I present to you my condensed history of the Philippines. It is based on four years of study, and a visit to those unique islands. It concerns the past four hundred years. The study of world history is necessarily the study of macro-economics. The degree to which this is considered is an indication of the veracity of the information. Is it an accurate, unbiased history? There are many historical documents. The most reliable documents are kept secret. True history can be also be found in the soliloquy of a drunkard, or in the letters of unknown people. Part of the information presented here is from recently released documents of the Central Intelligence Agency, and from the words of witnesses. I am grateful to all authors who utilize this type of information. Read the information your government provides you. Then read the information that is hidden. Also, read the words of a witness. Ponder the economic impact of the events you are researching. Consider the economic climate. When you are finished, take time to digest all the information. Familiar patterns will emerge from this practice. Many of these patterns are repetitive. I see these as historical archetypes. They become visible when they are not obfuscated by unimportant details. Unfortunately, these details are usually given undue prominence in history texts. History is an ancient dance. We must disregard the costumes of the dancers, to be aware of the continuity of the dance. When you read something that you strongly disagree with, it is productive to consult a variety of other sources. Try to discover the truth.
There is a similarity between the Vikings and the Conquistadors. In ancient Scandinavia it was customary for the eldest son to inherit the family farm. Agriculture is difficult on the north latitude fifty-five. If a man had more than one son, the younger son had a bleak future. These young men found a remedy in the occupation of viking. In ancient times, Malay people came to the archipelago of the Philippines. They came on large boats that they called balanghais. This is the root of the Tagalog word barangay, that today denotes a barrio or neighborhood. These boats were carried out of reach of the sea. Towns were built around the boats. The balanghais were then used for ceremonies. Various subcultures developed over time. Now we will look at Europe and advance the clock to the sixteenth century. On the Iberian peninsula, many young men were destined to have a bleak future. Their fate was similar to the aforementioned Vikings. One particular province, Extremadura, was the birthplace of most of the conquistadors. Pizarro, Cortez, Balboa, and some others. To this day, Extremadura is a dry and desolate area. The inhabitants were poor because of the feudal system. The mob of unemployed young men was increasing. In reality, a conquistador was an unemployed Catholic young man. These adventurers were financed and armed by the monarchy. They were given ships. With the blessing of the Church, they became Iberian Vikings. Why?
One reason was to rid Spain of the most dangerous element in its society. If they were left unemployed, someone might invent Communism. For the price of some ships and swords, the unemployment problem could be solved. If the boys were successful, they would return with gold. The Portuguese were experts in navigation and they possessed the most accurate maps. You can read The Lusiads by Camoens, for more information on this topic. Magellan, the Navigator, was denied an increase in salary by the Portuguese crown. So he offered his services to the Spanish crown. The mariners used their combined talents and one fateful day, Magellan anchored his ship in the Philippines. Thousands of years of isolation ended when he claimed the islands for Spain. To solemnize the event, he planted a flag and cross on the beach. Magellan encouraged the different tribes to fight each other in a Machiavellian campaign. During a skirmish on the island of Mactan, the Navigator was fatally stabbed by Lapu-Lapu, a Filipino warrior. The contact with Magellan infected the Filipinos with Catholicism. He gave a piece of the "true" cross to the Queen of Cebu. This "holy" relic has been preserved to this day.
Meanwhile, the native populations of the New World were annihilated by the Conquistadors and the royal coffers began to fill with looted gold and silver. A trade route was established, connecting Manila, Barcelona, Tampico, and Vera Cruz. Spaniards came to live in the Philippines and their bureaucracy increased exponentially. Many religious officials came. The Portuguese and the Spanish argued over the plunder. The Pope decreed land west of a certain longitude belonged to Spain and land east of this line belonged to Portugal. Brazilians speak Portuguese because of an old man with a pointed hat.
