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Deputy Sheriff: Australia as imperialist subaltern; A model for the Philippines?

Presentation at the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines

Quezon City, Philippines
19 July 2013

PANEL 2. US geopolitical and military strategies in the Asia-Pacific and the Aquino government’s Oplan Bayanihan

Hon. Associate, Macquarie University Law School Sydney, Australia


A few words about imperialism and human rights will suffice to provide a backdrop to my discussion of the imperialist subaltern’s role. In June 1898, a meeting at historic Faneuil Hall, Boston, led to the formation of the Anti-Imperialist League. For members of the League, colonizing the Philippines was immoral, unprincipled, unconstitutional and, in the view of many, “criminal aggression”. They well knew what would be the result of becoming an imperial power with the acquisition of the Philippines. First, the loss of freedom for the Filipinos. They declared their position with clarity in 1899:

“We regret that it has become necessary in the land of Washington and Lincoln to reaffirm that all men, of whatever race or color, are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. We insist that the subjugation of any people is “criminal aggression” and open disloyalty to the distinctive principle of our Government.”

Second, the loss of their own liberties would follow. In books, pamphlets, articles and speeches they warned their countrymen: you cannot retain your republican rights when you become an imperialist aggressor. Republic or Empire? was the question posed by of many of these writings.* As Senator Benjamin Tillman commented at the Democratic National Convention in 1900, imperialist subjugation of others would have the effect of destroying liberty at home and threatened “ the very existence of the Republic and the destruction of our free institutions.”

The League was, of course, unsuccessful in their campaign to prevent the country from sliding down the slope of imperialist domination abroad, and what was clearly the implication for the future: repression at home. How prescient they were. Today there is only a shell of an American Republic; the liberties and human rights once taken for granted have been hollowed out, severely restricted, and in some cases “disappeared”. Just as the Roman Republic for a long time retained the republican forms, but was hollowed out as the Empire was constructed.

Nations who align themselves with the hegemonic American superpower in imperialist ventures are not immune to this phenomenon. The human rights and liberties of Australians and Filipinos have been greatly diminished by the pro-imperialist and anti-people policies of their neo-liberal governments. It is with that necessary consequence in mind that I want to consider the two countries’ historical experience of imperialism.

The historical background of imperialism in the Philippines and Australia

The parallels between colonial Australia and colonial Philippines are many. Both nations were founded as the result of Western imperialist intrusion into the Asia Pacific region. First, Spain in the Philippines (16th century) which provided the link between Mexico-the administrative capital of their Latin American colonial empire- and China, and then in the late 18th century the English in Australia (putting aside earlier Dutch and Portuguese sea-faring explorations of the continent’s northwest coast). The English were looking for trade and to secure their interests in the region by establishing bases from which to replenish and repair their ships. They also wished to exclude others from dominating the great southern continent and strategic outpost, the French in particular who were exploring the area at that time. (A colleague reminds me that a colony was established on the island now known as Tasmania very quickly after setting up camp on the mainland in 1788, precisely for this reason.)

While the Australian historical narrative has been that the colony was established simply for the purpose of a convict colony as the “Brits” could no longer send their convicts to the newly independent former colonies of North America, that explanation fails to convince. Convicts were certainly sent, but they could have been dealt with in other ways. In Australia they provided cheap labor for the establishment of the new outpost. As well as a relatively non-threatening guise for onlooking rivals, perhaps.

Then, of course, the late-comers: the Americans, replacing the Spanish and the English as the hegemonic power. In the Philippines, the US came in 1898 to add another link in their trading and military chain from California to China, via Hawaii where their ships could be provided with fuel, fresh food and water for the next leg of their journey. (In Hawaii, they had recently used armed forces from a naval squadron to overthrow the independent monarchy, and established a colony at the behest of the Dole family and other business interests). By 1902 the Americans had sufficiently imposed their military order to announce, fittingly on July 4th, “mission accomplished”. The Filipino Republic was gone, and American suzerainty was established.

