Academic: ‘Duterte held up a long-hidden looking glass to the US’



Following is an excellent article that was published on September 9 in the Australia-based website The Conversation, with an interesting slogan: “Academic Rigour, Journalistic Flair.” It was written by Adele Webb, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Sydney’s Department of Government and International Relations. She is working on her thesis “that explores the colonial construction of Philippine democracy, and its legacy in Filipino imaginings of political freedom.” This column’s title is that of her article.

I hope our millennials read it: Few Filipinos really know about how ruthlessly the US subjugated us.
Although she seemed to believe foreign correspondents’ inaccurate report that President Duterte called President Obama “son of a whore’” (which he didn’t), still, what a difference it is for an analysis on Philippine current events by a well-informed scholar.

Webb’s article:

 Hypocrisy?  Rare photo of 600 Moro insurgents and civilians killed by US troops at Bud Dajo in Jolo, March 7, 1906, which President Duterte showed to Asean delegates last week in Laos to counter US criticisms of his regime’s human rights violations.

Hypocrisy?  Rare photo of 600 Moro insurgents and civilians killed by US troops at Bud Dajo in Jolo, March 7, 1906, which President Duterte showed to Asean delegates last week in Laos to counter US criticisms of his regime’s human rights violations.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has taken his “bad manners” – having gained global notoriety with his election campaign insults earlier this year – to a new level.

At a press conference at Davao International Airport on Monday, on his way to meet US President Barack Obama and other leaders attending the ASEAN summit, Duterte muttered a few short words in Tagalog at the end of a lengthy and irritated reply to a local journalist. With those words, he again made international headlines.

If that were all there was to it, we could rightly roll our eyes and move on. After all, Duterte’s language is vulgar; his slander of people and groups is liable to incite violence; and his determination to kill drug pushers (to fight “crime with crime”) an abuse of power. He should not be defended for any of this.

But as someone who has spent a long time studying US-Philippine relations, I think there’s something more for us to see here. And if we want to judge the Philippine president (and, by default, the nation for electing him) from high moral ground, I think we have a responsibility to pay attention to it.

“Who is he to question me about human rights and extrajudicial killings?”

So asked Duterte on Monday. It’s actually a very good question, and one long overdue from a Philippine president. The extent to which the violence of US relations with the Philippines has been made invisible by a history written predominantly by Americans themselves cannot be overstated.

It began with a three-year war (1899-1902) that most Americans have never heard of. The war overthrew a newly independent Philippine republic and cost between 250,000 and a million Filipino lives – only to be called “a great misunderstanding” by American colonial writers.

After all, the US had chosen the Philippines to be its great Asian “showcase of democracy.” The invasion was a benevolent act. Hence, the complete erasure of acts of American violence from the Philippine national story.
You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to smell something rotten. Since the 1950s, Philippine writers, academics, journalists and so on have been trying to reframe the historical narrative to point out this fact: to be invaded by a military power, told you don’t possess the character or capability for self-government, and then controlled by another nation for four decades, to the occupier’s lucrative commercial benefit, was not to be the recipient of a benevolent act.

Even at the time the war was taking place, one of America’s best-loved authors was writing just as much. Mark Twain was prolific in writing about the paradox of the “democratising mission” to the Philippines.

Penned in 1901, but still stunningly poignant, is this extract from his essay, To the Person Sitting in Darkness:
“The Person Sitting in Darkness is almost sure to say: ‘There is something curious about this – curious and unaccountable. There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.’”

In America, these remain Twain’s least-known works.”

Before his (now regretted) distasteful remark, Duterte had much to say in response to the question about being confronted over human rights in an upcoming meeting with Obama. He was responding to murmurs from critics that, if he wouldn’t listen to anyone else about the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, just wait until he meets the US president.

No one seems to have listened to or cared much about the other six minutes of Duterte’s reply. So let me tell you something about it.

