Monday, June 12, 2006

Thoughts On The Calendar

Gazing idly at the calendar one idle day, the red numbered days caught my attention. I have come to associate the red color days as occasions for loafing or catching up on work laid aside unfinished at the behest of procrastination. After some meditation on the designated names of the holidays, a few insights came into focus. First, only a few holidays are holy, notably Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Christmas. For some reason, Easter always falls on a Sunday and so loses its impact as a holiday. The rest of the holidays commemorate events of major tragedies in our history: the death by musketry of Jose Rizal and Bonifacio, the multiple deaths of our World War II soldiers defeated by the Japanese in Bataan, the annual carnage on New Year’s Eve, not to mention the May Day observance of the misery of labor, the nation’s sinews.
I’m inclined to include the tragic day in June when we celebrate our independence on the wrong day, founded on some fleeting moments a century ago of illusory freedom from the Spanish. For in truth, the Spaniards have already been soundly whipped on land and sea by American forces.
Many will disagree, even be piqued, by the assertion that we celebrate our independence on a false date. Still, my history teachers and textbooks did state that the U.S. took dominion over Islas de Filipinas as the Spanish colonizers called these disparate tribes and islands of the Philippines.
And so, my meandering thoughts went on sojourn to the American era of our history.
To sweeten the deal, the Americans paid Spain $20 million in a pact titled “Treaty of Paris”. It is not clear to me whether the amount paid was for Islas Filipinas only, or if Cuba and Puerto Rico were thrown in as a bonus, or if the Islas was the bonus.
It would be highly unfair, nay immoral, not to acknowledge the contribution of the Spaniards to our past. After all, Spain’s four-hundred-year dominance did leave some legacies. Some local dialects can now count beyond ten, thanks to Español, the Spanish language, and Spanish friars did baptize, or sire, babies with Spanish names. Español has faded as a national language but a full third of local dialects are imbedded with Spanish words to fill the gaps in native tongues that have no words for concepts of the civilized and modern world. But the most enduring heritage was one that bound the superstitious, disparate and factious tribes together ─ Christianity.
Spain’s rule over the Islas Filipinas colony ended with the Spanish-American War, which terminated in the Treaty of Paris signed December 10, 1898. Spain evacuated Cuba and ceded to the U.S. the Philippines Islands (P.I.), Guam, and Puerto Rico, receiving in return $20,000,000.
The conquest of P.I. marked the debut of America into the imperialist colonizers club dominated by European powers. As a pretext to foil Japan’s growing naval power in Asia, the U.S. completed its occupation and put down the tragic insurrection headed by Emilio Aguinaldo.
The temptation for America to join the colonizers of Asia was irresistible. The club members were the elite of Europe ─ France held Indochina, Netherlands occupied the east Indies, Portugal squatted on Timor, and great Britain’s empire stretched from India-Pakistan to Malaya-Singapore and had tentacles (in the form of a British trading company) gripping North Borneo (Sabah). Meanwhile, China was being gang-raped by these Europeans.
No amount of nationalistic mumbo-jumbo or wails of double-cross (as some writers accuse the U.S. about some gentleman’s agreement 100 years ago) can alter one fact: the U.S. occupation was thorough. Whether we like it or not, their influence was such that we natives learned the English language, established the English concept of civil service and jurisprudence dating back to the English monarchy, learned to govern ourselves with a government run like hell by Filipinos instead of like heaven by Americans, even a peculiar Filipinized style of democracy.
The American regime, broken briefly by the Japanese occupation, ended in July 4, 1946 when the U.S. flag was lowered from flagpoles throughout the country and the Philippine flag fluttered proudly alone. That was the true and meaningful independence. The date was recognized for a while, until some leaders took umbrage, resenting the overshadowing effect of the simultaneous celebration with the U.S. day of independence. So June 12 became the red-letter day on our calendars.
To show our pride and independent-mindedness, 12 senators defied their own President and gave the U.S. Navy based in Subic Bay their sailing papers. And just before this episode, Mt. Pinatubo blew its top and shooed the American flyboys of Clark Airbase fluttering away, never to return.
With the departure of the U.S. bases went the authentic security umbrella of the nation. Gone are the radars that scan our skies for unfriendly flying objects. Gone, too, are the listening stations for seismic and nuclear blast tremors overseas. Aside from our fond or sad memories, what remains are the toxic debris, Fil-Am mestizos, and clap (the venereal variety).
