Saturday, June 18, 2005

Fil-Am Friendship
A Boone to the Filipino People
by Roland Simbulan (The author is a Professor at the University of the Philippines, National Chairperson of the Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition and is author of the book, The Bases of Our Insecurity, 1983, 1985, 1987)

Whenever Filipinos think of Americans as friends, what usually come to mind are these images: the GI giving out chocolates to children or the Peace Corps volunteer helping rural folk build their own water system. These days, the American friend is also the pen pal who woos a Filipina or the US embassy official who helps one get a visa.

There is, however, another kind of American friend that Filipinos have. Many Pinoys who have visited Boston, Massachusetts, for a few months’ sojourn as visiting fellows or students at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or Boston University have met him. He is Daniel Boone Schirmer. If his name sounds familiar especially to viewers who watched a certain television show some decades back, this is because Schirmer descended from the American frontiersman, Daniel Boone, and was named after him.

Schirmer, now 87, was born on Feb. 22. As he himself wryly said, “Showing a patriotic impulse in embryo, I chose Feb. 22, George Washington’s birthday, to make my appearance.” It was a kind of patriotism, however, that would manifest itself in a way that was different from what most Americans and his government were familiar with. For Boone-as he was called by his Filipino and American friends-strongly opposed, and fought, the interventionist policies and practices of the United States government, especially as these applied to the Philippines. In the early 1970s, when opposition to the Marcos dictatorship was not yet fashionable, Boone had already been supporting Filipinos who were in exile in the US as a result of their opposition to martial law. In November 1973, Boone and 60 other concerned Americans and Filipino-Americans from Chicago, New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Connecticut and Philadelphia, founded the organization called Friends of the Filipino People (FFP). Perhaps as a reminder of the true ideals that America should stand for, the FFP was established in Philadephia, where in 1789 the United States declared its independence from Britain and adopted its own Constitution.

After he retired as a professor in Boston University, Boone led the American movement in opposing his government’s support for the Marcos dictatorship. The FFP joined other US-based Filipino groups like the Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino(KDP), the Movement for a Free Philippines(MFP) and the Anti-Martial Law Coalition (AMLC). Together, they worked to stop US military assistance and political support for the Marcos dictatorship and to inform Americans about human rights violations.

Environmental engineer Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, a US-based Filipino activist, remembers those days. “To see an old man working feverishly in the FFP office, folding pamphlets, licking hundreds of stamps, answering phone calls, and working late into the evenings with such intensity gave us so much hope then (during the anti-Marcos struggle) in the face of overwhelming odds. He inspired both Filipinos and Americans alike.”

As an organizer and activist, Boone took part in anti-Marcos demonstrations and helped lobby in the US Congress for an end to American collaboration with the dictatorial regime. Years later, he and his organization played an important role in pressuring the US government to respect the historic September 16, 1991 decision of the Philippine Senate in rejecting the proposed treaty that would have extended the life of the US bases. In his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he shares with his wife Peggy, the Harvard-educated professor would invite Filipinos to simple dinners in “house meetings” exchanging ideas with them in a veritable smorgasbord of insights on how to improve the conditions of working people in the US and the Philippines.

The Schirmer’s book-crammed home at Gerry St. was a house brewing with intellectual fermentation. They were host to a stream of activists, exiles and graduate students who visited Boston during the Marcos years, including the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. , senator Jose W. Diokno, Chair of the Civil Liberties Union(CLU) and Sr. Mariani Dimaranan, Chairperson of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines(TFD).

In the early 1980s, the Schirmers moved to the FFP’s national office in Washington D.C. and shared living quarters with Charito Planas, then the leading woman opponent of Marcos in exile. (At that time, Planas was supporting her political activism in the US by selling pizzas and delivering these herself door to door.)

