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Philippine sea tragedies



Jim Bowman comments on my remark that "Like almost all Americans, I have little understanding of the Philippines. I can only hope that the Pentagon planners who are getting the US involved there know what they are doing". He answers the first sentence. For the second, see my comment at the end. He says: "The Philippines is unique in Asia because of the pervasive influence by Spain from Magellan's visit in 1521, to 1899 when Admiral Dewey took Manila for the U.S. (my grandfather was among the troops), and kept it as part of the U.S. commonwealth through 1946. European/American influence has provided several characteristics rarely found in other Asian nations: 1)Predominance of non-Asian religion 2)Excellent (American) English (the language of secondary-up education). 3)Affinity and friendship with America(ns) 4)A true cultural oddity: Smiles (One of their dominant themes under the Marcos tourism head Jose Aspiras was "Where Asia wears a Smile)." The Spanish took the edge off some of that "inscrutability" for which most Asians are famous. Even comparing people of similar Malay stock throughout Asia confirms this.

There are only one or two "cultural elitist" pockets where Spanish is still spoken. Visible Spanish influence remains in words and phrases in Tagalog, formal dress attire, traditional music/dance, some food, geographical names and in Roman Catholicism. Filipinos hated the Spanish so much that their next colonizers, the Americans were seen by the majority as liberators! In 1999 the Philippines celebrated 100 years of freedom (not independence), measuring from the American takeover. This is remarkable, given that there were important movements to throw out the Americans after 1899. 83% of Filipinos are reported to approve of the American involvement in Basilan. My guess would be that they would love to see a joint military raid in the style of Bruce Willis, a favorite movie idol here.

Of course this affinity between the United States and the Philippines is an irritant to nationalists and an embarrassment to Americans. There has been more than one initiative to petition the U.S. to make the Philippines the 51st state. Persons of Philippine birth living in the U.S. (over 1 million) are second in number only to Mexicans. The U.S. theme in Manila life is pervasive. The nationally accepted progression of a "person going somewhere" is from barrio to Regional City to Manila to the U.S.

High-end business is dominated by Filipinos of South China descent. While many of them are second, third and fourth generation immigrants, many speak Tagalog with a heavy Amoy accent. This exacerbates the psychological divide between the rich and the poor. Most of these businessmen are in 24 hour company with a "driver" who carries a .45 automatic in his satchel. Kidnappings of relatives of the elite are common. But it should be noted that "poverty" when we define it as people living in garbage dumps is a characteristic of Manila, and not necessarily of the provinces. "Poor" people living on subsistence economies in the countryside are not without the basics of life. Provincial capitals are often relatively clean. There is a significant middle class arising in the Philippines.

Corruption-in-government styles remind me of some Latin American countries. It's a big problem.

As to news, I would not say U.S. TV reporting is uniquely unfair to the Philippines. TV news is not real news reporting; it is entertainment designed to tittilate the senses, and to reaffirm the demographically researched biases of the target audience. Bienvenido Macario, who I believe lives in the L.A. region, knows we must first see the freeway chases and latest Hollywood star scandals before we get to the War on Terrorism. Ferry sinkings are only useful if the video is visually shocking.

My comment of US military activities in the Philippines. When the US began military operations in the Philippines, many though this was risky at a time when the fight in Afghanistan was at its height. There has been a natural stress on the need for secrecy in intelligence matters, and it appears that the military know far more than has been revealed. A very detailed article "Iraq was involved in Oklahoma City" (Insight, 5/13/02) tells of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim terrorist organization whose members trained in Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan. It involves former president Ramos. "In the Philippines, the real story of the Abu Sayyaf and its ties to Iraq, bin Laden,and to former President Ramos--who is planning a comeback into Philippine politics--is a dangerous topic".The allegation that Iraq was involved in Oklahoma City has been hotly disputed, but this article claims to prove it.

Ronald Hilton - 5/22/02


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