Filipino resistance was formally criminalized by the Bandelero Act, 1902. Although the resistance remained for many years, and continued to reappear, the country was gradually pacified. To assist in securing the colony as a safe haven, in August 1901, the Americans brought the “Thomasites” (American teachers brought on the USAT Thomas to begin the process of instilling American ideology and generally to “uplift” the natives; American history books were below decks for ballast). These zealous cultural “ambassadors” (an early “peace corps”) and others, as recent books by Al McCoy have demonstrated, began the process of using a combination of repression and “soft power” to inculcate a victor’s history and the “American way”, including what every Yank is taught from primary school: an understanding that America was ‘exceptional”, humanitarian and democratic, not like the bad old imperialist powers of Europe. In the case of its presence in the Philippines, the local population was taught that it was there for their benefit, and would be friend, mentor and protector. At the time of the comprehensive American naval victory over the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, a German fleet was observing the carnage from nearby; Russian naval squadrons had been lurking in the area for years, and the Japanese were building their naval strength-as demonstrated by their victories over the Russian naval forces at Port Arthur and Tsushima, 1904-05. (On late-comer colonialism, and the mechanisms of American colonial rule, see now K. Fujiwara and Y. Nagano, (eds.) America’s Informal Empires: Philippines and Japan (2011). There are clear signs of “soft power” being used in the early days of American occupation both in this volume, and in the volumes by Al McCoy mentioned above. ( See his Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (2009); and, with co-editor F. A. Scarano, Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State (2009). Of course “soft power” remained a major phenomenon of influence and domination until the present. (See below re “soft power”.)

As for Australia, it was born of imperialism, and proved its allegiance by participating in many imperialist wars fought by its suzerain, the United Kingdom, as is the custom in such relations. The Aussies fought in imperialist wars in distant lands to support British interests, e.g. as British colonials in the Second Maori War (or the Taranaki Wars) in 1860-63; the British expedition (1896) led by Kitchener in the Sudan to re-conquer the Sudan (and to avenge the killing of the popular hero General Gordon at Khartoum in 1885); and again, against the Boers in South Africa, 1899-1902 (dramatized in book and film, Breaker Morant). After constitutional nationhood, they fought the Germans, Turks and others in WW1. Along with the British, American and other Western powers, Australians volunteered for the interventionist war against the Bolshevik revolution (1917-1920). They again took to arms against the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) in WW2. In Malaya, a Communist revolutionary force began a war in 1948, and Australian troops were sent in 1950 to join a Commonwealth force to put down the revolution. The war ended with the defeat of the revolutionaries in 1960.

It could be said that in the case of WW2 at least, the Australians had to fight the Japanese in their own interests; but as has been recently said, there are a thousand possibilities between passivity and war, and the rather insignificant attacks by Japanese air and naval forces on Australia (Darwin in the north, Sydney harbor, and Broome in Western Australia) have to be seen in the context of Australia’s traditional role as imperialist subaltern. Ifs do not count of course, but what if the Australian government had followed a consistent policy of non-alignment, non-intervention? The Nazis did not attack Sweden, nor Switzerland. Would the Japanese necessarily have invaded a neutral Australia? Would they have bombed Darwin, or sent 2 man subs into Sydney harbor?. Would the Australians have fought for their colonies Papua and New Guinea (gained from Britain and the League of Nations by non-violent methods, essentially by mandate) if an understanding had been reached with the Japanese? I raise these questions as the problems of being a subaltern and the dangers involved are back on the table, not least in the Philippines.

The Australians transferred their primary colonial allegiance to the Americans as a result of the incapacity of the British imperial forces to protect them after the debacle of the British surrender of their fortress at Singapore to the Japanese. Australian governments failed to learn their lesson after the disastrous trap into which they were so tragically led by the British generals-following Churchill’s plan-at Gallipoli, Turkey, in WW1. Instead it became a national holiday in remembrance of the “nation building” event. In formal terms Australia remained under the rule of the Queen, still governed from London, a fact dramatically illustrated by the sacking of the unpredictable (read not trusted by the international financial elite) and “soft on Red China” Labour Party Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the Queen’s representative in the country, Governor General Sir John Kerr, a traitor to his class (a son of a boilermaker) and an ardent monarchist. (Some commentators suggest the Queen left the decision to the Australian born Kerr, but he would not have failed to get prior approval of his intention); but substantively the country was realigned toward the new Sheriff in the Asia Pacific, the USA. It has long been thought that CIA operatives in Australia played a significant role in the de-stabilizing of the Whitlam government which preceded the action of Kerr who, interestingly, has a footnote in the history of the Marcos era in the Philippines (see below). Recent media revelations of Australian Labor Party informants who secretly gave information to the Americans about political and other matters in Australian governing/elite circles over many decades puts this into perspective. One of those who was thought highly of by the Americans is now Foreign Minister in the Australian government.