It was a reclaiming of the historical narrative of Philippine-US relations, a holding up to the US of the hidden “looking glass” Mark Twain had written about 100 years earlier.

Calling out the hidden insinuations, as Duterte did, that the US continues to have authority over the politics of the Philippines, is bold and brazen, but reasonable. Consider his statement:

“I am a president of a sovereign state. And we have long ceased to be a colony. I do not have any master but the Filipino people.”

These words are less evidence of his demagoguery or an intention to personally disparage Obama than a reference to history, and are more accurately read as such.

After the Second World War, colonies of any sort, even the so-called “democratic” US one in the Philippines were on the nose. But this didn’t stop Washington officialdom from continuing to claim the right of access to the Philippines’ political and economic realms.

When the US finally granted the Philippines its (second) independence in 1946, it required the new republic to amend its Constitution so a bill could be passed that, as well as legislating preferential trade conditions for the US, would grant American citizens equal rights with Filipinos to Philippine natural resources. It was the beginning of a new phase: neocolonialism.

It was not just a matter of political interference and the power to make or break Philippine presidents with endorsement and strategic financial support. In a visceral sense, the nation was always being watched and judged by its democratic “teacher.”

Asked about being confronted with human rights concerns by Obama, Duterte said:

“You must be kidding. Who is he to confront me? America has one too many to answer for the misdeeds in this country … As a matter of fact, we inherited this problem from the United States. Why? Because they invaded this country and made us their subjugated people … Can I explain the extrajudicial killings? Can they explain the 600,000 Moros massacred on this island [Mindanao]? Do you want to see the pictures? Maybe you ask him. And make it public.”

I’m reminded of a comment by Alicia Garza, a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement ignited by police killings of black Americans. Speaking in Sydney last weekend at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, she related how, when civil rights protests get uncomfortably heated, she is often asked: “Why are they so angry?” She paused. Then softly giggled, giving the audience time for the ludicrousness of the question to sink in.

Why is the Philippines president so angry about the prospect of the US president confronting him about human rights abuses? History. As Duterte said himself on Monday, violent acts of the past don’t stay in the past. They get passed on from generation to generation, especially when the injustice goes unacknowledged and unaddressed.

It is difficult to stomach Duterte’s style. It certainly is difficult to look past the serious issues raised by his administration’s “war on drugs”. We should condemn his misuse of power.

But if we condemn the president for his recent remarks because we claim to be concerned about the rights of Filipinos while showing no interest in acknowledging the past crimes and injustices against the Philippines, we fall into our own sort of hypocrisy.

Let’s be honest, if Duterte didn’t curse and swear and offend our sensibilities, would we be paying so much attention to the Philippines? For once, I heard a Philippine president holding the US to account for all its doublespeak and hypocrisy in US-Philippine relations. And I couldn’t help but appreciate that.

End of Webb’s article

My postscript:
On June 2013, British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed “sincere regret” for torture and abuse committed by British colonial officers against Kenyans in the 1950s. He also announced a compensation package worth £19.9 million (about $31 million), to be divided among 5,200 Kenyan victims. This marks the settlement of a landmark legal case initiated in 2009 by a group of Kenyans, who alleged that they suffered colonial-era torture at British hands.

Perhaps Duterte, who seems to be so passionate against American human rights abuses against Filipinos when they invaded us, should initiate similar proceedings to demand an apology from the US. The noisy “anti-imperialist” Left, a pack of whom are in the US living cosmopolitan lives, protesting Marcos’ burial at the official military camp should, instead, course their energies into demanding a similar apology from the US. Or are they afraid of losing their green cards, or US visas?


