Saturday, December 10, 2005

U.S. Armed Intervention in the Philippines and the People's Struggle for National Freedom

"If it is commercialism to want the possession of a strategic point [Philippines] giving the American people an opportunity to maintain a foothold in the markets of that great Eastern country [China], for God's sake let us have commercialism." --Senator Mark Hanna (1837-1904) NOTES:

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U.S. Armed Intervention in the Philippines and the People's Struggle for National Freedom
By Rep. Satur C. Ocampo

I cannot recall the names of the two Filipino soldiers who, on the warm moonlit night of February 4, 1899, were shot dead by American sentries, nor, indeed, if their names were ever recorded. But whoever they were they are remembered as the first casualties of U.S. armed intervention in our nation's affairs. That encounter served as U.S. imperialism's pretext to begin the conquest of the Philippines and heralded the Filipino-American War - a heroic struggle by the Filipino people against the United States whose revolutionary legacy extends to this day.

By now I am sure we are all aware why the Philippines figures so prominently in the United States’ hegemonic ambitions. As it was a century ago, we are strategically important as a staging post in the region from which the United States can protect and advance its imperial interests. But also, as it was a century ago and indeed in all the time since, the Filipino people do not meekly submit to U.S. imperialism's designs.

The Filipino nation was born in the battlefield, through over 200 uprisings during three centuries of Spanish colonialism and then with the 1896 Philippine revolution under the leadership of the Katipunan. These culminated in our distinguishing ourselves as the first nation in Asia to wage and win the old democratic revolution against a colonial power. When we fought U.S. aggression beginning in 1899 we fought it as a sovereign nation. When we fight U.S. imperialism today we do so as a sovereign people.

Filipino-American War
The sounds and images of the Filipino-American War reverberate to this day. In all the important things, U.S. imperialism's deep grip on Philippine society was established through its war of conquest and in the course of the colonial and then the neocolonial puppet regimes in its wake.

The extent and brutality of the U.S.' war of aggression against the Philippines are lost or obscured in history written from the U.S. viewpoint.

The defiant resistance of the fledgling Filipino republic against the then still maturing but already mighty imperialist behemoth is undeniable. The Spanish-American War lasted less than four months in its entirety with insignificant losses for the U.S.: less than 800 dead from direct fighting, mainly in Cuba. Yet the Filipino-American War dragged on for virtually 17 years in Luzon and the Visayas, up to 1916, and at least 14 years in Mindanao, up to 1913. When the U.S. formally declared colonial rule in 1902, only three years into the fighting, there were already 4,234 American dead and 2,779 wounded.

The U.S. had unleashed its vast war machine. Some 60% of the U.S.' 216,029 Army regulars and volunteers in 1898 were deployed in 639 outposts across the archipelago. Indeed, the 50,000 Army regulars of 1898 were doubled - some estimates say even quadrupled - because of the Filipino-American War. Prosecuting the war cost the U.S. anywhere from U.S.$400 million to over U.S.$600 million, staggering amounts for the time.

Clearly then it was by no means the small "Tagalog rebellion" as it was called by then U.S. President McKinley. Nor was it fought just by what U.S. General Otis called "a rag tag army". U.S. history has recorded the Filipino-American War as an "insurgency" or an "insurrection" by insurgents, outlaws, brigands and bandits. It was far more than that.

The Filipino fighting forces came from the working classes, mainly the peasantry - hacienda tenants, dispossessed farmers, small farmers and agricultural laborers - and some urban working people. They fought with whatever weapons were at hand. Maybe one in four had rifles captured from the Spanish and the rest were armed with bolos and other crude weapons. This against the U.S. troops' modern rifles, revolvers, artillery, rapid-fire guns, flamethrowers, explosives and their navy's big guns. But the guerrilla war we fought drew its strength from much more: the people.

Even General MacArthur couldn't but concede:
"The success of this unique system of war depends upon almost complete unity of action of the entire native population. That such unity is a fact is too obvious to admit of discussion; how it is brought about and maintained is not so plain... but fear as the only motive is hardly sufficient to account for the united and apparently spontaneous action of several millions of people."

And it was the people who paid the price for their fierce patriotism and determined struggle for independence. Filipino soldiers and civilians alike were wantonly killed. We were beaten, dismembered, burned alive and subjected to the infamous "rope torture" and "water cure". Our villages, crops and property were indiscriminately burned and destroyed. Public assassinations, beatings, intimidation, rape and other wanton violence and terror tactics were in daily use.

As early as May 1901, U.S. General Bell estimated that there were already 600,000 Filipino casualties in Luzon alone of which perhaps only between 15,000-20,000 were soldiers. This was only after two years of fighting and before the systematic "pacification campaigns" in Luzon and the Visayas.

