In the years following the Spanish-American War of 1898, U.S. imperialism consolidated its political, economic and military domination over Spain’s former colony, the Philippines.
The Philippine revolution had begun in earnest in 1896 as a guerilla movement against the Spanish empire. The U.S. posed as the “savior” of the people from Spanish rule, promising to usher in “democracy and liberty.” Betrayal, arrogance and subterfuge led to subjugation, despite the heroic efforts of those resisting imperialism and racism.
The yoke of neocolonialism went hand in hand with feudalism and a comprador ruling class. Although Philippine nationalists fought heroically against U.S. subjugation and for authentic independence and self-determination, neocolonialism remained in the saddle.
The U.S. military led a brutal pacification campaign to quell a rebellion that eventually claimed 1.5 million lives. Using tactics similar to what they did later in Vietnam, they created “strategic hamlets,” or reconcentrados. Water boarding and a scorched earth policy were the trademarks of imperialist occupation. (Bobby Tuazon, Bulatat.com)
Expanding the policies of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine from the Western Hemisphere to Asia, this burst of U.S. aggression around the turn of the century also led to the exploitation of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hawaii for their natural resources and cheap labor. The Philippines and Hawaii would serve as a bridgehead for U.S. economic hegemony in the Asian-Pacific — what is now called “Pivoting to Asia.”
The Philippines became a virtual aircraft carrier for the U.S. military in order to guarantee U.S. control throughout the Pacific. The U.S. also made sure to create and nurture a comprador and feudal elite government that would build up the armed forces of the Philippines and a large police force to oppress the people.
World War II and its aftermath
The Japanese invasion of the Philippines during World War II led to an anti-colonial resistance movement headed by Hukbalahap Mapagpalaya ng Bayan, the People’s Liberation Army. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines, they fought the Japanese heroically. The PLA attempt to form an alliance against Japanese rule with the U.S. Armed Forces Far East was rejected. The anti-imperialist movement had to procure its weapons from Japanese soldiers and by raiding ammunition dumps.
By 1946 the PLA numbered 15,000 fighters. When the Philippines gained formal independence from the U.S. in 1947, it was on the basis of neocolonialism, allowing U.S. Naval, Air Force and Army bases throughout the islands. A pacification program as well as a counterinsurgency policy by U.S.-backed President Ramon Magsaysay hurt the movement, especially when a minority of the CPP opted for electoral struggle.
The further decline of the agrarian economy, massive inflation, obscene corruption and nepotism were hallmarks of Magsaysay’s successors. President Ferdinand Marcos ruled as virtual dictator for 21 years starting in 1965. He imposed nine years of martial law, beginning in September 1972, and sponsored the Bagong Lipunan (New Society), which for all practical purposes was a neo-fascist manifesto that outlawed strikes and muzzled the press.
Afraid of rising opposition to Marcos and a possible split in the military, Ronald Reagan himself told Marcos to step down in 1986. The U.S. finally opted for a more liberal-sounding and pliable candidate, Corazon Aquino.
In December 1968, Jose Maria Sison reestablished the Communist Party of the Philippines. The CPP received its impetus from the massive popular unrest in the country, especially among the peasantry. In March 1969, the New People’s Army was established from the remnants of the old Hukbalahap. And in 1973 a broad popular organization was established called the National Democratic Front.
Election of Duterte
This year, the Philippine presidential elections in May caused tremors in the capitalist world, especially in the U.S. The winner, Rodrigo Duterte, a “shoot from the hip” populist, describes himself as “the first president of the left.” (The Guardian, May 10) U.S. imperialism regards him as an unknown quantity, especially after a record voter turnout of more than 80 percent of Filipinos.
What is critical to the U.S. military is the “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement,” signed in 2014 with the previous Philippine government. After years of mass opposition, the Pentagon was forced to evacuate its bases in the Philippines in 1991. The EDCA allowed the U.S. to use its former military bases as staging areas, consistent with the “Pivot to Asia” of the current Obama administration.
Duterte, however, has voiced opposition to the EDCA, as well as the “visiting forces” agreement regarding U.S. military cooperation with the Philippines.
Professor Jose Maria Sison, chairperson of the International League of Peoples Struggle and political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, said the following about the recent elections:
“Apparently foreign monopoly interests and the local oligarchy of big compradors and landlords have advised the Aquino government that it was a better choice to desist from electoral fraud and avoid the risk of widespread and uncontrollable civil strife. They are confident that the Duterte presidency would still be financially and politically manageable by using as a lever the underdevelopment and poverty of the Philippines and the huge foreign debt and total public debt of the Philippines, amounting to more than U.S. $77 billion and Php 164 trillion respectively. …
“The CPP has challenged Duterte to assert the national sovereignty of the Filipino people and defend the territorial integrity of the Philippines, to let the toiling masses of workers and peasants empower themselves against the oligarchs, to develop the Philippine economy through national industrialization and genuine land reform, to promote a patriotic and progressive culture, expand the public school system, and foster international solidarity for peace and development.” (tinyurl.com/hq4mscm)