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  1. I think Mr. President DU30 had a lot of childhood problems, which he could not reconcile them during his childhood, and more so he could reconcile them when he was in his adolescence period, so much so that until now he is still bothered so much about the problems of the past that might not have been important issue to handle a nation today. I was surprised of that a picture of massacred Filipinos in Mindanao during American time shown by DU30 himself in the meeting of leaders of nations. I know and understand the pain and suffering of our people in the past from foreign powers, but I don’t think the issue on that picture is important one to tackle in the meeting of leaders of nations, not even important to tackle it in a local forum by philippine local leaders, for there are more important issues in time to handle. Where is Du30 leading the country? I don’t know in all honesty. With 3,000 plus people got killed in a few months of Du30 administration is an alarming situation for the people already. Mr. DU30 seems to think that he is an ordinary police, who has never gone to a formal schooling, whose authority and power he thinks of is not vested by the people,so much so that he does whatever he thinks he can. If Mr. President Du30 were to change his leadership from simplistic-ego problem maneuvering to democratic, from extrajudicially employing of his power to rules-based leadership, from myopic-unsolved-ego problem to people based approach, he could make the nation great, because he is honest anyway. He can still employ his iron hands on running his office on rules-based-approaches, because he is honest.

  2. yes– those pseudo nationalists holding US visas, & other first world visas– enjoying their amenities– should keep their mouths shut . come and live in the Philippines and suffer with us. pay ur taxes. then u earn the right to criticize the government.

  3. Its a new beginning for our country. With Duterte now the president of the republic, he is trying to change our mentality and that we should open up with other countries and not just America. That is true, we had been with Americans for centuries, and look at where we’re at! Time to re-evaluate and see where we can bring this country into the future. Im sure the yellow people are against it.

  4. Wolfgang Struck on

    Rigoberto Tiglao
    Thanks for opening a can of worms. I look at the line of comments. You really got it going. When Marcos was President, Filipinos could go anywhere, no visa needed. Now that Duterte is President, UK is inviting Filipinos as the richest people on earth (Brexit got half of the Marcos money, the ABL that the Queen returned to the Filipino people, the rest is in the BSP). 15 countries are contemplating the visa question. You may not have heard it, the Philippines is the richest country on earth. Duterte talks from a position of strength. He is no longer the mayor of Davao, he is now the President of the richest country on earth. He gives a damn on Obama who has started 7 wars and is looking for a next war in the South China Sea. The Philippine President says it: “I don’t like America”. And he means it. He did not say that America has started the Vietnam War from Philippine shores. They did. He did not say that “I shall return” did not liberate Manila, they destroyed Manila in search for the gold and killed thousands, telling Filipinos that the Japanese or Koreans did. His job is to save lives of the Filipinos in his country, have law and order, and save their kids from the criminals who do not stop, rather try to have him killed. Rights of the criminals? Yellow Christian sila in US of A, ha? Konting mayaman sila siguro. But what do they know? Marcos? Hitler? Sino pa? Brainwashed sila. Like most Americans.
    Thanks again, Mr. Tiglao, more power to you.

  5. This is not the right time to make fight with US while China is trying to invade the PH as part of it already taken, now China is starting to occupy scarborough shoal. Shall we let China take over the PH and kick US out, without US PH is at mercy of China, do we want that, of course not. Present time America is where almost everybody want to be for education, work, raise children , start business etc.Whatever atrocities happened generations back does not justify retaliation against present American generation which compared to other nations is more tolerable. Now lets get US to blockade scarborough shoal and save the PH.

  6. Also check out “THE CONQUEST OF THE PHILIPPINES BY THE UNITED STATES, 1898 – 1925,” published 1926 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons [New York, London] and reprinted 1985 in the Philippines by Cacho Hermanos, Inc.

  7. This is well written. the American history is also full of lies and we Americans don’t even know the truth of our own history like the 100,000,000+/- native Americans killed. You think Philippines had it bad. It doesn’t compare the Americas crimes within America. So who are the elites who stand to gain from all this is what we need to discover.

    • You’re right that an Amerian-Indian genocide did take place. However, it seems you’re citing reddit stats and the un-substantiated casualties spread across all of the Americas from the 1600s-1900s by 9 different countries, including the British, Spanish, French and foreign disease.