The most accessible parts of the islands were administered by Franciscans, Trappists, and Jesuits. They became powerful and this caused a new word to be coined. Frailocracy -government of friars. This situation angered the secular government officials. Vast tracts of land were owned by the religious orders. They controlled all of the arable land. They did not dare to go up the mountains. The Filipino people were starved, beaten, tortured and raped, by these men of the Church. Children were not spared. The feudal system was now operational on new fertile land. This lasted for three hundred years. For more than fifteen generations, Spanish and Malay blood was mixed. A new creature appeared. The mestizo. The Spaniards considered them to be less than human. The mestizos adopted Spanish names. The mestizos treated the Filipino people with intensified cruelty. Filipino people were forbidden to work for the government, or to vote. They were forbidden to tuck their shirts into their trousers. The native Filipino shirt, barong tagalog, is worn today as a reminder. During the era of Spanish rule, class division began to appear. People were landlords or tenants. Ladies sacrificed their pride, in order to have a child that looked white. The seeds of self-loathing were kneaded into the psyche of the nation. High above the drama on the plains, the mountain dwellers drank palm wine, ate pork and played music on nose flutes. The impact of the foreigners was inversely proportional to the altitude above sea-level. I mentioned earlier that economics is an integral part of history. Physical geography must also be reckoned.
Three: The Americans
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, there was a rebel movement in the Philippines. It had two fronts. A physical front and an intellectual front. The intellectual revolt was conducted by Dr. Rizal. He deserves an entire essay. His accomplishments are formidable. He dedicated his life to his people. His desire was to raise their souls and minds up to the level where foreign oppression would be impossible. His two novels, Noli Mi Tangere, and El Filibusterismo, were his crowning literary achievements. These two books were instrumental in his fate. José absorbed all of the knowledge that his foreign oppressors could give him. He then attempted to apply this knowledge for the betterment of the lives of the Filipino people. There are similarities between José Rizal and a young cherokee statesman, John Ross. John and two other gifted Cherokees were educated in the universities of their oppressors. They became leaders and built the Cherokee Nation. Their political system was based upon what they had learned. They established diplomatic relations with several European nations and published two newspapers. It was the only sovereign nation located within continental America. It was eventually lost, but that is another story. This is an historical archetype. In this recurring theme, an oppressed person is educated by his oppressors. He attempts to practice what he has learned. His goal is to improve the lives of his fellow men. He is perceived as a threat by his oppressors. He is bribed, exiled, assassinated or slandered. John Ross lost his dream. Rizal lost his life. Ross went directly to nation building. Rizal was a deep thinker and approached his task with greater wisdom. He knew the Filipino people were not psychologically equipped for a sudden transition to autonomy, after three hundred years of oppression. Rizal wrote his two novels in order to prepare his people for freedom. The ills of his society were exposed in the books.
The story displayed the best and worst of the Filipino people. Meanwhile, the rebel faction identified Rizal as their source of inspiration. When Rizal returned to the Philippines from his studies in Europe, he was exiled to Mindanao. He then learned of the imminent revolt. Rizal wrote a manifesto which opposed an armed revolt. To further his stance, he volunteered to serve as a doctor in Cuba, where Spain was fighting another revolution. His offer was accepted and the authorities asked him to come to Manila. Before he arrived, Rizal was visited by a representative of the local rebellion. Rizal would not give his support to the armed conflict. Rizal wanted the Philippines to be a province of Spain, with equal rights for the Filipino people. He was late for the ship to Cuba and was put on another ship anchored in the harbor. He was told to wait for a third ship, which would take him to Barcelona and then to Cuba. When Rizal arrived at Barcelona, he was arrested and taken to Manila. He was accused of sedition. After this unfair trial, he was taken to Bagumbayan Field, in Luneta Park, on the waterfront of Manila, and killed. He was quoted as saying, "It is far better to die on your feet, than to live on your knees."
