A second look at America | Inquirer Opinion

A second look at America

When nations relate, there are two guiding principles – mutual respect and mutual benefits. The details may change from time to time on the benefits side, as needs and aspirations shift with circumstance. But the spirit of mutual respect and mutual benefits must remain consistent to keep the relationship thriving.

Ours is not a perfect world, though. Challenges come and go, challenges that all too often make partner nations struggle to adhere to mutual respect and mutual benefit. There are internal conflicts in each nation that would spill over to international relations. Opposing domestic political and economic interests can draw sympathy from allies in another nation, then trigger friction where none was intended on the international level.


Or, some disruptive event with far-reaching repercussions like the global pandemic or the Russian war against Ukraine. Some of these unexpected but radical happenings can challenge the meaning of mutual benefit when emergencies and emotions are running high.

True, there was a time when the United States, with the use of cunning, deception, and superior force, imposed its will on the Filipino people. The deaths related to that conflict are staggering to a country that had not been steeped in a history of violence and war. Even from just a review of what happened 125 years before, there is still a tinge of pain and utter distaste in me.


But just as true, there was an age of colonization and expansionism world-wide. Bigger, stronger, richer nations at that time did participate in a conquest movement – and most succeeded. That meant a lot of blood flowed, some from the invaders, but mostly from the natives – including Filipinos.

Under the rule of the Americans, Filipinos must have been shocked that colonizers could actually bring material benefits in a very short time. The Americans were builders, not just rulers, and Americans were used to free speech – which Filipinos like Rizal realized the Spanish were not. Education was introduced and not just to the elite like before. The vestiges of freedom were there more than the vestiges of slavery.

In other words, whatever brutality was used to invade and subdue a native population, there was a serious effort to apply American efficiency and professionalism as well. It was as if the United States wanted to prove that their invasion was justified, that they thought Filipinos were not capable of ruling themselves at that point.

Then, material and technological progress was complimented with entertainment for Hollywood. That was the clincher – Hollywood entertainment addressing the fun and fiesta culture of Filipinos.

The horror of horrors came when Japan invaded the Philippines in World War II. I know it was because the Philippines was a colony of the Americans. But I also know Japan invaded other Asian countries not ruled by the United States – which then places the total onus of war on the invader at that time.

The United States released the Philippines from its formal authority in 1946, at a most crucial time when we had to rebuild from a recent war. But Filipinos, by and large, were happy to be free, and, more importantly, had little resentment against America. In fact, a lingering movement for American statehood continued for decades.

My parents and grandparents saw the latter part of Spanish rule and the whole part of American rule. I remain grateful, whether it was just our part of the country or even just the clan of relatives and friends, that what was passed on to us were more positive stories than tales of horror – except for the Japanese occupation. Ironic that from their invasion and occupation of the Philippines, America showed enough of its values and capacity to convince Filipinos, up to today, that freedom and democracy are worth it.


Yes, the Americans did have some bases until the early 90s. My generation was here when the Philippines was struggling to manifest its first ever independence in living memory (pre-Spanish colonization was too long ago). I can tell everybody that the American bases were not in control of our freedom and independence, just of their coveted PX goods. I remember the Americans only when I wanted items being sold in Clark or Subic, not to ask permission for my decisions as a Filipino citizen.

About 20 years later, a renewed agreement covering more American bases was drawn up; now, through EDCA, it is being expanded. After 6 years of the past administration that tried to tell us America was not so nice but China was a friend, the Philippines and the United States want a deeper relationship that included not only military bases but more of them. Most Filipinos welcome the renewed relationship. Even the traditional vociferous anti-American forces are not so belligerent.

Because China has not been so friendly, except to targeted Filipino officials. Maybe China believed that having special friends in the highest positions was enough to continue bullying the Philippines and grabbing sovereign territory. Maybe China felt it was protected from the top, so to speak, felt free to control even the fishing in Philippine waters, occupy Philippine islets and build military facilities on them.

There is great wealth from the natural resources of gas, oil, and maritime life within the Western Philippine Sea. China has warned us that we cannot exploit and develop them without China’s permission. How is China a friend?

Without China bullying the Philippines (and other Asian neighbors), there is no urgent need for EDCA and the additional American bases on Philippine territory. Perhaps, no need at all. EDCA is the second serious consequence of China’s expansionism and bullying. The first was the UNCLOS ruling on the case that the Philippines brought before it. Both were China’s doing, from China’s lust for power.

The US is not a guarantee that China will not prevail. But it is a guarantee that the Philippines is not alone. Beyond our mutual defense considerations, though, lies the deeper, living bond between Filipinos and Filipino Americans. That is most reassuring of all.

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