When Barack Obama comes here this weekend, he will run smack into two formidable biases harbored by Filipinos.
The first is a welcome one for an American president, which is the Filipinos’ staggering pro-Americanism. We are a country and people that wave the American flag more energetically than Americans themselves, as witness the patriotic fervor we showed at the American responses to 9/11, which was to bomb Afghanistan to the Stone Age for harboring Osama Bin Laden and invading Iraq for, wala lang, it happened to be there and Saddam Hussein fitted the role of a “harbor-er” of weapons of mass destruction.
Obama can only be expected to keep the fires burning. He has not exactly proven to be the iconoclastic emancipator his circumstances—the first black American president—suggested he might be. Least of all the emancipator of people from their mental shackles, never mind their physical ones. I was one of those who thrilled to his tectonic-plate-shifting victory over John McCain and felt a jolt of excitement when he said, “Change has come to America.” Alas, not really.
The real change—to the world and not just America—did not come six years ago, it came a year ago. It did not come from Obama, it came from Pope Francis. But that’s another story.
To go back: Obama will be coming to a country that loves Americans and things American. A thing that has been magnified over the last year or so by Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, reviving the other side of the coin, which is that this is a country that hates Chinese and everything Chinese—except Chinese food, Chinese gold, and CDR-King.
Recently, government has been announcing that its enhanced defense cooperation agreement, which would give the United States wider access to Philippine bases—and which is really harboring the US bases within the Philippine bases—has met with near-universal approval from the public. I can believe it, given the whipping-up by Filipinos themselves of a 1950s-like Cold War paranoia that says—in lieu of “The Russians are coming!”—“The Chinese are coming!”
It’s all very fine, except for one thing: Right now government can go on and announce that it has negotiated an agreement to bring back the US bases and it will be met with widespread approval by the public. This is a forgetful country. April 2014 is not September 1991. The difference is not just measured in years, it is measured in lifetimes. There’s little the United States can ask for today that won’t be granted by our government—and that won’t be approved enthusiastically by us.
In fact, government can go on and announce that it has initiated a campaign calling on the United States to make us the 51st state of America, and it won’t just be near-universally approved by us, it will set us into a frenzy of jubilation. Probably even more than a
Pacquiao victory. Except of course that the Americans will find such an idea as welcome as a hole in the head, at the very least to go by the plight of the Filipino veterans.
I remember during the 1990s several studies that tried to gauge the extent of our Filipino identity. Elementary school kids were asked what nationality they preferred. The number one answer unsurprisingly was American. The number two was Saudi Arabian, reflecting a time when jeepneys carried mud flaps that said, “Katas ng Saudi.” Filipino only came third—or in some studies fourth or fifth. I suspect it’s still the same today, with only Saudi changing into some other Arab (?) nationality.
Indeed, I remember how in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time a survey came out that asked whom we trusted the most. The number one was not any Filipino official, many of whom got negative ratings. It was George W. Bush.
Which brings me to the other formidable Filipino bias that Obama at least, if not all American presidents, will not find very welcome. Bush is white. Obama is black. Obama will be coming to a country that, if it does not necessarily hate black and things black, at least does not hold them in high regard. Courtesy of colonialism, of which American colonialism was part. We hold black-skinned people as objects of ridicule, making them, along with the pandak and kinky-haired, the foils of sitcoms.
This is a country of skin whiteners, a product that is freely advertised in utter disregard, or obliviousness, to the disparagement it does dark skin. Indeed in utter disregard or obliviousness to foreigners braving local transportation to get to our beaches in hopes of darkening their skin.
More to the point, this is a country that openly sympathized with Hillary Clinton when she battled Obama in the Democratic primaries. One would imagine that was so for a number of ideological or programmatic reasons, but it was not. It was, as one Filipino expostulated in an interview as though he were expressing a truth we hold to be self-evident—“because he’s black.”
Harry Thomas never became the toast of the town the way Kristie Kenney was though he loved jazz and went out of his way to places in Quezon City that played jazz while Kenney only loved Gloria and went out of her way to dance in “Wowowee.” Frankly, I don’t know what the Americans were thinking when they assigned Thomas here. This is a country that will take the word of a dolt like Dubya as gospel truth and that of a, well, tepid Obama as suspect.
This is the country the president of the United States of America will be visiting next week. The official reception of course will register a triumphal foray into the home of an old friend. The unofficial one, well, I’d be curious to see what kinds of text jokes it spawns. Particularly when Obama gets to shake the hand of the self-styled dark horse of Philippine elections, Jojo O’Binay. It should be fun.
They will at least have a contrast in height.
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