But all is not yet lost. The Americans have returned with a modified offering of friendship and camaraderie. It is called the Visiting Forces Agreement.
The administration enthusiastically endorsed the document, but an odd mix of oppositors surfaced, an assortment of strange bedfellows from the spectrum of society ─ the atheist extreme left, those leaning right of center waving red banners, the Catholic Church, the armed Muslim separatists.
Some suspicious oppositors speculate the VFA as a ruse to pry the door open to set up a new base, this time in Mindanao. They point to the seaport and airport refurbished with U.S. funds near General Santos city (GenSan). This to me is a wild notion. I cannot imagine a U.S. military establishment, which at times carry security measures to ridiculous extremes, would deign to operate in a base comprised of civilian facilities and working alongside clumsy foreigners, no matter how friendly or agreeable.
Another objection against the VFA is that the agreement bestows extraterritorial rights to U.S. soldiers committing violations of our laws. The VFA permits erring U.S. personnel to be tried by a Philippine court but custody in U.S. jurisdiction if requested, and must be concluded in one year. This proviso accepts the reality that our clogged courts are prone to trial delays and should be regarded as a benefit – the VFA will not be an added burden to our loaded courts. Italy took this line of action in the cable car deaths caused by a reckless maneuver of a U.S. marine pilot.
The anti’s prime argument is the constitutional prohibition of nuclear arms within our territory, and the stock reply of the U.S. officials that they would not confirm or deny the fact. This objection is pure nonsense. As a signatory to the UNCLOS, we are obliged to respect the right of foreign vessels to traverse our seas under the doctrine of innocent passage. In all honesty, can Philippine authorities compel a U.S. warship, or even a Chinese frigate, to “heave to” for inspection and search for a nuclear device?
To be practical, we must reject the inane notion that the smallsize U.S. ships participating in joint Philippine-U.S. exercises carry nuclear arms, not even the tactical type. Strategic nuclear weapons would only be in Trident submarines, in underground silos, or strategic bomber airbases. One simply does not carry an umbrella in cloudless weather.
I say the objectors are seeing ghosts. What gives me the confidence in making these calculated guesses? The experience of having participated in several such exercises, including service aboard a U.S. destroyer as a counterpart or “buddy” officer.
How real is the bugaboo about diseases that will be brought by the troops and sailors as they did to the sin cities of Angeles and Olongapo? No more real than the fact that those diseases are thriving here, and could inflict in reverse. In any case, an early warning system can be set up by the mayor of the town or city targeted as ground zero for the R&R (rest and recreation) that follows the conclusion of the exercises. A strategy of isolation is quite simple to implement. Whores can be rounded up and charged with vagrancy, then with truancy, and finally with affluency without visible means of support. And randy local belles would be fitted with chastity belts. A widely publicized rape case is currently under trial in a Makati Regional Trial court. It involves a 22-year-old Filipina who accused four U.S. Marines of raping her in November last year in Subic (the former U.S. Naval Base). Being sub-judice, the incident will be covered in a future blog.
The United States, the only remaining superpower, is the target of other nations’ ambivalence, either critic or beggar. It has acted, as the occasion demands, in contrasting roles of bully, villain, or Good Samaritan, but always in pursuit of its own national interest. They acted as policemen in Panama, Grenada, Haiti, Somalia; as parole guard of the WWII losers Japan and Germany where U.S. bases are still maintained; as executioner in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan; as bully in India and Pakistan; but also as continental benefactor, as in the Marshall Plan which helped Europe rebuild the rubble into an economic colossus.
The U.S. is also a master at ambiguity in wording documents constituting treaties and pacts. The wording of the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1952, upon which the VFA is founded, is no exception. Perhaps we should rely more on discernment of good intent rather than the implication of the printed word.
What role would we want the U.S. to play to advance our national interests? Friend or foe? Do we wish for an ally sympathetic to our territorial claims? Whatever our stance, we should never forget the inflexible policy of the U.S. of pursuing courses of action that advance their own interests. If theirs and ours are mutual we can expect their aid, otherwise, only a cold shoulder.

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