Unlike many Filipinos who used their Harvard education to simply advance their careers and make life better for themselves, Boone used his world-class education to help a country thousands of miles away from his own. It would shame many Filipinos to know that Boone spent many years of his life as a full-time activist dedicated to the advancement of Philippine freedom, democracy and sovereignty. Whether it was on the issue of the Marcos dictatorship, the US military bases, the Balikatan military exercises, toxic waste contamination, or Amerasian children, Boone was in solidarity with the Filipino people’s struggle and at the forefront of it in the United States.

His interest in the Philippines began as a scholar. This was in the 1960s, “when I was going after a Ph.D. in US history,” he said. His thesis topic was the Anti-Imperialist League, an American organization that led massive opposition to the US conquest and colonization of the Philippines at the beginning of the 20th century. (So influential was the league that when the US Senate voted in 1899 on the Treaty of Paris -- an agreement where the defeated Spaniards sold the Philippines to the United States for $20 million—it won only by one vote). But Boone also had a political motivation for his thesis. At that time, he was one of the increasing number of Americans opposing the Vietnam War. He had “hoped a study of popular opposition to a previous imperial adventure would contribute to the movement against the Vietnam War.”

In his study of Philippine-US history, Boone was impressed by what he called “the courageous fight the Filipinos have waged against US domination.” His work would open the door to “one of the richest and meaningful experiences” of his life: participation and leadership in the Philippine-US solidarity movement to strengthen democratic policies in both countries.

His thesis was published as a book titled, Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War, and came out in 1972, the year Marcos declared martial law. Quickly, the anti-Marcos exiles in the US who read the book came to see him. They told Boone that it was all very well to record his government’s past misdeeds in the Philippines, but that he should get involved in the present. Specifically, they suggested that he join them in opposing his country’s economic and military support for the Marcos dictatorship.

According to Stephen R. Shalom, American author of the book, The United States and the Philippines: A Study of Neocolonialism, “Boone always understood that the struggle for justice in the Philippines was primarily a struggle for the Filipino people themselves. But he knew, too, that the US government and the elite interests it represents have been striving for more than a century to dominate the Philippines, and that therefore people of goodwill in the United States -- friends of the Filipino people -- would have to add their efforts to the cause.”

In his distinct Bostonian accent, Boone would speak tirelessly in defense of Philippine sovereignty against US intervention. He would also write about his government’s detrimental policies in the Philippines. Many of his articles and published speeches carried the same theme: that US policies must be critically studied and those that are detrimental to the interests of both Filipinos and Americans should be opposed. He took pains to make Filipinos and Americans understand that the basic interests of both peoples are the same, but it is the interests of corporate America, the US defense establishment, and global capital that continue to dominate much of US policies and US-Philippine relations. But Boone took a step further: he was a leading figure in such U.S. -based campaigns and networks like the Campaign Against Military Intervention in the Philippines(CAMIP) in 1983 and the Campaign Against US Military Bases in the Philippines(CAB) in 1986. He helped raise the awareness of the American Churches so that they too, would be able to effectively bring the issues of human rights and U.S. intervention through the U.S. bases and U.S. military assistance, to the greater mainstream of U.S. society, the American people. In fact, groups like the FFF and the American Friends Service Committee(AFSC) succeeded in pressing the U.S. Congress to pass the Human Rights Amendment, putting in question U.S. military and economic aid to Third World dictators.

According to Donald Goertzen, director of the University of California’s Education Abroad Program-Philippines, Boone “strongly identified with the best in American democratic political culture.” He believed that, “Only equals can be friends.” “For that reason,” Goertzen said, “Boone always maintained that friendship between the US and the Philippines could only flourish after the US gave up its colonial pretentions.”

Boone’s opposition to what he regards as his government’s imperialist activities drove some Filipino activists to compare him to the great American author Mark Twain. Twain, a leading member of the Anti-Imperialist League and who opposed American occupation of the Philippines more than a hundred years ago, believed that such US policies often ran against the ideals of liberty and justice on which America was founded. Shalom further noted that, “both saw US domination of the Philippines as a betrayal of fundamental human values.”