Since “signing up” with the Americans, the Australians have been involved in a number of far off wars alongside the Sheriff, e.g. wars in Korea; Viet Nam; twice in Iraq, where in 2003 their Special Forces were apparently the first soldiers to fight inside the boundaries of Iraq, even before the rest of the “coalition of the willing” became involved; and currently still in Afghanistan. That is a strong record for a minor island nation of about 20 million people in the southern Pacific. As they are so proud to do in sport, they seem to be “punching above their weight”.

In the last quarter of the 20th century and into the early 21st century, Australia began to flex its muscles in the South Pacific and indeed South East Asia. It was, of course, not entirely new at the imperialist game in its region. It had long held the reins in Papua New Guinea, and was complicit in the Indonesian takeover of West Papua and East Timor. (A colleague informs me that the Menzies Liberal Party coalition government originally opposed the Indonesian takeover of the former, but was to change its policy under pressure from the USA to do so.)

The Australian government began to throw its weight around in the South Pacific Forum; in criticizing policies of (and some personalities) of the Prime Ministers of countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Fiji; and it sent troops-and aid, training missions and even police into a number of countries such as East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and the island of Bougainville. While Australians were told this was humanitarian intervention to benefit-and bring democracy to-these other countries, those on the receiving end did not always see it nor experience it as such.

Many Indonesians and West Papuans, as well as the East Timorese and those in Aceh will have felt the brutal repression practiced by the Indonesian elite KOPASSUS troops, many of whom were trained by the Australian army and carried out military exercises with them. It was said, at the time, that training in human rights issues was a required part of that program, aimed at mitigating abuses where the troops were deployed.

This is the same justification given when Australian troops were sent to Myanmar to provide human rights education to the troops of the military dictatorship. It is also the same refrain we have heard with regard to human rights programs for the Armed Forces of the Philippines. One wonders, given the appalling human rights record of the AFP and their penchant for glib self-justification, whether the training included handling the media.

Australia has for a very long time had an aid program in the Philippines. (See below for further information re the military component.) It is one of the largest bilateral donors to the Republic. Average government donations through AUSAID has been AUD 130 million in the past three years. Also, special visas are available for skilled Filipino workers to enter Australia, a program which in many instances has found these workers paid low wages, or even not paid, and working in unsafe and/or unhealthy conditions. It should also be mentioned that Australian mining companies are amongst the big players in a country with huge and extremely valuable mineral resources.

As a result of the various regional interventions, initiatives and programs indicated above, many observers in the region and in Washington, saw a “special relationship” between the imperialist master-the Pacific Sheriff- and its subaltern. President Bush 2 apparently at one point spoke of John Howard’s Australia as “the deputy sheriff” in the southern Pacific region. It is said that Howard himself, who was fascinated by the macho Texan it seems, took to using the expression. Even the denials c. 2003/04 by Bush that he had ever used that expression, made clear that in fact the American government considered Australia in that light. Bush stumbled through explanations which suggested both countries had a role akin to that of Sheriff, but they were equal partners. Pull the other leg, George!

What is the role of a deputy sheriff in the period of America’s “pivot to Asia”, and in the future?

I will just sketch briefly how the deputy helps out the Sheriff, and how the Sheriff responds. Filipinos will want to consider the implications for them as they shape up under the pro-American president, Aquino 2, to stand shoulder- to- shoulder with the US, and also with the Australians, in the shadow of the growing presence of China.

First, and most obvious perhaps, long-standing US bases in Australia have been crucial to its rise to global hegemony. In particular, much signal traffic intel comes through the facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs (and three other Australian defence facilities which are associated with the foreign and domestic Australian surveillance which Edward Snowden has exposed).

