In the disputes over the South China Sea, no country has been closer to the United States and more hostile to China than the Philippines under the recently departed President Aquino. Indeed, during Aquino’s term of office the Philippines has once more allowed the US to use military bases in the country as part of a wider military collaboration. The Philippines has also unilaterally taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But since the recent election of President Duterte there are signs of a shift in thinking with Duterte stressing the importance of good relations with China and other leading figures suggesting that the island disputes with China should be settled bilaterally. The column below, reprinted from the country’s leading newspaper, The Philippine Star, gives voice to this shift. – Martin Jacques
What could have changed our history?
Carmen N Pedrosa
Today, June 12, we celebrate Philippine Independence Day as it was declared by President Diosdado Macapagal. It used to be celebrated every July 4 because it was the day the Americans granted it to us. But as Macapagal reasoned “freedom and independence is not granted, it is fought for.” So why did we continue to be an American colony despite this? Here is a story that is not known to many Filipinos.
“The common story told by historians is the Americans betrayed Emilio Aguinaldo by turning against him and not granting the Philippines its independence as they had promised.
What is the truth to the story?
In his book Insurrectos, the grandnephew of Gen. Jose Alejandrino related what actually happened based on the account of the general.
When the Artacho brothers sued Aguinaldo in a court in Hongkong to force him to distribute the funds from Biak-na-bato among them, Agoncillo suggested Aguinaldo leave Hongkong for Singapore to avoid summons. Aguinaldo had scheduled a meeting with Commodore George Dewey, the head of the US Asiatic Squadron, to put up a joint front in the fight against Spain in exchange for which the US would grant the Filipinos their independence. Since he could not attend the meeting, Aguinaldo assigned the task to Gen. Jose Alejandrino.
Alejandrino met with Dewey on board the latter’s ship. He was accompanied by an interpreter, Garchitorena, who was needed because Alejandrino didn’t speak English and Dewey didn’t speak Spanish.
Both agreed to join in the fight against Spain but when it came to the question of granting independence, Dewey said he had no authority as a naval officer to speak on behalf of the State Department but could only give his personal opinion. He said he did not think the US had any intention of keeping the Philippines.
Alejandrino reported the outcome of his discussions to the Revolutionary Junta. He said there was no guarantee the Americans would grant Filipinos independence. He suggested to go ahead anyway to deal with the Spaniards first and later with the Americans. Once the revolution had gained momentum, he said, there would be nothing to stop it. He later wrote to Blumentritt saying the Americans had not promised independence.
When Dewey sailed to Manila Bay in May 1898 to crush Montojo’s Spanish fleet, he brought along Alejandrino on board his ship Zafiro to witness the battle. After the battle, Aguinaldo was brought home, also on one of Dewey’s ships.
When Aguinaldo returned home, he didn’t have any arms except what Dewey consented to give him from the captured Spanish arsenal at Cavite. He didn’t have an army except the few supporters from Hongkong who returned with him. But many Filipinos like Buencamino were in command of the local militia. So he set out to convince them to join his cause. He invented the white “lie” that the Americans had promised independence if they fought against Spain. After Montojo’s fleet was crushed, the oligarchs were scared that if they didn’t join Aguinaldo and the Americans they would lose their privileges. That is how Aguinaldo managed to assemble an army that was composed of former Spanish militia units.
His troops had surrounded Manila before the American expeditionary force arrived. Luna and Alejandrino urged him to capture Manila before they arrived. Aguinaldo hesitated because he was afraid of the big guns from Dewey’s ships that squatted in Manila Bay waiting for the US landing force. Luna told him that if Dewey bombed them, it would raise an international furor because the Filipinos were supposed to be the allies of the Americans. Aguinaldo still hesitated. That is how Manila was lost. If Aguinaldo had followed Luna’s advice and captured Manila, there would be nothing for the Americans to negotiate at the Treaty of Paris. You can’t negotiate something you haven’t got. The Americans would have simply left and Philippine history could have taken a different course.”
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How will President-elect Rody Duterte implement foreign policy with US and China in a tug-of-war about the Philippines. He said, “we will chart our own course and it will be for the interest of our country.” Well said but how to do it is another thing.
Edward Liu writes in FB: British author Martin Jacques, author of the international bestseller “When China Rules the World.”
“Forget America, Philippines’ future is bound with China. America and Europe is in decline. And the size of China’s economy and its re-emergence as a civilizational state taking its rightful place in the world, must be accepted. China is not a colonizing state. It is, unlike the European modern colonizing states, not interested in acquiring colonies and more territories. But it needs to be respected.”
Jacques says Filipinos should grow up and stop poisoning the islands’ relationship with China over some rocks. He advises the Filipinos to look at the big picture and accept that China’s rise is inevitable in Asia and that the future of the Philippines is bound with China, not America.”
But, of course, as President Duterte said, we must deal as equals, not as a vassal.
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Martin Jacques was in Manila in 2012 and I had the opportunity to meet him.
His book “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order” was first published in 2009.
Philippines 2020, The Futuristic Society of the Philippines and the Philippine STAR did well in inviting Jacques. Filipinos need to know more about China.
“China is going to change the world in two fundamental respects. First of all, it is a huge, developing country with a population of 1.3 billion people which has been growing for over 30 years at around ten percent a year. And within a decade, it will have the largest economy in the world. Never before in the modern era has the largest economy in the world been that of a developing country, rather than a developed country. Secondly, for the first time in the modern era, the dominant country in the world, which is what I think China will become, will be not from the West and from very, very different civilizational root… It is a widespread assumption in the West that as countries modernize, they also westernize. This is an illusion… The relationship between the state and society in China is very different from that of the West.
“We still insist, by and large, on thinking that we can explain China by drawing on Western experience, by looking at it through Western eyes, by using Western concepts… The arrival of countries like China and India, between them 38 percent of the world’s population, and others like Indonesia and Brazil… represent the most important single act of democratization in the last 200 years…”