Entire populations were herded into so-called "zones of protection" and so many tens of thousands died from hunger, exposure and disease. Perhaps 100,000 Muslims were also killed in their resistance from 1903 to 1913 in Mindanao. It is certain that U.S. imperialism killed between 10-15% of our population then of some 8 million, or from 800,000 to over a million deaths. By any account that is a staggering amount.

Colonialism and neocolonialism
We rake up these brutal events not out of any historical curiosity but because they are of the greatest relevance today. As so well put by one of our country's nationalist historians, the present is a continuation of the past.

The Filipino-American War and the succeeding decades of colonial rule aimed to destroy any vestiges of the sovereign Filipino nation and erect in its stead a vassal state, be it in colonial or neocolonial form. Brute military force, as we have seen, was used to deadly effect. But the colonial period also saw U.S. imperialism using the rest of the powers of the state against the Filipino people.

Repressive laws like the Sedition Law (1901), Brigandage Act (1902), Reconcentration Act (1903) and Flag Law (1907) were put in place to sanction the use of force against all nationalist Filipinos. The U.S. also started organizing and training surrogate armed forces to help suppress resistance to American rule. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) we know of today trace their anti-people lineage to the U.S.-created Philippine Scouts and the National Police Force of 1901.

There is an important point worth stressing. The people's armed revolutionary and anti-colonial resistance continued well after U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt declared the so-called "Philippine insurrection" over on July 4, 1902 and long after the ilustrado elite had reverted to attending to their political and economic affairs.

Armed fighting continued in Pampanga, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Zambales, Rizal, Cavite, Batangas, Tayabas, Isabela, Albay, Samar, Leyte, Negros, Cebu and elsewhere under the leadership of Sakay, Montalan, Felizardo, San Miguel, Guillermo, Ola, Toledo, Manalan, Tomines and many others until 1916. Defiant Mindanao Moro resistance continued still in Cotabato, Sulu and Lanao until 1913 in the face of equally ferocious massacres by U.S. troops. As late as 1935, some 60,000 Sakdalistas rose up in arms in 18 municipalities of Southern Tagalog and proclaimed independence shouting "Long live the Republic of the Philippines!"

Despite the death penalty or long prison terms under the Sedition Law for anyone calling for independence, open legal struggles against U.S. imperialism and its colonial rule continued to flourish. The pro-independence Partido Nacionalista was organized in 1902 and Congreso Obrero de Filipinas (COF) in 1913. The Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas (UODF) led the commemoration of the first labor day in 1903 with some 100,000 workers shouting "Down with U.S. imperialism!" Filipino journalists and writers opposed colonial rule through nationalist plays like "Tanikalang Ginto" and newspapers like El Renacimiento and Muling Pagsilang. And doubtless to the great dismay of the U.S. colonial government, the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) was launched on November 7, 1930.

Flag independence was granted the Philippines on July 4, 1946. By that time, however, decades of colonial rule had succeeded in politically, economically, ideologically and culturally fettering the Filipino nation to U.S. imperialism. The very puppet governments and the big business and landlord interests beholden to U.S. imperialism carefully put in place then - as its proxy rulers - are the very caretakers of the system today.

Continuing U.S. armed interventionSustained U.S. intervention in the Philippines' affairs in the past half century is no less armed just because American fingers haven't been pulling triggers of guns aimed at Filipinos. The most glaring example of this in the post-colonial period are of course the U.S. military bases guaranteed under the RP-U.S. Military Bases Agreement (MBA) of 1947 and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951.

Is there any doubt that the U.S. military presence is, in the final analysis, what lay behind such outrageously anti-people laws as the U.S.-RP Treaty of General Relations Property Act (1946), the Bell Trade Act (1946), the Parity Amendment (1947) and the Luarel-Langley Agreement (1954)? These blatantly affirmed the country's neocolonial character, especially by upholding and deepening the interests of U.S. monopolies over our economy - by granting Americans equal economic rights as Filipinos, by skewing trade and investment relations in their favor, and so on.

And is there any doubt that, in the decades that followed until today, brute U.S. military might is in the final analysis what underpins IMF-WB stabilization and structural adjustment programs, World Trade Organization (WTO) "commitments", and imperialist globalization in all its forms? We are not naïve.
That U.S. forces haven't been openly mobilized against Filipinos - because it is certain that they have - is testament more to the complete servility of the U.S. imperialism's puppet Philippine governments and especially its armed forces than to any real independence.

We note how the AFP, the U.S.' proxy armed force in the country, has historically been active not against any external aggressor but mainly against Filipinos - in the peasant uprisings of the 1930s, against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap) and Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB) in the 1940s and 1950s, against the New People's Army (NPA) since the 1960s, and against the Moro people since the 1970s.