Australia; US bases in Australia were key to the roll-back of the Japanese in WW2, and the recent agreement to allow more American troops (Marines initially) to be stationed in the north is a significant boost for the American China- containment project;

Joint military exercises are commonplace and military training, military exchanges, etc. as well;

Naval visits are frequent. Unlike doughty New Zealand, there is no ban on nuclear vessels entering Australian ports. I believe there is a no-ask, no-tell policy;

Australian political and military activity in the southern Pacific and Southeast Asia regions has expanded the reach of the Americans; as Filipinos sometimes say of their CAFGU and other local para-military forces and private armies, they are “force multipliers”. The US is stretched militarily, financially (with the extraordinary amounts spent in Iraq and Afghanistan alone) and in citizen acceptance of military adventures, so what better than to have the Aussies doing the heavy lifting “down under”;

Similarly, the deputy’s claim to be “exceptional” i. e. not imperialist, just humanitarian, has for a while at least, been easier to sell than such claims from the US, thus giving more legitimacy to actions which would be more suspect if done by the Sheriff;

The actions of the deputy could be quicker and more effective due to propinquity of Australia to possible hot spots, and arguably could be more finely tuned to local sensibilities due to familiarity gained over decades of interaction;

The deputy also has the capacity to train military personnel from countries in the region, which gives them and the Sheriff closer links with military and possible future political leaders. The Aussies have taught human rights issues to the military in Myanmar, and as mentioned above to KOPASSUS in Indonesia, and have done the same with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). They have trained hundreds, if not thousands, of AFP personnel in various programs including counter-insurgency and intel work. We know that currently more than 100 AFP personnel get some kind of special training in Australia each year.

Among the graduates of such programs are the notorious General Jovito S. Palparan, known to Filipinos in regions where he operated as “The Beast”-now a fugitive from justice after evidence was produced, and accepted by a court, indicating his command role in the extra judicial disappearance of two University of the Philippines students, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, who were working as volunteers with impoverished rural communities and were “tagged” as subversives by AFP operatives. Others who benefitted from training/education in Australia include the favourite of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, General Delfin Bangit, who was her aide de camp during her tenure as Vice President, became Chief of AFP Intelligence, and Commander of the Presidential Security Group; and General Ricardo Visaya who had a most outrageous record of responsibility for human rights abuse-with impunity of course.. According to Karapatan, he was a cohort of Palparan during the latter’s reign of terror in Central Luzon: he was former commanding general of the 69th Infantry Battalion [a unit of Palparan’s 7th Division-GB] responsible for the Hacienda Luisita massacre in November 2004…(he) left a trail of human rights violations wherever he was assigned”. Whether Visaya’s Foreign Officers’ Intelligence Course at the Australian School for Military Intelligence covered such incidents, we do not know. Nor do we know if it covered partisan politicking against progressive party lists and the militarization and intimidation of civilian populations (Metro Manila, 2007). Or whether it dealt with kidnapping and torture (the farmer brothers Manalo in 2006), or harassment of labor leaders and anti-labor campaigning (against Dole Corporation workers trying to form a union affiliated with the progressive KMU labor center, 2011). Again we do not know. What we do know is that he must have been a poor student if he was supposed to learn respect for human rights.

Another task for the deputy is to use “soft power” to develop a pro-American/Australian mentality in target countries. Soft power, as opposed to coercive force, is used to encourage a population-and its leaders of course-to adopt a friendly, positive attitude towards the country using that power. There is an interesting “soft power war” going on presently between the USA, along with its allies and friendly competitors-the UK and EU- and China.

How does the Sheriff respond to the work of its deputies?

One benefit, if it can be called that, for the deouty country is the sharing of “intelligence”, some of which will have been gathered by surveillance of the deputy’s citizens as the heroic Edward Snowden has recently confirmed for us.

By subverting governments and political parties, movements and individuals they do not approve of.

By insisting that the deputy “toes the line” with regard to policies-economic, military- which the Sheriff believes to be in its interest.

By “negotiating” treaties which the Sheriff sees as beneficial to it (and its mega corporations), without great regard for the interests of the deputy country.

Indications of support in case of conflict between the deputy and a third country.

A constant supply of the latest armaments, sometimes at a discount, or even as ‘aid” when second-hand.

The array of “soft power” phenomena mentioned above, including of course financial assistance in the case of a “developing country” or a “Newly Industrializing Country”.

