Sunday, April 03, 2005

Corruption and Imperialism

As all news centers on the passing of Pope John Paul II again today, I would like to take this opportunity to point out a major problem in a place he gave his attention when no one else did.

Pope's first visit to the Philippines sowed seeds of People Power revolt
The people of the Philippines cared greatly for the Pope and I believe he cared greatly for them.

US Imperialism: (that ought to get your attention coming from me)

Recently, the US has been labeled by much of the world and some in this country as imperialistic. Most of these attacks are politically motivated hollow banter. I’m still waiting for my cut of the Iraqi oil. There is one case of US imperialism that is consistently ignored. A crisis looms in the Philippines, and in this case, it is our fault.

Though I am not a Filipino, I am connected to the country. Someone with whom I am close recently returned from that country. It was her first trip home in 6 years. She told me that she cried over the state of the Philippines today. The last time I was there (1996) the country was poor, but the people had, for the most part, the staples of life. Today, the poor scrape for food, inflation and unemployment are out of control and the population is exploding. When a country that is this centered around Catholicism begins giving away free contraception, they are desperate.

What was always striking to me was how they could endure coups, earthquakes, typhoons and volcanoes and stay fairly upbeat and happy. Unlike our other ‘friends’ in Asia, the Filipinos almost seem proud of their historical connections to this country. The children are not taught English, they are taught in English. The most popular sports are basketball and boxing. Though they resent being treated as a vassal state and have a somewhat reactionary nationalistic trend when it comes to US relations, overall, they have a high opinion of us. I was consistently debated, but never degraded, while I was there. I cannot say the same for our friends the Koreans or the Japanese. Then again I never went to Mindanao.

To the point: The US acquired the Philippines following the Spanish American War for $20 million, along with Puerto Rico and Guam. We smashed an uprising shortly afterwards, killing around 20,000 Filipinos and at the expense of 7,000 Americans. The country gained its independence (from the US) in 1946. In 1969, Ferdinand Marcos was elected president. In 1973, he decided to elect himself Dictator. The United States allowed this to happen. Perhaps, since he allowed us to keep our bases and was basically an ally, no one cared. Perhaps, with the Cold War and Vietnam both in full swing, we just had other priorities. Marcos spent the next 16 years in power, installing a system of corruption and thievery that set the tone for the Philippines modern history. He topped it off by taking the national treasury with him to Hawaii shortly before his death.

Today, corruption is the system. To get a job, one must pay. What kind of sense does that make? The elected leaders seem to be of two types. Remnants of the Marcos crowd who are connected, or populists that see the presidency as the keys to the kingdom. The Filipinos are not helping themselves on the international front either. The debacle in Mindanao, in which 1000 US Marines were sent to wipe out Abu Sayyaf, only to be told to leave, did not help. Pulling out of Iraq really hurt Arroyo’s standing with the Bush administration.

A crisis is coming, probably within the next ten years. Whether in the form of famine, coup or both, I cannot predict, but its coming. This situation is our dirty laundry. Let me repeat, the United States is responsible. While the South Koreans, who owe us everything, dance in the streets burning US flags, we will let the Philippines rot. As we build our former enemy Japan into the second largest economy in the world, we will let the Philippines rot. At this point, I honestly don't have an answer to the problem. I suspect we will be forced to deal with it in the future.

So the next time you decide to croon about US imperialism, try to use a real example. There is one out there. I wonder what the Pope thought about it.