From Pvt Willie Grayson to Pfc Joe Pemberton
American forces that came to the Philippines in large numbers after Admiral George Dewey’s victory over the Spanish fleet in Manila in May 1898, were made up mostly of volunteers from states west of the Mississippi. At that time the United States did not maintain a large, standing army, and so for the war against Spain, it had to rely on volunteers. Most of these volunteers were farm boys who had left home for travel and adventure.
Others were immigrant youths who spoke broken English. Some were plain drifters. Typical of these young volunteers was Pvt. William Grayson from Nebraska. His encounter with Filipino rebel forces surrounding Manila would signal the start of the Philippine-American war.
In the words of President William McKinley, the mission of the US forces would be “to Christianize and civilize” the Filipinos. They were to be molded “in our image” and so the American experiment to transform Filipinos into carbon copies of their colonial masters started almost immediately. After three centuries in a Catholic convent, we were introduced to Hollywood.
Perhaps the greatest single achievement of the experiment was the setting up of a public school system that resulted in one of the highest literacy rates in Southeast Asia. The Philippines became the third-largest English-speaking nation in the world after the United States and Great Britain. But while the English language brought about a sense of unity to the people, it also hampered the development of a national language.
The experiment also fostered a dependency on the United States. Our exports were geared to support the American market while an import monopoly of American brands hampered the development of our own industries and implanted in us a taste for expensive, “stateside” products. “Made in the USA” was the most desired marking in the market. “Mas mabuti ang imported.”
On July 4, 1946, political independence came but at a heavy price for the nation. Twenty-two sites, including Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, were leased out to the United States for 99 years (later reduced to 25 years)
besides giving the United States jurisdiction over American servicemen involved in crimes in the country. More stringent terms were imposed on the Philippines than those imposed on the Japanese, its former enemy, in acquiring bases in Japan.
Even tougher was the provision for parity or equal rights for Americans to own mines, forests, and other natural resources without Filipinos enjoying reciprocal rights in the United States.
It is true that the rentals from the use of the bases brought prosperity to the communities around and to the economy in general. It also gave rise to the bars and brothels that catered to thousands of US servicemen. The rentals deepened our dependence on the United States for most everything.
For instance, the Philippine Air Force received fighter jet aircraft and helicopters from the United States, making it one of the most modern air forces in Southeast Asia. In 1960, we could muster 16 F-86 Sabre jets to form the largest Blue Diamonds acrobatic team.
In September 1991, the Philippine Senate, by a razor-thin margin of 12 to 11, decided to shut down the bases. The Americans took it as a sign of ingratitude, and a pissed-off Uncle Sam immediately took away from the bases everything that was not nailed down including the old range balls of the Binictican golf course. Put another way, he picked up all his marbles and left.
The effects were soon felt in many ways.
From one of the finest air forces in the Pacific region, the Philippines ended up with not a single jet fighter in its inventory. Our president, the commander in chief of the AFP, had to move around by commercial aircraft.
In May 1999, the Philippines and the United States entered into a new arrangement known as the Visiting Forces Agreement. The agreement allowed the US government to retain jurisdiction over US military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines unless the crimes were of “particular” importance to the Philippines. It would be difficult to enumerate crimes that could be of no particular interest to the country. In spite of calls for a review of certain provisions of the VFA, nothing in the agreement was changed.
In early October of this year, some 3,000 US marines arrived to participate in Balikatan exercises with AFP units. Among them was a 19-year-old Marine from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Considering his age, I would assume it was his first trip outside the United States, and also his first glimpse of exotic beauties from a different land far away from his hometown.
After weeks at sea on board the USS Peleliu, and field exercises with other Marines, Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton arrived at Subic for some rest and recreation. At one of the local bars, he picked up 26-year-old Jennifer or Jeffrey Laude, and headed for a hotel for what he thought would be a night of bliss and ecstasy. To his great disappointment, and possibly frustration, he discovered an age-old truth: Things are not always what we believe them to be.
Today he sits by himself inside an air-conditioned container van in Camp Aguinaldo, more than 10,000 miles away from New Bedford, Massachusetts. The van serves as the
office of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) and could be considered as US territory. He is guarded by US Marines, and Philippine Army soldiers fresh from Golan Heights duty.
More than a hundred years after Private Grayson felled the first Filipino, leading to the start of the Philippine-American War, and about 70 years after the grant of political independence from the United States, we are still dissecting issues on custody and jurisdiction of American servicemen who commit crimes in our country.
A Filipino is killed in the Philippines. The prime suspect is an American serviceman.
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