Published on Monday, November 17, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Resistance to US Military Occupation: The Case of the Philippines
by Heather Gray
It is baffling that any American might not understand the Iraqi disdain of a US military occupation. How would Americans like being accosted by another country's military...being arrested by them, controlled by them, dictated to by them, tortured by them, killed by them.... exploited by its corporate entities and losing sovereignty? Americans should look at the Philippines' century long struggle for some answers to that question.
Bush referred to the Philippines as a model for the US relationship with Iraq and I would like to briefly describe that model. It was and remains a fiasco and tragedy. After being occupied directly or indirectly by the United States since the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), the Philippines has been victimized in this relationship. While the Filipino elite have always benefited from US interference in their country, the masses have suffered indignities, violence, extreme poverty, racism and no substantive reforms.
It is particularly important to highlight the initiation of "low intensity conflict" policies by the United States against Filipinos in 1901 - a practice the US continued to implement throughout the 20th century in Vietnam, Angola, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Columbia and elsewhere.
During the Spanish-American War in the late 1890's, US Commodore George Dewey descended upon the shores of the Philippines and destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. Americans had a number of goals for occupying the Philippines. One was to create a military presence to then access the markets of China. The second was to utilize the Philippine raw materials for US industry. US President William McKinley described the third. After praying to "Almighty God", McKinley said that a message came to him that Americans were in the Philippines to "uplift and civilize and christianize" Filipinos. He was obviously not aware of the fact that the Filipinos had been "christianized" for 400 years by Spanish colonizers, against whom they had consistently rebelled.
As Howard Zinn notes in his People's History of the United States, the "Filipinos did not get the same message from God" and the resistance to US military intervention began in 1899 in what has remained, up to the present time, organized efforts by Filipinos in opposition to US interference.
Initially, Filipinos thought that the Americans were there to help them kick out the Spanish and end 400 years of repression. After fruitless attempts to negotiate, however, the reality of the US intention became clear. The Filipinos were forced to acknowledge that the Americans intended to replace the Spanish as the colonial rulers. In The Philippines Reader, Daniel Schirmer and Stephen Shalom provide first hand accounts of this period. On February 5, 1899 Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo urged his people to fight in response to the "outbreak of hostilities between the Philippine forces and the American forces of occupation, (which were) unjustly and unexpectedly provoked by the latter.... The constant outrages and taunts, which have caused the misery of the people...and finally the useless conferences and contempt shown the Philippine government prove the premeditated transgression of justice and liberty."
The American reaction was swift and the slaughter by US forces is legendary. Philippine scholar Luziminda Francisco refers to that brutal imperial American war that launched the 20th century as the "first Vietnam War" in which estimates of from 600,000 to a million Filipinos died. She states that the estimate of up to a million deaths might "err on the side of understatement" as one US congressman, who visited the Philippines at the time, was quoted as saying "They never rebel in Luzon (Philippines) anymore because there isn't anybody left to rebel...our soldiers took no prisoners, they kept no records, they simply swept the country and wherever and whenever they could get hold of a Filipino they killed him."
In response to a massacre of 54 Americans by the Filipino resistance in Samar, Francisco describes how US General "Howling Jake" Smith launched a "reign of terror" on the island. "Kill and burn..." Smith said "the more you kill and burn the more you'll please me." When asked the age limit for killing, he said, "Everything over ten." The order from Smith was that Samar becomes a "howling wilderness" so that "even the birds could not live there." The Americans had begun to utilize the deadly "water torture" against Filipinos - forcing huge amounts of water into their stomachs to then gather information - and Smith insisted on its use in Samar.
There were four US regiments of Black soldiers in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War. Many were outraged at the abuses and attitude of the white soldiers toward the Filipinos. Zinn refers to a letter from a volunteer from the state of Washington who wrote: "Our fighting blood was up, and we all wanted to kill 'niggers'.... this shooting human beings beats rabbit hunting all to pieces." David Fagan, one of the Black soldiers, left the US ranks to fight along side Filipinos and "for two years wreaked havoc upon the American forces."
The Philippine resistance fought valiantly against the well-armed Americans. Francisco states that the "Filipinos had to adapt to their limitations as best they could...with darts, the ubiquitous bolo, and even stones, prompting (US) General Lawton to remark, 'they are the bravest men I have ever seen'...."
It is also noteworthy that once the Americans captured Aguinaldo in April 1901 they expected hostilities to cease and were "dismayed" that this was not the case. As the movement against the American presence had massive support, the fighting continued "unabated." This revelation led the leader of the US campaign, General Arthur MacArthur, to resign.
The American policy was so brutal that even American personnel were skeptical. Francisco quotes a US civil servant in the Philippines at the time who said that because of the "burning, torture and other harsh treatments" the Americans were "sowing the seeds for a perpetual revolution. If these things need to be done, they had best be done by native troops so that the people of the U.S. will not be credited therewith." Obviously this warning was heeded, as in 1901 the Americans created the Philippine Constabulary, comprised of Filipinos, who would work at the behest of and ruthlessly serve US interests during the U.S. colonization of the Philippines.