Boone’s critical role and leadership of the anti-bases movement in the US was given recognition by Filipino anti-bases forces who, in celebrating in 1993 the 2nd anniversary of the Philippine Senate’s 1991 rejection of the bases treaty, honored him along with former Senate President Jovito Salonga and former senator Wigberto TaƱada. It was a recognition that he was reportedly so proud of. His activism, however, has not lessened his humanity or sense of humor. His letters to friends, scribbled in longhand, are usually short but hilarious. Once, writing about his wife Peggy’s diminishing memory and his own prolonged convalescence from a bout with pneumonia, he said, “At any rate, we’re still here still complaining about the capitalist system to the very last of our limited capacity. That is the bright side! And I mean it.” Another time, after my visit from Boston, he wrote my wife Chit about how I “was very helpful politically” to them during my visit. But, he added, “Please encourage Roland to come more often. He is so efficient a dishwasher!”

In the early 1990s, after the successful campaign to dismantle the US bases in the Philippines, Boone donated to the Third World Studies Center in UP Diliman his entire private collection of more than 4,000 books, many of them rare first editions, on the Philippines, the Philippine-American War and U.S. interventions worldwide. When he found out that it had been named the “Boone Schirmer Collection,” he wrote the Third World Studies director to register his strong protest. He did not want his donation to carry his name. He preferred that it be named after the Filipino hero, Apolinario Mabini, perhaps to remind intellectuals about their role as patriots. Thus did the books come to be known as the Apolinario Mabini Collection.

Decades after his first brush with activism, Boone, now a frail and thin six-footer plus, has not lost the fire that burned in him when he fought against US government support for Marcos. He is aghast at his government’s current global role: “The present Bush administration represents the most extensive and heavily armed empire in history. Its towering economic capacity gives it an influence that is nearly global in entirety. Guarding this is an unparalleled military establishment of global reach and frightful nuclear potential. Under the cover of ‘The War against Terrorism,’ Washington carries on its hegemonic policy in the Philippines. With the collaboration of the present Philippine government, it is attempting to reestablish its military domination of that country so as to provide a stepping-stone for US military intervention in Asia and the Middle East.”

Characteristically, he said, “I oppose Philippine-US relationship of this character. Rather, I support the cooperation of democratic-minded Filipinos with like-minded citizens of the United States to further policies of peace and justice in both countries and throughout the world. “

His stand is not a popular one, not in his own country or even in the former colony whose people’s struggles he has waged as his own. But unpopularity does not discourage him.

Recalling a bleak moment in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship when opposition to it was “but a small voice,” the activist Emmanuel says, “Boone tried to lift my flagging spirits. He said that as a historian, he has the advantage of seeing things from a historical perspective. History is a chronicle of human struggles to build a better world for all but even as humanity moves in that direction, it will have many deviations. A setback may feel devastating when it happens but it is only a small deviation in the larger movement. There will always be a few who will keep nudging humanity to move toward that vision. That, he said, is the role of social justice advocates in every generation.”


"To oppose the policies of a government does not mean you are against the country or the people that the government supposedly represents. Such opposition should be called what it really is: democracy, or democratic dissent, or having a critical perspective about what your leaders are doing. Either we have the right to democratic dissent and criticism of these policies or we all lie down and let the leader, the Fuhrer, do what is best, while we follow uncritically, and obey whatever he commands. That's just what the Germans did with Hitler, and look where it got them." - Michael Parenti

“Nations whose NATIONALISM is destroyed are subject to ruin.” - Colonel Muhammar Qaddafi, 1942-, Libyan Political and Military Leader

"We shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to enquire, than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know..." - SOCRATES

"Upang maitindig natin ang bantayog ng ating lipunan, kailangang radikal nating baguhin hindi lamang ang ating mga institusyon kundi maging ang ating pag-iisip at pamumuhay. Kailangan ang rebolusyon, hindi lamang sa panlabas, kundi lalo na sa panloob!" --Apolinario Mabini La Revolucion Filipina (1898)

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