The paradox of independence (Manila Times Walking History)

by xiaochua

October 24, 2020

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

THE irony of liberation: The Filipinos won the war against the Japanese, but it left us with only devastation and a damaged culture.

Before the Second World War, the old folks said that you could leave anything anywhere and it would not be stolen. Not so many security guards were needed. But during those three years from 1942-1945, the people struggled and some felt the need to steal in order to survive. The hardships would have an immense effect on the psyche of the Filipino people.

Sure, before the war, there were already the problems of inequality and agrarian unrest. But in the post-war years, the old folks felt the rise of petty crimes and robbery. Our perspective of personal security was affected. Most of our tangible cultural heritage was also destroyed and this destruction erased whatever importance we gave to whatever was left. Intramuros, which was once the embodiment of the Pearl of the Orient, lay in ruins and gave way to urban informal settlers.

Despite the physical and psychological carnage, the Filipinos started rolling up their sleeves and began preparing for a future that was theirs for the taking. For the first time in the history of colonialism, a country willfully returned the independence of their colony as mandated by law. Having just been elected and sworn in as the last President of the Philippine Commonwealth, Manuel Roxas was sworn in as the first President of the newly established Republic of the Philippines (the third formal one in our history) on July 4, 1946. In a solemn and symbolic ceremony amid the rain at a makeshift grandstand ironically covering Rizal’s Monument, the Stars and Stripes were lowered and the Three Stars and the Sun were raised.

Roxas assigned his vice president, Elpidio Quirino, to create and head a Department of Foreign Affairs which immediately opened diplomatic relations with 27 countries. As our country was a major player in the establishment of the United Nations through Gen. Carlos Romulo (who would become President of the UN General Assembly), Quirino placed the relationship with the UN at the top of our pillars of democracy (and our relationship with the US only second).

But the Pacific War also left a divided world; its impact would be felt even in the country. The Allied Powers having won, partitioned it among themselves: the United States and Britain, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These powers divided the world with their ideologies and sphere of influence. Berlin was divided, Europe was divided, Korea was divided, Vietnam was divided. The post-war world was made to choose between communism and what the West called “the free world.”

Marxism, which gave the communist vision of a more equitable world, became attractive to many in the developing world. Thus, Southeast Asia became a battleground.

In the belief that if the communists would take over China, the whole of Korea, and eventually Vietnam, the other countries would fall one by one like dominoes and the East would turn Red. Even if this part of the world was thousands of miles from the US, the experience with Japan proved that it was in the best interest of America to keep these countries part of the free world.

This explains why despite independence, America felt the need to exert so much influence on their former colony, strategically located in the heart of the region. When they offered us a much needed rehabilitation assistance of $620 million through the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946, they put some strings attached for it to be released: that our government sign the Military Bases Agreement that gave the US a 99-year lease to some 65,000-hectare military facilities, including Clark and Subic. Also, the Philippine Congress had to pass the Bell Trade Act which gave a favorable free trade clause to American products imported to the Philippines until 1974, while quota restrictions were given our products, the pegging of the value of peso to the US dollar and the parity clause that gave equal rights to US corporations to develop and exploit all agriculture, timber and minerals in the Philippines.

The paradox of independence was that the post-war years was the first era in almost four centuries that we were not under direct colonialism, and yet, we became some sort of an American neo-colony. Sen. Claro Recto noted, “The flagstaffs that still stand, two by two, in front of our public buildings, are the symbols of a psychological phenomenon, this split personality of our nation….” Only our flag flies, but in the minds of the people, the American flag was still there.

The problems that were carried into the new Republic would attract people to continue the fight in the mountains and carry the banner of communism.