Emergence of soft power- an example: World Peace through Law

Soft power includes financial aid, but also cultural elements, especially popular culture such as music and art, sport (consider basketball in the Philippines!), and education, religion, political ideology, and state institutions, not least the judicial system.

The World Peace Through Law (WPTL) movement was started by Charles Rhyne, President of the American Bar Association and a fervent anti-communist, in order to use American ideology as soft power, e.g. the rule of law in a liberal democracy, to counter- pose the “peace and freedom” offensive by the USSR. For Rhyne the goal was to “capture” May 1st from the Soviet Union and to put a large crimp in the celebrations around the globe on the workers’ day. Rhyne convinced President Eisenhower to proclaim May 1st in America as “Law Day” ( in the US “Labor Day” had long since been assigned to September at the beginning of the school year and part of the final weekend of the summer when thoughts were far from any “class struggle”); subsequently the bombastic LBJ proclaimed it “World Law Day”. How ironic when the first proclamation of Labor Day on May 1st occurred in 1880s “radical” Chicago after the Haymarket bombing incident and the subsequent injustice meted out to four workers hung for being anarchists. (Australians now celebrate a Law Week in the month of May in most states, although it is rather low key.)

Soft power, sometimes called “smart power” was conceptualized by Professor Joseph S. Nye, Jr., former Dean of the JFK School of Government at Harvard University, and longtime foreign affairs and national security analyst. In the early 90s he was Chair of the National Intelligence Council which advised the President; and under Clinton became the Assistant Secretary for Defence-International Security Affairs. Nye, an urbane, liberal “organic intellectual” (in the Gramscian sense) is a graduate of Princeton, Oxford and Harvard universities, and has written extensively on international relations and American power in the age of globalization. His books include Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (1990); The Changing Nature of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone (2002); Power in the Global Information Age: From Realism to Globalization (2004); Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (2004); The Powers to Lead (2008); The Future of Power (2011); and Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era (2013).

David Drezner, a reporter for Foreign Affairs, a highly influential American journal of elite thinking, commented in 2011 “All roads to understanding American foreign policy lead through Joe Nye.” Recently Nye was named as the 6th most influential scholar in international relations in the last 20 years (the first 5 must be amazing!).

Nye was recently on a speaking tour of Australian major cities, and spoke at my university, amongst others. Of course his purpose was to emphasize the role of soft power in developing friendly relations between competitors in the new circumstances of “globalization” and “free trade” agreements, not least the American economic weapon, the Trans Pacific Partnership then (and now) being negotiated; the rise of China and a roiling Middle East.

After one of his lectures, under questioning about the “dark side’ of soft power, that is the use of it to dominate other countries ( an aspect which he had not adverted to, as if it was all cozy and above board), he had to admit that the US had made “mistakes” and done “regrettable” things in places such as South East Asia and the Philippines, but on balance he thought there had been a positive impact on the Philippines, and that American use of soft power had been a major positive element in the development of a democratic country with a rule of law. He would wouldn’t he.

Soft Power and the Philippine- Australia Connection, 1977

Soft power can, of course, be applied by small countries and colonies or neo-colonies. And it can be used externally as well as internally. The Philippine President, Ferdinand Marcos, perhaps surprisingly given his notorious martial law repression, was adept at using soft power. In an ironic move, and after an indirect request from the would-be guest, he had agreed-with a laugh it is said by the intermediary- to invite Sir John Kerr to a World Peace Through Law Conference in Manila, in 1977, along with a number of leading statesmen and politicians-especially from Third World countries, many of them dictators such as South Korea’s Park-and substantial judicial figures such as the first African-American to sit on the US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall (his Hawaii-born Fil-Am wife had never been to Manila so their presence is partly explicable by her longing to see the country).