But even then it's important to highlight our complete solidarity with national freedom movements around the world. Since 1946, the U.S. has conducted hundreds of military operations in over 70 countries, not even considering yet countless covert operations. It actively had a hand in attempts to overthrow some 40 foreign governments and in efforts to crush 30 freedom and liberation movements.

We know that the U.S. used their military bases here in the Philippines as major staging areas in at least the Korean War and the Vietnam War. They have also been key transit points during military operations in the Middle East such as against Iraq. Most recently of course was the use of Philippine facilities by the U.S. in its war against the Afghan people. Our struggle against U.S. imperialism dovetails with the sovereign rights of other peoples to be free from outside intervention.

In any case it's clear that the U.S. exercises the overtly military option even in the Philippines when, as, and how it sees fit. We recall the December 1989 "persuasion flights" by U.S. Air Force jets from Clark Air Base that helped the Aquino regime put down a rightist coup. And of course the current military operations under the guise of Balikatan "training exercises".

But the Filipino people's struggle for national freedom has continued, in the open mass movement and in the armed struggle. Against the backdrop of 1950s U.S.-orchestrated anti-Communist hysteria, militant Left organizations spurred a resurgent nationalism and directly opposed U.S. imperialism from the late 1950s and in the 1960s. Sparked by the youth and students, the workers and peasants movements revived nationwide and flourished.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) was re-established on December 26, 1968 and the NPA organized on March 29 the following year. National democratic (ND) mass organizations took root among the people and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) was formed in 1971 aiming to build a sovereign, democratic, progressive, just and peaceful society.
Despite the imposition of martial law and harsh repression by the U.S.-backed Marcos dictatorship, millions of people were swept into the struggle for national freedom and democracy. The people's movement continued to draw broad swathes of the country's patriotic and progressive into its fold, coalescing into the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) formed in 1986, and was instrumental in toppling the regime in 1986.

The ND forces spearheaded the anti-bases movement with the militant Abakada (Anti-Baseng Kilusan) and Anti-Treaty Movement (ATM) at its core, also driving other broad anti-bases initiatives forward. It was a truly nationalist force that couldn't be resisted. When the MBA lapsed in 1991, the Senate rejected its extension by voting against the new proposed RP-U.S. Bases Treaty and caused the removal of U.S. troops and facilities - a truly historic step towards genuine freedom for our people.

The return of U.S. troops
But U.S. imperialism apparently can't long stand being deprived of Philippine facilities so crucial to its geopolitical interests.

When the U.S. came to our shores a century ago, it was continuing a wave of territorial expansion conducted throughout the 19th century - from its east coast across the mainland continent to the west coast and various Pacific islands, then into Central America, then across the Pacific to the Philippines. We were desired not only for our rich forests and vast minerals but also as a staging post from which to expand into the markets of China and the rest of Asia - in short, extending the U.S.' imperial reach into this part of the world. Senator Beveridge said to the U.S. Senate in 1900: "...the archipelago is a base for commerce of the East. It is a base for military and naval operations against the only powers with whom conflict is possible."

Things have changed little even after the Cold War. The U.S.' 1995 East Asian Strategy Report of the Department of Defense:
"reaffirms our commitment to maintain a stable forward presence in the region, at the existing level of 100,000 troops, for the foreseeable future... for maintaining forward deployment of U.S. forces and access and basing rights for U.S. and allied forces... If the American presence in Asia were removed... our ability to affect the course of events would be constrained, our markets and interests would be jeopardized."

U.S. imperialism first tried to extract an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) which would have allowed U.S. forces to refuel, repair and store war materiel in the country. Vigorous protests and mass demonstrations put this down. This was repackaged in 1997 as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and, again, was met with great opposition and put down.

Yet, quietly, RP-U.S. military exercises were still held in the country even after total U.S. withdrawal in 1992. These exercises allow the U.S. to gain familiarity with other countries' forces and potential battlefield terrain, as well as cement political and military ties of dependence.

The U.S. was finally able to force a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) through in 1999 despite the protestations of our Junk VFA Movement. Approved by the Senate as a treaty - and by the U.S. as a mere executive agreement - the VFA effectively makes the country one gigantic U.S. military facility at its convenience. Full access to Philippine territory is granted by giving U.S. military and civilian forces, including their personnel, warships, and warplanes, extraordinary rights and privileges.

The VFA is fully a piece of the U.S.' global military spread spanning over 800 military installations (including 60 major facilities) in over 140 countries, significant troop deployments in 25 countries, and at least 36 security arrangements. It's part of a string of dozens of security treaties, arrangements, ACSAs and SOFAs in Asia stretching from North Asia through Southeast Asia to Australia and the South Pacific - including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hongkong, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, the Marshall Islands and so on.

