Saturday, February 1, 2014

Amboys and the American empire

Some pundits and self-proclaimed Filipino patriots abroad, particularly Filipino-Americans writing in the United States whom we will refer to here as Amboys, are simply satisfied with the orthodoxy of a dictionary definition of sovereignty. To them the Philippines is a sovereign state because it is independent and self-governing, according to the dictionary.
But the basic lesson from the past hundred years tells us that our country has not fully achieved the upper limits of its political legitimacy – that of a nation-state. From the Philippine Revolution of 1896 to the restoration of democracy after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1984, the political reality is we have remained as a vassal of the great American empire. This is very clear, if not directly, through the control and influence over our nation’s economy by big multinational firms and their surrogates by way of the local oligarchic elite, the country’s virtual dependence on the US military for protection from foreign invasion, and the complete Americanization of the culture and minds of Filipinos.
Sovereignty in a nominal sense is not what the definition envisages. Neither is sovereignty in an aspirational sense good enough.
Well, this kind of opinion will be dismissed by these aforementioned Amboys as hogwash, ultra-nationalistic, or even communist-inspired. But what really is behind this anti-nationalist hysteria and revival of communist-baiting?
The United States Military has been well-loved in the Philippines, thanks to the
Americanization of our culture and minds that makes us believe America will
always help us against foreign invasion. Photo courtesy of the US Navy.
American hegemony in Asia, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, started to wane beginning in 1991 when the US waged the Gulf War to repulse the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the closing of US military bases in the Philippines. At the same time, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the second largest terrestrial eruption during the 20th century, made it easier for the United States to close its military bases in the Philippines, particularly the US Naval Base at Subic Bay, the largest overseas military installation of the United States Armed Forces. From 2001 to 2003 until the present, the US military has focused its intervention to the Afghan and Iraqi wars, in addition to the continuing Middle East conflict between Israel and Palestine and other Arab countries.
It was also during this time that China started to emerge as a major power player in Asia. Many international observers have also begun to entertain the possibility that the People’s Republic of China could emerge as a second superpower with global power and influence on par with the United States. Others also predicted that China will become the world’s largest economy by 2021, and will surpass the United States as a military superpower within twenty years. All of which is not good news to America, so its drum- beaters like the Amboys are sounding the alarm of a possible Chinese invasion in the event of war with China as the territorial dispute heats up over islands and other land formations in the China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as far as the Philippine government is concerned.
These Amboys, more rabid warmongers than their local counterparts in the Philippine press, have pointed to the ratcheting of China’s claim over territories in the South China Sea and its more recent regulations restricting fishing by foreign vessels in the disputed areas as clear and present danger of future military escalations. They have denounced those who have supported the closing of US military bases in the Philippines in 1991 and the present campaign for the abrogation of the current RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement as short-sighted Filipino nationalism. To them, these Filipinos do not understand that the Philippines is utterly defenceless against foreign invasion without the help of the United States.
They even mocked and denigrated Filipino nationalists who have taken a different political perspective on the assistance provided by the United States Navy to victims of last year’s super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. Short of calling these critics of US military presence in the Philippines as ungrateful or “walang utang na loob” in local parlance, these Amboys would rather see the US be given access to basing rights. Their argument is that this would preserve the sovereignty of the Philippines and its territorial integrity.
But how do we exactly preserve our country’s sovereignty by giving in to US basing rights? Isn’t this a contradiction in terms?
The Amboys’ assumption is that the US military will come to our defence if we were attacked by a foreign enemy – basically the same expectation we have from the moribund RP-US Mutual Defence Treaty which was signed by the two countries during the height of the Cold War. Even then at that time the presumption of mutual defence has already been doubted and the US can only offer us very vague assurances that they will honour their mutual obligation under the treaty.

Philippines-US Mutual Defence Treaty relations. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Our history of bilateral agreements with the United States had always been skewed in favour of the latter, which only shows that the more powerful party to an agreement always wins by getting what it wants. Take for example the Laurel-Langley Agreement, which essentially tied the economy of the Philippines to that of the United States. The greater freedom to industrialize while continuing to receive privileged access to US markets failed to materialize as our economy never really took off from being agrarian-based.
Then we have the Parity Rights Act, an amendment to the 1935 Constitution granting Americans equal rights with Filipino citizens to own, develop and exploit the country’s natural resources and to operate public utilities in the country. The Act was required by the US Congress in exchange for reparation after World War II. It was approved during the 1947 plebiscite which the then Roxas government argued would be mutually beneficial to the US and the Philippines. Of course, this was not true.
In 1974, Parity Rights to American citizens were terminated and the right to patrimony was restored in the Philippine Constitution. However, there is now an impetus to amend the Constitution to allow foreigners equal rights with Filipino citizens to exploit and develop the country’s natural resources in order to attract more foreign investments in the country.
Now, the Amboys are leading the way in allowing the US military to have basing rights in the Philippines on the pretext that it will protect and preserve our sovereignty, especially against Chinese aggression and imperialist advances. This is a very shallow argument. The Philippines is never a threat to China’s core sovereignty. China’s aggression in the South China Sea is aimed at asserting sovereignty over islands and land formations whose ownership is disputable. We are on the same footing as China and the other countries claiming sovereignty rights over these disputed territories. The determination of the dispute will probably take a long time and military overtures, either by China or the Philippines (with the help of the US military), will not help in achieving a peaceful and lasting settlement.
What the Amboys have so far accomplished is to influence the so-called Asian pivot in American foreign policy in Asia and the Pacific that will counter the threat of Chinese hegemony. They have become America’s boisterous cheerleaders, who are willing to offer their souls for the renewal of America’s empire in Asia.
Here is a sample of one of these Amboys’ comments regarding the South China Sea dispute and US bases in the Philippines:
“These nationalists believe that without US bases on Philippine soil, China would spare us in the event of war with the US. Wrong! Without US bases, the Philippines would be the first to be attacked by China if war broke out with the US. It was proven that China seized Panganiban Reef and Scarborough Shoal without firing a shot. What does it take for China to seize Palawan and Mindoro?”
“Heck, the Philippine armed forces couldn’t even defeat the NPA and the Muslim rebels!”
Let’s deconstruct the particular Amboy’s argument.
This Amboy argued that without US bases in the country, the Philippines would be attacked in the event that China goes to war against the US, a scenario not supported either by history or actual Chinese expansionist policies. Compared to American military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and previously in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada and Central America, China’s military aggressiveness in the South China Sea is only a recent phenomenon. Besides, the disputed territories in South China Sea are also claimed by other several countries.
Palawan and Mindoro cannot be compared to the Panganiban Reef and Scarborough shoal because the former are not disputed territories and officially belong to the national territory of the Philippines. The truth is that no country has a clearer sovereignty right over the islands in the South China Sea, such that their ownership is disputed by several countries.
This Amboy also seems to suggest that we need the US military to intervene to help the Philippine armed forces defeat the NPA and Muslim rebels.
It beguiles logic and common sense that these Amboys would easily surrender our sovereignty rights to the United States in order to counterbalance the growing influence of China in Asia and in the world, yet still consider such act as helping to preserve our sovereignty and protect our territorial integrity. To them, giving in to US basing rights is not surrendering one’s sovereignty if the objective is to restrain China’s hegemonic rise.

By all means, sacrifice our pride and integrity as a nation –this is the price of sovereignty these Amboys are willing to pay.

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