Between 3 and 6 thousand lawyers and others attended (press estimates varied between the Marcos newspapers and the others which were under looser control I suppose). The American progressive lawyer, social justice activist and former Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, caused a momentary hiccup when he and others held a street rally to protest the holding of the conference in a country under Martial Law. (Interestingly the conference was given to Marcos instead of the Shah of Iran who desperately wanted it.) A crowd of 5-10,000 showed up and received the “water treatment” and police beatings. Several dozen protestors were arrested. Clark then called a press conference and announced that due to the repression under Martial Law, in particular the detention of so many people without trial, torture and human rights abuses generally, he could not accept the invitation to attend what he indicated was a charade, and took a plane back to the USA. I found only one brief account which did not mention Clark, nor that the original plan was to have a meeting in a catholic College which was cancelled-presumably under pressure from the government-so the organizers took it to the street. It should be noted that Clark is currently on the list of those prohibited from entering the Philippines as a result of his support for Joma Sison in his legal battles, and many critical actions and reports over the years about continuing human rights violations and impunity in the country.

Liberal Party Senator Jovito Salonga, members of the PSDP (Social Democratic Party of the Philippines, or “socdems”) and others are said to have tried to organize a parallel conference, but I have been unable to find any information on that. It was not reported in the press at the time.

The conference was the kind of stage Marcos and First Lady Imelda loved. He sought the support of the Filipino people for his modernization project, building the New Society, and legitimacy on the world stage. The First Lady sought the adulation of the Filipino people, and of course the delegates.

The President was rewarded by the Conference delegates with an award for being a “Nation Builder”. No doubt the long Opening Speech by the Chief Justice, Fred Castro, with its fulsome praise for the New Society program and jurisprudential justification of Martial Law would have been important in winning the delegates’ approval of what Marcos had been doing with his dictatorial powers.

The President and Imelda entertained the Kerrs who, although on a private visit were treated as visiting dignitaries of great importance. (No trace of Kerr’s visit to Manila is to be found in the Governor General’s Official Diary at the time, nor in any of his writings) Kerr enjoyed a media blitz as if he were representing the Australian government. The media stressed that he was an important Australian to talk business with, and headlines emphasized his discussions with Marcos about trade, investment and relations between the two countries. Perhaps to emphasize the good relations between the two countries, the press also featured Sir John laying a wreath at the tomb of the unnamed soldiers at Labingan ng mga Bayani, Fort Bonifacio, and a photograph of the entry of an Australian warship into a Philippine port, presumably for ‘R n R”. (See generally my unpublished paper with Stephanie McNamee, “Sir John Kerr and President Marcos: a footnote in Australian legal history”).

By way of contrast, and perhaps for tactical reasons in his relations with the US government, the press was at the same time publicizing what appeared to be supportable allegations by a Filipina cafeteria worker on a US military facility, Clark Airbase, who claimed that she had been raped by the senior officer in her department. Similar allegations against the same officer were filed with the police by another female worker on the base, and were to find their way into the press. Interestingly, after the Conference the rape stories disappeared from the newspapers. The US officials were demanding the right to deal with the matter themselves under the existing treaty between the two countries. Plus ca change. I have been unable to determine whether the officer was dealt with by the Americans or the Filipinos. However, I suspect he was protected by the US authorities, which would have been embarrassing for Marcos, thus the silence of the press may be understood as a tactic to avoid being seen as weak in dealing with the Americans.

The week-long WPTL Conference was an amazing extravaganza. In addition to supplying Mercedes automobiles for principle guests to be driven around the city, Marcos had Dame Margot Fonteyn, Rudolph Nureyev and the Moscow Beethoven Piano Competition prize winner Van Cliburn-and his mother-flown in for a performance at the recently constructed Philippine Cultural Center (Imelda’s pet project). As the genial but commanding host of the Conference, Marcos ensured that Kerr, an Australian lawyer was given the “Lawyer of the Year” award by the Conference attendees. Few of them would have known that by then he was disgraced in his own country.

What future for the Philippines-will it garner a deputy sheriff badge?

At this time, it appears that the Philippine government will have a chance to become a deputy sheriff. The Aquino administration has a very positive and supportive attitude toward the Sheriff, and a past tradition of the Philippine elite working loyally with the USA is greatly appreciated there. Of course some Filipino critics would say that the relationship has been marred by obsequiousness, the latest example being the Solicitor General trying to protect the US naval officers who are responsible for running the USS Guardian (!) aground on a reef within Philippine territorial waters, causing grave damage to the environment, and to the livelihood of Filipino fisherfolk. (Obsequiousness is actually a trait emperors-and Sheriffs-not only like but often demand.)