In America, twenty years had passed since the civil war. This war was presented to the public as a war to free the slaves and strengthen the union. In reality, the North had the most factories, industries and infrastructure. The South had most of the raw materials. The situation was inconvenient for the North. After the civil war, many former slaves changed their dismal life in the warm rural south, to a dismal life of freedom in the cold northern cities. The factories produced a surplus of merchandise. Workers were laid off. Attempts were made to reduce the surplus, but the situation got worse. There was massive unemployment. People were discontented. Rich people complained to the President. He consulted his anal-retentive advisory staff. They told him that more people were needed to buy merchandise. America must expand her market. They explained to him that an increase of the market would decrease the supply of goods. This would increase the demand for those goods and that would multiply the profits. Another benefit was the reduction of unemployment. When people are busy, they do not make trouble. The President was encouraged to consider the advantages of a war with Spain.
Spain had rebellions in most of her colonies. It was a perfect time to attack. Spain had lost control of Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Columbia, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. She was at war with Cuba, and a rebellion was imminent in the Philippines. With the Philippines as a base of operations, America could establish trade with China. This was an immense future market. The President was advised to make war on Spain. The public was told that America was fighting Spain, in order to free the Cubans. The plan was to defeat Spain, and install a puppet government. Trade agreements with the new Cuban government would be created to ensure America's economic advantage. Propaganda about freedom and democracy would polish the American image. The Philippines were the main objective, as a strategic base of operations near the future market of China. It also had the largest Christian workforce in Asia. In Manila, Spanish forces were on the verge of surrender to the rebel forces. They gave money to the rebels and promised to reform their policy. The rebel leader went to Singapore with the money. Some people say he went to buy weapons. Meanwhile, Spain lost the war in Cuba. Admiral Dewy was the commander of an American warship anchored in Hong Kong.
He was ordered to sail to Manila. Two American agents went to Singapore and escorted the Filipino rebel leader to Manila. When they arrived in Manila, the agents had a clandestine meeting with the Spanish commander. These men planned a mock battle. After a brief exchange of bullets, the Spanish commander capitulated. In many history books, this is presented as a real battle. The commander was told to convince the rebel leader, who was not present at the meeting, to cease hostilities. The rebels were on the brink of independence from Spain. They were frustrated to see another invader. What happened next is not common knowledge in America and the Philippines. There was a struggle between the rebels and the American occupation forces. The Philippine-American War. American and Filipino history books say it lasted two years. The truth can be found in American military records and State Department documents. These two sources and the testimonies of American soldiers agree that the war lasted almost nine years. More than sixty-thousand American troops went to the Philippines. Villages were burned, livestock was slaughtered, crops were destroyed and people older than ten were killed.
This campaign was done on Luzon, Panay and other islands. Military advisers debated: What percentage of the population must be exterminated, before the survivors could be tamed? One American soldier described the war as a rabbit hunt. The corpses were so plentiful, they were used for defensive walls. Many former slaves were in the American Army. When they were ordered to murder innocent people, they deserted. Many of them, to their credit, chose to fight on the side of the rebels. The carnage stopped in 1910. A million Filipinos were dead. That is definite. The total number is estimated at three million. The truth of this shameful episode is not included in history books.
Four: Free Education
The Spanish Governor General was replaced by an American. The policy of America was to secure their new piece of real estate and to establish a military presence in the area.
The rebels were chased into the mountains. An air force base, a naval base and several other military bases were constructed. Near the city of Baguio, a recreational facility for American troops was built. Another city, Olongapo, developed on land controlled by another base. From the beginning, American politicians used propaganda to legitimize their escapades. It was decided that the Filipinos were not ready for freedom. They were put under the stewardship of America. A trade agreement was written. The agreement would not have been signed by any person with a choice. The agreement was, in essence, "America has all the benefits and the Philippines has all the restrictions." The trade agreements of America today seem to be similar and I categorize them as historical archetypes. Volunteers went to the Philippines to be teachers in a program sponsored by the American government. A free education was offered in the English language to all Filipino children. This generous gesture was announced in every newspaper. The world admired America, the brother of democracy. The volunteer teachers educated the Filipino children who had survived the war. Part of the curriculum was a sterilized history.