With its creation of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), the United States launched its "low intensity conflict" (LIC) strategy in the Philippines - in other words "don't get the US hands dirty, let someone else do the brutal work." So while it might be "low" intensity for the United States, it is exceptionally "high" intensity for its victims. The PC is still in existence today, and its reactionary and mercenary origins have remained in tact. Throughout the 20th century it has played a key role in suppressing peasant revolts and anti-US intervention movements.
At the end of World War II the Americans claim to have given the Philippines its independence. The US, however, insisted on maintaining a military presence in the country, with its major bases being Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base. In return for these bases the US offered the Filipino elite the creation of the "Joint US Military Advisory Group" (JUSMAG) to help reassert its authority over the peasant movements for land reform and other issues objectionable to them.
The resistance to the US interference has always been intense in the Philippines. Nationalist movements and armed struggle from the early occupation period to the Hukbalahap guerrilla movement after World War II to the New People's Army in the 1960's through to the present, including, of course, peasant movements for land reform, factory workers rights, on and on. In every instance the US administration and US military have worked in tandem with their Filipino government and military counterparts in an attempt to ruthlessly quell these movements.
After Filipinos had successfully ousted the dictator and American puppet Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the goal of many was to continue on that wave of success by attempting to end US interference altogether - particularly by ousting the US military bases. While many Filipinos demanded countless reforms from the new government of President Corie Aquino, they recognized that the American military presence and CIA involvement made their reform efforts next to impossible. The Military Bases Agreement (MBA) that allowed the US bases to stay in the Philippines was to expire in 1991 and the Philippine Senate, to the dismay of the Americans, did vote against the extension of the agreement, which finally closed that disastrous chapter in Philippine history. Prior to that vote, however, violence raged in the Philippines.
To organize against the extension of the MBA, a broad based anti-bases and nationalist movement developed in the Philippines in the 1980's. The US intention, however, was to maintain its bases, and to accomplish that the CIA hired retired US General John Singlaub (head of the World Anti-Communist League) to launch a relentless and cruel LIC campaign (1987-1989). President Aquino assisted in this effort in what the Filipinos refer to as "Total War" against the people. The result was a rise of death squads, vigilante violence, human rights abuses and massive numbers of refugees from evacuated areas. Assassinations and harassments of church workers, labor leaders, peasant leaders and others became a daily occurrence. In 1989, US Colonel James Rowe of JUSMAG, who had been training the Philippine military in LIC strategies, was assassinated in Manila.
While the Filipinos have had brief respite, since 1991, of living without the presence of the huge US military bases, JUSMAG has remained in tact and the Bush administration is attempting to reverse some of that victory. Today, in violation of the Philippine constitution, which does not allow foreign troops on Philippine soil, the Bush administration successfully lobbied Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to send US troops into the Philippine hinterlands. The goal, according to Bush, is to destroy Muslim terrorists. Once again, in the Philippines, there is a growing movement to oust the US military (see www.nispop.org).
The United States began the last century with an imperial war in Asia. It now is repeating the process at the beginning of the 21rst century with an intensive imperial reach into the Middle East and the parallels are striking. The invasion of the Philippines by the US was a preemptive, unprovoked war against a sovereign nation, as was the case in Iraq. As the Americans chose to occupy the Philippines for access to its raw materials and other markets, so too are they wanting access to Iraqi oil resources, markets and other resources of the Middle East. As Filipinos immediately began a resistance campaign against the Americans, so too are the Iraqis. McKinley launched an LIC policy in the Philippines, and George Bush is about to utilize the same policy in Iraq through what he is referring to as "Iraqification". "Iraqification" calls for the selection of former Iraqi military and/or police to serve at the behest of the Americans. Iraqi's hired by the US will strike against those reacting against the US military occupation and as a consequence will suffer the blows. It will be Iraqi's against Iraqi's with the United States pulling the strings.
Throughout the past century, the low intensity conflict policy implemented by the United States in Asia, Africa and Latin America has wreaked havoc, death and destruction and the Filipinos have experienced more than 100 years of these policies. It is important to note, however, that despite of the violent attempts by the United States to pacify the Filipinos, it has never been successful in ending the opposition to US interference in Philippine affairs or in stopping the Filipino struggles for the creation of a sovereign and free nation. As was the case at the very beginning of the 20th century when the masses in the Philippines continued their battle against the Americans after the capture of Aguinaldo, at every juncture, the Filipinos have continued to organize against the American presence.
It is highly unlikely that opposition to US interference in Iraq or in the Philippines will end now or any time in the future. History is not on the side of the occupiers. No one wants them.
For 12 years Ms. Gray has produced "Just Peace" on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. In 1989 she visited the Philippines. She lives in Atlanta and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: The opinions expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of Radio Free Georgia Foundation, Inc. it's staff or volunteers.