The U.S. lost no time in taking advantage of this and conducted Balikatan 2000 in January 2000 in Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Pampanga, Zambales, Bataan, Cavite and Palawan - i.e. in exercise venues exceeding the scope of any before it.
We have always argued that these agreements make a mockery of Philippine sovereignty and lay the basis for a return of U.S. troops to the country and direct armed intervention. Well a scant decade after the ejection of the military bases, the foot soldiers and grunts of U.S. imperialism are well and truly back - this time for their "war on terrorism".

The "war on terrorism"
Terrorism is an indefensible scourge and should be condemned. Yet what is even more condemnable is how U.S. imperialism, which has had little qualms in targeting civilians in defense of its hegemony, is invoking that legitimate cause for its own self-interested ends. All the end of the Cold War has meant for the U.S. is a golden opportunity to expand its economic, political and military hegemony ever wider across the world.

Consider what the important U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) 2001 says. It begins from the premise that America's overseas presence posture, concentrated in Western Europe and Northeast Asia, "is inadequate for the new strategic environment, in which U.S. (economic and security) interests are global and potential threats in other areas of the world are emerging."

It thus calls for an even more aggressive U.S. global security posture reoriented to:
"a) develop a basing system that provides greater flexibility for U.S. forces in critical areas of the world, placing emphasis on additional bases and stations beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia;

b) provide temporary access to facilities in foreign countries that enable U.S. forces to conduct training and exercises in the absence of permanent ranges and bases;

c) redistribute forces and equipment based on regional deterrence requirements;

d) provide sufficient mobility, including airlift, sealift, pre-positioning, basing infrastructure, alternative points of debarkation, and new logistical concepts of operations, to conduct expeditionary operations in distant theaters against adversaries armed with weapons of mass destruction and other means to deny access to U.S. forces."

Largely written before the 9/11 terrorist attacks though released a few weeks after, implementation of the recommendations of the QDR 2001 gained momentum with the creation of the "war on terrorism" as a propaganda pillar.

The Philippines was quickly declared as the "second front" after Afghanistan with the return of U.S. troops sycophantically embraced by the Arroyo regime. As ever, the country is critical to the U.S. strategy of fortifying its presence in Southeast Asia, a presence somewhat weakened after the ouster of the bases.

The region is rich in natural resources like oil, gas and minerals. With over 500 million people, it's a vast market for U.S. goods and services and a significant destination for U.S. investments. Its east-west sea lanes connect the Indian and Pacific Oceans and its north-south routes link Australasia with Northeast Asia. These are vital not only to international commerce but also to any movement of U.S. forces from the western Pacific to the Indian Ocean or the Persian Gulf.

Mainland Asia is also home to three nuclear powers: China, India and Pakistan.
Tenuous links of the CIA-created bandit Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) with the Al Qaeda were played up to bolster the U.S. campaign for deeper military ties with the Philippines and a stronger military presence. Spuriously invoking the VFA, Balikatan 02-01 was a qualitative leap for RP-U.S. relations with open joint RP-U.S. field military operations conducted for the first time. Mindanao is clearly of special significance with U.S. Combat Engineers ("Seabees") working on a network of roads and airfields that come on top of earlier U.S.AID-funded development of military-ready "civilian" airports and seaports.

More to come
The VFA - a toned-down ACSA - is apparently still not enough for the U.S.' tastes. In her trip to the U.S. last November, President Arroyo took up a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) which is presently being negotiated secretly by the two governments. The preamble of the working draft says the MLSA aims to "further the interoperability, readiness and effectiveness" of the RP-U.S. military forces "through increased logistics cooperation."

The basic aim though is simply to allow the U.S. to set up logistics support network in the country - covering supplies, billeting, transportation, communication and medical materiel -by storing or procuring them locally. Though involving seemingly innocuous items they clearly have a darkly military purpose.

The joint combat operations against the trifling ASG are also obviously meant to lay the ground for similar operations against the NPA, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The Arroyo regime has been conspicuous in floating and pushing the idea of allowing the U.S. troops to go well beyond Basilan.

In her State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week the president even boasted of "[enhancing] our strategic relationship with the U.S. through continuing training exercises." Clearly the deployment of U.S. forces against the ASG was meant to start a chain of events for rationalizing further U.S. military intervention and aggression, which can only wreak havoc on the Filipino people and our struggle for national freedom. Bayan Muna joins U.S. Troops Out Now in confronting U.S. imperialism's machinations.

Our history is replete with experiences that show U.S. imperialism is a deceitful and brutal enemy of the people. The widespread poverty, social inequity and deep exploitation we suffer today is in large measure due to its domination of Philippine society. Yet our history also shows that the hard and valiant struggle and, indeed, the sacrifices and martyrdom of so many are not in vain.

We are unrelenting in our struggle and convinced that each battle we fight, no matter the outcome, is a step in the right direction. A step towards national freedom and liberation.

Speech prepared for the International Solidarity Mission Against U.S. Armed Intervention in the Philippines, July 28, 2002


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