As we have outlined above, the Republic has also shown a friendly face to its close-in mentor, deputy sheriff Australia, suggesting a good working relationship between the potential future partners, as well as a division of labor and territorial responsibilities.

Nevertheless, there are certain problems remaining which will have to be resolved before the Sheriff is likely to consider an application for promotion. A “performance evaluation” would point to areas where significant improvement is required.

The first barrier, denial of bases for the past 20 years, seems now to have been overcome, all credit to an imaginative interpretation of the Philippine Constitution. US forces (and Japanese) will be given even more access to the country, since rotation of troops means they are not here permanently and therefore, being only temps, can come and go (literally as they please- as in the Nicole incident, with the spiriting away of the alleged rapist US Navy Seaman Smith from Philippine custody and jurisdiction) without violating the Constitutional ban on foreign bases. No wonder Jack Cade said- “First, we kill all the lawyers” (apologies to our hosts in the NUPL! And also to playwright Shakespeare).

Other problems, however, cannot be whisked away by verbal gymnastics. Consider:

  1. A lack of political stability, due to:
    1. Continuing widespread hunger, poverty and inequality;
    2. Shambolic political competition, with transitory and vacuous policies, as well as illegitimacy of elections because of vote manipulation and vote buying, and other forms of cheating;

    3. The power of the political and economic dynasties which form a conservative, self-interested dominant elite;

    4. Personality/celebrity politics and a correlative lack of a convincing plan for national economic development which is likely to provide a strong base for continued re-distributive growth.

  2. Lack of guaranteed territorial integrity
    The “deal” with the MILF in Mindanao appears unlikely to bring peace, but if it does, then the national government will lose effective control of a significant political and economic entity. Why should that be the end product? Is it likely that secession will not remain on the agenda? The Sheriff could be put into the position (or help bring it about) where it is going to have to decide who is going to be the most valuable deputy in the region.

  3. Lack of internal territorial control.

    1. The continuing struggle for social justice and against repression and exploitation waged by the CPP and the NPA (supported by the civil society elements of the NDF and others) also suggests that the Philippines is insufficiently united to become a reliable and effective deputy;

    2. The apparent inability of the GPH to effectively deal with the murderous and apparently sectarian BIFF, and the gangsters of the Abu Sayyaf raises further doubts as to the capacity of the country’s leadership to fulfill the deputy role.

  4. Corruption is pervasive

The fact that the former President was willing to enter into deals with foreign corporations for infrastructure projects at huge costs to the nation while filling her own pockets with kickbacks (and those of her First Gentleman aka “Mr. Fifty Percent”) illustrates the extent of the problem. While the incumbent President has pledged to end corruption (and naively believes-or says he believes-that that will put an end to poverty) it can be said that just as his neo-liberal “trickle- down economics” has made things no better, and in some ways worse, there is no evidence that “trickle-down honesty” is bringing obvious benefits to the masa. (See the report of Transparency International, released recently, which indicates there has been little change in the Filipino perception of the problem and the lack of effective action by the present administration. See also the lead story by Catherine S. Valente in the Manila Times, July 11, 2013 “Corruption remains rampant- Palace”).

For the time being, on the basis of our evaluation, it would seem likely that the Philippines will not get a promotion. It will continue to serve the Sheriff loyally, and receive promises of support and protection. It may continue to get surplus navy ships and other military materiel. Even humanitarian aid. Always military training of course, human rights abuses to one side. (The situation in Egypt is enlightening. Huge amounts of US military aid has gone to that country’s armed forces, and in the last decade over 11,000 officers have been trained in the US, including the top echelon who were educated at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. One wonders if the curriculum recommended firing at the backs of praying worshippers as was recently done in Cairo).

Of course when push comes to shove, there could be such pressure on the Sheriff and his Aussie deputy that the Republic will get the nod to operate as a temporary deputy, full promotion dependent on performance on-the –job. (“Temp” is the “new normal” under globalized neo-liberalism, so the GPH cannot cavil.) There are good reasons why such a limited promotion could be on the cards sooner than we think.

The Republic will function as an early warning system, much as my former US Navy ship- a “destroyer- radar”- did back in the ‘50s. We had the latest radar technology and were posted 60 miles away from an aircraft carrier squadron for the purpose of warning the carrier of enemy planes coming in for attack. Quite a vulnerable position to be in if ever there was an attack. One thinks of the similarity to the current ruckus in the “West Philippine Sea”. By acting as a target for imagined enemies, the country will demonstrate that it is a “locked-in” ally.

