With the recent rape conviction of US Serviceman Lance Corporal Daniel Smith and his stealthy transfer from a Philippine jail to the US Embassy, Filipino appreciation of the US fell to another all-time low. And yet, despite the Smith incident, the Philippine-US relationship will likely continue to follow the love-hate pattern of the past three decades.
The generation of the 1930s and the 1940s loved almost anything American. But the Baby Boomers, who were born in the post-World War II era, saw America in a different light. They grew up in the ’60s and the ’70s, in a tumultuous era that challenged tradition, established beliefs and institutions.
To many Filipino Baby Boomers, the Vietnam War and the sponsorship of puppet dictators by the US were two glaring examples that proved why the US is not the champion of democracy it claims to be. By its acts, the US had depicted itself as a predatory imperial power bent on protecting its geopolitical interest at all cost.
The Baby Boomers, the generation of young activists and future leaders at that time, also suffered most under martial law and they realized that even that was imposed with US blessings. Ferdinand Marcos would not have been able to impose martial law without the consent of the US in the same way that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had retreated on Presidential Proclamation 1017 when the US expressed its concerns.
By 1972, everyone knew that a US pullout from Vietnam was just a matter of time. The greatest fear of the US was the eventual spread of Communist control in Asia under a geopolitical scenario known as the Domino Theory. Communist victory in Vietnam was expected to trigger a successive collapse of the Indo-China peninsula countries to the Communists, making the rest of Asia vulnerable.
Marcos manufactured a Communist threat here and played on the US fears. The US preferred a Right wing government to a Communist takeover – something that they also condoned in Chile. Through four US presidents – Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, James Earl Carter and Ronald Reagan – the US continued to support the Marcos dictatorship.
George Bush Sr., then the Vice President of Ronald Reagan, even toasted Marcos, saying: "We love your adherence to democratic principles." Up to February 25, 1986, until the afternoon of that final day of the People Power Revolt, the US was still backing Marcos.
In fact, the US did not do the Filipinos a favor by flying Marcos to Hawaii. Had we been able to arrest and jail the dictator, all of Marcos’s ill-gotten wealth would most likely have been recovered and that would have been more than enough to pump prime our economy. Instead, we continue to suffer from the after effects of the Marcos years, worst of which is the huge foreign debt he had incurred that is now being paid at the expense of the education and health care of Filipinos.
It is hard for many Filipinos to relate to the US in its two faces – one which shows a government that upholds and fights for the principles of democracy for all its citizens and the other, a superpower who wants to remain a superpower, come what may. Many Filipinos see the US as the blessed land of plenty and diversity, the country adopted by many of their own friends and kin and the country they want most to visit. But what many cannot see and understand is a US protecting and optimizing the benefits it can get for itself when involved in dealing with another country.
Within the US, its citizens can expect fair and equal treatment under the law – unless one is a national threat such as a suspected terrorist falling under the coverage of the Homeland Security Act. Compared to Philippine justice, especially the one wielded by Raul Gonzalez, the US would indeed appear to be the ideal society that protects and takes care of its citizens.
But what many Filipinos still have not realized is that when another country is dealing with the US, the ground rules change dramatically. Here, there is no equal treatment under the law or due process. In this relationship, the US will protect its interests and it is expected that our leaders will protect ours.
This is no different from two international companies who are trying to work out a business deal. Both companies are supposed to exercise due diligence and protect the interests of its respective stockholders. In most cases, Philippines, Inc is sold down the river by our leaders.
Just look at the reckless decision of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to join the Coalition of the Willing when US President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. To my view, a view that is shared by other patriots who know the real score about the Iraq War, that decision was in pursuit of her personal interest and not the national interest.
Many saw Arroyo getting into the good graces of Bush for her 2004 election campaign. Our national interest would have dictated that we protect the Filipino Overseas Workers (OFWs) who are in the Middle East rather than join the Coalition of the Willing where our risks outweigh the rewards.
The rich countries like Japan, Australia, UK, South Korea et al would want to join the Coalition of the Willing because they need the oil badly to keep their industries running. But our main "industry" is our workforce overseas. In the event that an Arab-Islamic backlash happens, our OFWs could become targets of violent acts or the Arab States could altogether decide to replace our OFWs with other nationals.
That possibility was not farfetched. When the US bailed out Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Arab States banded together against the US and imposed an oil embargo that raised the price of oil worldwide, triggering a world recession.
Many Filipinos were fooled by the US claims that Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction and by the fictitious link of Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda. They did not realize that the Iraq War was not in our best national interest until an OFW – Angelo de la Cruz – was taken hostage and was about to be beheaded.
There are indeed many understandable reasons why the Filipino will always regard the American as a favorite national friend. To most Filipinos, the US was a benevolent colonizer and made some significant positive contributions, most notable are our democratic institutions which were patterned after the US model and our educational system.
The early 1900s, when we were under the US, were memorable years to Filipinos. Life was easy and plentiful. President Manuel Quezon was right; we were run like "heaven" by Americans and like "hell" by Filipinos. Before and after the American period – the periods under Spain and Japan – were harsh and often brutal times for the Filipinos, especially the Japanese occupation.
But what most Filipinos do not see is the US that influences the political and economic directions of the country, the US that serves its own interests at our expense. We cannot blame the US for that. Their leaders are merely seeking the best for their national interests.
The fault lies in our leaders. They failed to protect and fight for our national interests. In many cases, they only sought to protect their own selfish interests even if these are in direct conflict with Philippine national interests.