ go as fast as del Rosario wanted.

When was the EDCA signed? When Obama was in Air Force one, in the clouds coming from Malaysia. He could have announced some emergency and skipped the Philippines, if EDCA wasn’t signed, DFA sources claimed.

I have written several columns on why Aquino moved to file the arbitration case against China over the Spratly dispute, how the US quite brilliantly played the past administration to decide on that move that made us the American proxy in the territorial squabble on the other side of the globe from Washington, D.C.

My account had not been contested by the Aquino administration: How the chain of events started with the US donation of what would become a Philippine Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar; how Aquino foolishly deployed it to Scarborough Shoal only to withdraw it after a few days; how China claimed our country militarized the area and, therefore, was justified in occupying it with a dozen of their civilian ships; how Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th confused the situation by negotiating with the “Chinese;” and finally, according to that senator, how del Rosario falsely told the President that there would be simultaneous withdrawals of Chinese and Filipino ships from the shoal.

The Chinese didn’t leave while ours did. So Chinese ships occupied it, and have simply blocked our ships from even approaching it – which in international realpolitik means we have lost the shoal to the Chinese, so that as del Rosario put it, we had no choice but to file the case. (See http://www.manilatimes.net/the-philippine-suit-a-brilliant-us-machination/273407/).

We’ve won the arbitration case, but we, and the whole wide world, can’t enforce it, making it into a worthless sheet of paper.

Magsaysay. The Marcos dictatorship. EDSA I and Cory Aquino. Our heroic, David versus Goliath fight against China. All American projects, with us being so gullible.

Duterte’s stance of independence from the US is fraught with danger, as the bulk of the ruling economic and political elite are economically, ideologically, culturally, ‘residentially,’ and even generationally tied up with US interests and the “American way of life.” Is there anybody in our elite who doesn’t own a residence in New York or Los Angeles?

We have been America’s stooge in Asia for more than a century, yet we are still impoverished. A country that literally fought the US, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is fast growing it may even overtake us soon. But epochal changes in any nation on earth have always been very risky. The separation from the US won’t be easy, and the nation is likely to suffer first, and the big question is whether Duterte could survive the blowback.

If he does, it won’t be us but the coming generations that would reap the benefits of being a truly independent nation.

Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
Twitter @bobitiglao