The recent war was explained as a brief struggle with communist rebels, where a few lives were lost. The Filipino culture was modified into the caricature of a happy rural family with a water buffalo and a rice paddy. The main goal of the educators was to prepare the young Filipinos to be rural laborers. Laborers for American plantations. The psychological job was thorough. When I was in the Philippines, I asked a variety of people about this part of Philippine history. They all repeated the sanitized version. Some Filipino families were wealthy before the Americans arrived. They had learned ruthlessness during the Spanish occupation. These rich men became the first Filipino political leaders of the Philippines. The corrupt led the conquered. American sugar growers asked their government to abandon the Philippines, because the influx of Philippine sugar had seriously damaged their profits. Subsequent trade agreements alleviated that complaint. The life of the Filipino people worsened. The rebels formed proto-Communist groups. Luis Taruc organized thousands of people in central Luzon. They protested against the sugar mills and had success. This angered the Americans. America endeavored to spread the English language and advertise its products.
Douglas MacArthur, whose father had also been an administrator, was sent to administer the Philippines. He made friends with several of the rich local men. Meanwhile, Japan attempted to build the Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, because they needed petroleum, raw materials and cheap laborers. America did not want them to succeed. America boycotted and embargoed Japan. The sort of thing that we tell our children not to do, when they play. Japan responded and put on its armor. MacArthur was warned within moments of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He did nothing and history does not explain why. His air force at Clark Field was attacked next and all the airplanes were destroyed. The Japanese troops landed and advanced rapidly across the Philippines. The American and Filipino troops retreated. On Bataan, a tiny peninsula to the north of Manila, they were slaughtered in the jungle. America did not send them any reinforcements or supplies. MacArthur and his family took refuge on the islet of Corregidor, in the mouth of Manila Bay. A cave was converted into his military headquarters. It was immediately besieged. Eventually, MacArthur was ordered to evacuate his family. They went to Australia by boat.
A Filipino politician gave him a large sum of cash before he left. In Australia he received a hero's welcome. A few years before he deserted the Philippines, MacArthur went to America to work and was accompanied by a Filipina woman. He bought an apartment and a poodle for her. He divided his time between her and his mother. He kept her hidden from his mother and he married a white woman. The abandoned woman became a barber in a small town in the American desert. Later, MacArthur was the victim of attempted blackmail by a political rival, who knew about his lover. Douglas paid for silence with the money from the Filipino politician. MacArthur directed his soldiers to fight in New Guinea, the Solomons and eventually Leyte in the Philippines. During this time, the Filipino rebel forces were the only protection that the civilian Filipinos had against the Japanese occupation force. The Japanese soldiers stabbed infants, amputated hands and beheaded old women. The rebel forces took the name Hukbalahap. It means, "the people's army to fight against the Japanese invaders." When MacArthur returned to the Philippines, as he promised, he waded ashore and posed for a photograph to put in history books.
The Filipino man next to him in the photograph, is the same man who gave him the money when he left for Australia. They waded ashore two or three times, to obtain the perfect photograph. During the Japanese occupation, the Filipino people were forced to speak the Japanese language and to bow to any Japanese officer. More indignity, after suffering for three hundred years. The Hukbalahap joined the Americans and cooperated to defeat the Japanese. As soon as the fighting had ceased, the Americans killed or imprisoned many of the rebels. The rebels were labelled communist and went to hide once again. The poor Filipinos did not care about labels, such as "communist", or "Hukbalahap". This group of fighters had protected them against invaders from Spain, America and Japan. During all of this time, up on the rice terraces, the mountain people made bamboo baskets and chewed on betel. Another historical archetype now becomes obvious. The fate of the Hukbalahap was similar to the fate of Chinese communist. They were killed by Chiang Kai Shek after they helped him achieve his military goal. You can read about it in a book by Andre Malraux, Man's Fate. Both of these examples are similar to the fate of the Cherokees in Texas.
They fought other hostile tribes while the Texans fought Mexico to gain independence. They were betrayed by the new republic they had fought for.