  8. this is a must-read for every filipino. i hope someone translate the entire thesis of ms. webb into our language, make it available at bookstores, so that even school children will be able to read it.
    thanks, mr. tiglao.

  9. It’s good to see the China trolls working again. How crazy to bring up legend that is 100 years old. Yes, pick on the U.S., your friend and ally for many, many years, and start instituting Chinese 101 to everyone as you will need it soon. Your own EEZ is now owned and controlled by China, with Russia assisting, and you do absolutely nothing except cry about the U.S. I wonder how the 2 million+ Filipinos living in America feel about this mess.

  10. Your history has a few gaps. Like the fall of Corregidor and the Bataan Death March, where my uncle was brutally beaten by the Japanese before they started their campaign of war crimes against the Filipino people. Why have you no wrath of the Japanese? Why did you leave out the US liberation campaign that gave the Philippines their independence? We call you disease “selective memory.” It is nothing more than a huge inferiority complex that you are stoking with this rhetoric. You are the one keeping the Filipino paralyzed.

    The Americans incinerated thousands of Japanese civilians in mere seconds in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, there are a few Japanese looking backwards and nursing those old wounds. The majority decided to look forward and make their country into something significant.

    The Philippines leaders and the Filipino people are the only ones holding your country back. Pick up your cot and walk.

    • The issue here is US human rights violation not other countries who also committed crimes against humanities. If the Japanese did not complain about atomic bombs being dropped on their backyard, it is because they were to blame. They had been warned to surrender or taste the mighty destruction of the bomb. They had a poor choice until the 2nd bomb was dropped. This needs to be added to your historical accounts on WWII.

    • You asked a good question about why we have no wrath for the Japanese.

      Consider this, the past Philippine president welcomed and bowed before the Emperor and Empress of Japan during their state visit to the Philippines despite the fact that Japan never issued a formal apology for its atrocities during WWII and even offering compensation for the Filipino comfort women raped by the Japanese military during WWII unlike the WWII comfort women in South Korea.

      That same past Philippine president is likewise an uncompromising critic of Martial Law and of the man who proclaimed it – Ferdinand Marcos.

      Now, juxtaposition those two dispositions of the man – a thinking man would obviously ask if the injustices of Martial Law ever greater than the injustices of the Japanese during WWII that the man would bow before the Japanese emperor but remain unwavering in his views about Martial Law and Marcos.

      And, there you have it. That act of the former Philippine president not only reflects the depth of his character but it also is/was, in effect, the country’s national policy. The answer to your question is plain and simple – preferential treatment, favoritism, discrimination, selective justice.

      When thinking about the Philippines – always frame your perspective around the fact that it is an archipelago consisting of 7,200+ islands so the solidarity of the country and its people can only be as fragmented as the number of islands that make up the country.

      The Philippines is a country which, until now, is struggling with its identity – a country colonized by Spain for 333 years and the US for 5 decades more or less – in all those time, the people collectively cannot still determine whether or not their actions are progressive or still reflective of its colonial submissives to its former masters. This is in contrast to Japan which has never been colonized.

    • i put squarely the blame on the political and economic elite. Americans maybe hypocrites about human rights but its not their fault if we are still poor and got no respect. after all, they don’t make the policies, the corruption, the incompetence etc.

      its their job to advance their interest and its the job of the Filipino politician to protect the interest of the Filipinos.

      as simple as that. if you sold out to them and you get the short end of the stick, that’s your fault

  11. Frank A. Tucker on

    MANY innocents have perished in this ‘drug vendetta’, their blood IS on your hands Mr. PRESIDENT Duterte.