It will earn additional “brownie points” for the following reasons:

  1. It has troops to spare as its performance has demonstrated in Mindanao and Basilan and elsewhere;
  2. It has plenty of interesting topography for training and exercises with base-less foreign troops;
  3. It has experience in providing aircraft facilities, ship repair and “R n R”;
  4. It has been a supportive voice in international fora, and one of the first to be “willing” to invade Iraq;
  5. It has been a welcoming site for profit-making by US and other foreign corporations;
  6. It has provided a reserve army of labor by encouraging millions of Filipinos to leave for the US to find employment not available in their home country;
  7. It has also suffered, in silence, a brain drain of innovative and entreprenurial university graduates in favour of the USA;
  8. It has been a source of “inside” information about the region through its location and participation in ASEAN and other associations;
  9. It is a source of ideological support for American “exceptionalism” (“they gave us our independence”), liberal democracy, and neo-liberal policies;
  10. It provides a Christian barrier to potential Islamicization of the region, or a regional Islamic state.

That is a very strong resume. With the passage of time, and the cleaning up of its internal problems indicated above, the Republic could easily garner a permanent deputyship.

Down the road a way

In the longer term, a country of well over 100 million and great natural wealth can be expected to grow in stature and capacity, and therefore a move up the hierarchal formation to become a deputy.

Assuming that the Republic maintains its subordinate role in the American neo-empire, it is certain to be seen as an important link in the chain of “containment” or encirclement of the superpower China will become. A look at the map will show that China’s northern sea flank is faced by another American subaltern, Japan, while Alaska is back-up. The southern flank is covered by the Philippines (and other countries such as Viet Nam which have warmed to the embrace of the Yanks) and Australia as back-up. (I leave out Taiwan as it is especially difficult to predict its future, but it is unlikely to be part of the containment strategy in any strong sense, unless forced to by active Chinese assertion of its jurisdiction over the island).

A strong, economically developed Philippines could, of course, choose an independent, nationalist path, gradually moving out of the US field of power. This could be a choice the other deputy, Australia, might also have to make if its links with China strengthen and the Americans lose their hegemonic position, perhaps because American “exceptionalism” no longer sells in large parts of the world. (Again, a colleague suggests that joint naval exercises with China were seen in US elite circles as a “betrayal” by Australia, requiring explanation and reassurances of the fidelity of the Aussies to their seigneur.)

A Philippines newly developed could easily find that their economic interests viz a viz China trump their historical link with the US. Already Filipino tycoons, such as the massively rich Sy family (shopping mall kings) are moving into China looking for “new opportunities”-profits- in the opening up of a huge consumer market. That much of Filipino economic resources are under the control of Chinoys (Chinese Filipinos) it is not difficult to see the likely growth of interdependency between close neighbours who have strong historical ties. (Those ties, commercial in particular, are examined in some depth in R.T. Chua, Chinese and Chinese Mestizos of Manila: Family, Identity, and Culture, 1860s-1930s (2010).

Stranger things have happened in world politics. One hundred years ago it would have been difficult to predict the present client role into which Japan has settled in its relations with the USA.

*See for example:

Perry Belmont, Republic or Empire? (1900)

George Sewall Boutwell, In the Name of Liberty: Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism (1899)

William Jennings Bryant (ed.) Republic or Empire? The Philippine Question (1899)

James Wells Sewall, A Protest Against the President’s War of “Criminal Aggression” (1899)

James Wells Sewall, Republic or Empire? an Argument in Opposition to the Establishment of an American Colonial System (1900)

Note-three of these authors were, amongst other things, lawyers. Bryant was the unsuccessful candidate of the Democratic Party for president in 1896, 1900 and 1904 ; he made anti-imperialism a major issue in the 1900 election, which he lost to McKinley by about 600,000 votes out of about 13, 500,000. McKinleys attitude toward colonization is summed up in the following: while he was unsure about annexation of the Philippines at first, after a night on his knees praying, he concluded that God had “dropped them into our lap” and therefore “Nothing is left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.”

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