Bush in Manila

Recently, in perhaps one of his most Pollyannaish statements to date, President Bush, in a speech to the Philippine Congress, said "America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people. Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule," as if the story of American involvement in the Philippines ended happily right there with the withdrawal of the Spanish. But Bush, ever true to form, failed to even acknowledge the ensuing, bloody guerilla war and decades long occupation, which is ironic because of the similarities between the Philippine-American War and the ongoing war in Iraq today.

When the Spanish-American war erupted in 1898, the Filipinos found themselves "allied" with the United States against Spain. It seemed to them that with the help of the Americans they would soon be liberated from Spanish rule.

Bush has claimed repeatedly that the United States is liberating the Iraqis from Saddam's regime. Still holding to much of the same post-invasion rhetoric, Bush declared in the same speech in October, "Since the liberation of Iraq, we have discovered Saddam’s clandestine laboratories suitable for biological and chemical weapons research, his design work on prohibited long-range missiles, his elaborate campaign to hide his illegal weapons programs. We’ve shut down terror camps, denied terrorists a sanctuary. By our actions, our coalition removed a grave and gathering danger. We also ended one of the cruelest regimes in our time. Saddam’s rape rooms and torture chambers and children’s prisons are closed forever."

The Filipinos, however, much like the Iraqis, soon realized that the United States had no interest in liberating the Philippines; in fact they intended to create a colony of it. As the inevitable violence flared, president McKinley told reporters, “that the insurgents had attacked Manila” to justify a U.S. war on the Filipinos. In 1899 the United States occupied the Philippines with 126,000 troops. The Filipinos, under the command of Emilio Aguinaldo, battled the Americans conventionally for about a year; however it was soon clear the Filipinos were overmatched by the Americans. Aguinaldo soon gave the order for his followers to begin employing guerilla tactics.

"From this point on, the war became a savage, no-holds-barred guerilla conflict made up of ambushes, massacres and retribution. Both sides engaged in wanton violence and slaughter. Villages were destroyed, civilians murdered, prisoners tortured and mutilated along with a host of other atrocities."

The recent wholesale destruction of Fallujah and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal come immediately to mind. The army has also imposed curfews on Iraqi civilians, much the same as their predecessors in the Philippines.

“We sleep all day here, as we do our duty all night, walking the streets. We make every one get into his house by 7 P.M., and we only tell a man once, If he refuses, we shoot him. We killed over three hundred men the first night. They tried to set the town on fire. If they fire a shot from a house, we burn the house down, and every house near it, and shoot the natives; so they are pretty quiet in town now.” – Corporal in the California Regiment – Philippines

The overwhelming brutality and violence that it took to quell the insurgency in the Philippines became nearly genocidal. The Americans practically annihilated the inhabitants of the Philippines before the insurrection was completely put down.

With guerilla attacks escalating and with many in Washington calling for increased levels of troops, the situation in Iraq is beginning to look all too familiar.

Bush commented further, "Democracy always has skeptics. Some say the culture of the Middle East will not sustain the institutions of democracy. The same doubts were once expressed about the culture of Asia. These doubts were proven wrong nearly six decades ago, when the Republic of the Philippines became the first democratic nation in Asia."

And within twenty years the Philippines segued from democracy, straight into dictatorship. Bush conveniently leaves out the fact that the Philippines suffered under one of the worst dictators in recent history. Perhaps Ferdinand Marcos slipped his memory.

Marcos was elected the 10th president of the Philippines in 1965. During his second term in office he re-wrote the constitution so that he could continue his tenure as President. By 1972, he declared martial law and assumed dictatorial control over the Philippines.

"The military has virtually unlimited powers to search, arrest and detain civilians without reason and without recourse to legal representation. Military tribunals are set up throughout the country to try and sentence detainees. The civilian courts are stripped of their power and autonomy, and the Philippine police force is placed under military control. It is estimated that more than 60,000 people are arrested between 1972 and 1977."

During his reign, Marcos bilked the country out of billions of dollars, ordered assassinations, seized private property, and appointed his friends and lackeys to public offices. After a twenty-year reign and a ruined economy the Filipino citizens had had enough and Marcos fled the country and flew to Hawaii in 1986.

"When Marcos arrives in Hawaii he is said to be carrying suitcases containing jewels, 24k gold bricks and certificates for billions of dollars of gold bullion. His Swiss bank accounts are estimated to contain between US$3 billion and US$35 billion stolen from his country. The Philippine’s foreign debt is about US$28 billion. To this day, the existence and whereabouts of the stolen Marcos billions remains unconfirmed despite detailed investigations by the US Senate."

Many readers will remember Imelda Marcos' enormous shoe collection. While millions of Filipinos were living in extreme poverty, Imelda travelled the world buying shoes.

Should we be at all surprised that President Bush seems oblivious to the sordid legacy of American involvement in the Philippines and its subsequent dictatorship? I think not, since over and over again this administration has demonstrated a profound ability to deny the obvious. The "success" of the United States in quelling the "insurgency" in the Philippines came at a terrible price to both sides, with the resulting "democracy" at best questionable and at worst a total farce.

Unlike some recent conflicts, the American forces in the Philippines resorted to measures that seem reprehensible to modern Americans in order to eventually pacify that insurgency. What is frightening is that this administration also seems to have the resolve necessary to repeat that same feat.

December 31, 2004