Five: The Elvis Years
After the war, America rewarded the rich Filipino men who collaborated with Yamashita to form a Japanese puppet government. Many Filipino patriots were jailed. Free elections were conducted and new trade agreements were signed. Finally, a Filipino man was President of the Republic of the Philippines, several generations later than the Americans promised. Modern Philippine history is a manipulated event. By the time Ferdinand Marcos was president, his republic was manipulated by the World Bank, the IMF and the Central Intelligence Agency. Billions of dollars were loaned to a corrupt government. One example of modern foreign aid is the M99 Rice Program. A fund was set up with foreign money, which was distributed to new rural banks by the Philippine National Bank.
Farmers were inundated with propaganda which said that a new miracle rice would yield ninety-nine bags on the same amount of land that traditionally yielded only fifty bags. The farmer must accept a loan and give all his native rice seed to be destroyed. He got M99 rice seed, chemical fertilizer, and insecticide. The farmer made regular payments against his loan. He also gave thirty percent of the harvest to his landlord. His wife cleaned the house of the landlord. The first harvest of M99 rice produced only thirty-nine bags. The farmer had to borrow money from criminals, at exorbitant interest. He planted again. The second yield was better and the landlord increased the rent. There are three harvests per year in this part of the world. The soil was exhausted after the third harvest and required massive amounts of chemical fertilizer. He bought fertilizer and pesticide from American manufacturers. The fishes, frogs and snails disappeared from the rice fields. Agriculture was dependent on foreign merchandise and loans. Any profit was taken by the landlord and the environment was damaged. A natural variety of rice, perfectly adapted to the the region, was purposely destroyed. The farmer is in a far worse predicament than he was before. The soil in the Philippines is rich. Half of the arable land is planted with sugarcane, pineapple, bananas, and coconuts. Mostly owned by foreigners and grown for export. If a Filipino man plants a row of vegetables on a barren hill, he is probably a rebel.
Six: Beyond Marcos
There are many examples of foreign intervention in the history of the Philippines. I will not tell the story of the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos. I will not enumerate the damage done by him and his wife. Cory Aquino resurrected a dead constitution, but did not accomplish many necessary things. Her family are the owners of a sugar plantation. She understandably did not make the needed land reform. President Ramos had a vision. Philippines 2000. In his plan, there would be reliable electrical service, there would be more telephones, and there would be more roads. The rebels would be pacified and the Muslims in Mindanao would be pacified. The National Police Force would be purged.
The names of the corrupt policemen were shown on television. The newspapers put the total number at six thousand. Ramos terminated the employment of some of the worst offenders. There is a psychology at work in the Philippines, I name the crab syndrome. If you put a crab in a basket, it will usually escape. However, if you put two or more crabs in a basket, they drag each other inside and none escape. Since this essay was composed, the Philippines have had presidents Ramos, Estrada, and Macapagal-Arroyo. In the summer of 2003, military officers protested when they discovered their government had sold weapons to the Muslim separatists in Mindanao. The same separatists that they were combating. The protest was labelled as a "coup" and the officers were arrested. Crabs in a basket. I am inspired and frustrated that José Rizal understood the problems of his country, more than one hundred years ago. He attempted to share this knowledge in his writing.
A quote from his epigrams: "Keep advancing. Learn, learn and think. Life is very serious. It goes only for those who have intelligence and heart. To live among men, a man must strive. We can serve our country by speaking the naked bitter truth."
José was an ophthalmic surgeon, a poet, a dramatist, an essayist, a novelist, an historian, an architect, a painter, a sculptor, an educator, a linguist, a musician, a naturalist, an ethnologist, a surveyor, an engineer, a farmer, a businessman, an economist, a geographer, a cartographer, a bibliophile, a philologist, a grammarian, a folklorist, a philosopher, a translator, an inventor, a magician, a humorist, a satirist, a polemicist, a sportsman, a traveler, and a prophet. He was thirty-five years old when he was killed. To supplement his intellect, Rizal had a strong spirit. Because the quality of life for most Filipino people has not improved, the wisdom of Rizal is still needed. His spirit is on the wind. The Filipino people are highly talented and they retain their humanity, despite past horrors. After I visited the Archipelago, I described the Philippines as a wounded heart that oozes love. While I write, people in the mountains are watching the drama below.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.