    • we love it watching them being killed. as per official statistics of killed people from 2010-2015 (murder, masacre,etc) is almost equal compared to the first two months of Duterte presidency in daily average. the only difference is that people got killed in 2010-2016 are the innocent law abiding citizen while the people killed today are the criminals. FRUNK TUCKER, your being brainwashed by saying they are innocent. I can’t blame you if saying such if your facts and infos are coming from the yellowish people of the philippines…

  12. You all need a wake up call. Any act committed by a country over 100 years ago has absolutely nothing to do with the current country today. I really wish the US would withdraw all aid and it’s military from the world. See what happens. WW3 WOULD happen for sure then. Economies would collapse, genocide, famine, war is all the world will know at that point. Say goodbye to the Philippines, because China would steam roll you.

    • That Liberation Campaign made Manila the second most destroyed city after Warsaw during the Second World War? They need to destroy Manila to win all the reconstruction contracts as they dis in Iraq?

  13. A research on the history of 0.45 caliber pistol will shed light on why the Moros are what they are. This pistol was custom made by the US army to answer the semi non-human prowess of the Moro in battle. Imagine that, a pistol specifically made against a group of people who want to be left alone.

  14. Well the article makes sense, if we were high school kids debating who did what and what was worse. But in the world of international diplomacy, and as a President, Duterte’s goal should be maximizing Philippines’ international assets and good will.

    The bottom line is what Duterte said and did, made Philippines worse off in international relationship. Philippines traditionally has good relationship with the Western powers, especially the US. Now Duterte is damaging that good relationship, before he is able to build any new ones with countries like China.

    When you are president, you should be smarter then focusing on who is right and who is wrong, but instead on what is best for your country. On that area, Duterte is doing a poor job.

  15. Audie S Vergara on

    One of the best articles I’ve read in recent times. This should be read by all Filipinos whose knowledge of Philippine history are of stories and accounts written by Americans. It should be made mandatory reading in schools.

    • Filipinos should learn from history, but very little is said about US atrocities during its pacification days in Mindanao and Samar just to name 2. Many Americans consider that time as a time of lawlessness and banditry, labeling many Filipino patriots as tulisans ! !

      Having said that, our elected officials can always say NO or refute anything that Foreign leaders will criticize us against in a FIRM, CIVIL and DIPLOMATIC Manner. There is really no need to be parochial, barriotic and kanto boy in ones ways and methods of conducting foreign relations. It will serve our country better if we promote a Filipino-first roadmap in our foreign relations WITHOUT being CRASS, JUVENILE, RECKLESS and BASTOS.

      Duterte brings up atrocities the Americans have committed against Filipinos a hundred years ago to EMPHASIZE to OBAMA that as a country their hands are UNCLEAN, therefore he has no right to lecture him on human rights.

      But really, is Duterte suggesting that EUROPE, specifically Merkel of Germany has no right to criticize the government of Israel led by Netanyahu for gross violations of human rights in the Palestinian Authority because the Germans gassed millions of Jews 70 years ago? It is the height of absurdity.

      If it were an Italian official criticising Duterte, I will not be surprised if brought up the atrocities of the Roman legions during Jesus’ time. OMG!! and YASAY says he was brilliant during the ASEAN. HA!, HA!, HA!

  16. So true. Which brings me to another question – do we have Filipino scholars like this Australian writer? Maybe its high time the government sponsor scholars that can study our own history in the true sense, to avoid people like Hontiveros from distributing unsanctioned history school books to schools. Cleaning our country also means the education of our children. No more lies.

    • We do have… in fact many. The fact is…many americans also died due to the unorthodox fighting techniques of the filipinos and they committed genocides in response.


    Now we have a President who can look anyone in the eye and can say “Go to hell”. Ten years ago, I did a similar act in Hawaii. At first they laugh, thinking it was a joke – presumptuous that all Filipinos will always be subservient to them and will sell their dignity to buy a chance to get a green card. But as I continued my piece, I could see the shock in their eyes. – Rear Admiral Wenefredo Banua (Ret)

  18. I don’t know what you have been smoking, but it has differently damaged your brain. 600,000 Moros were not killed during the rebellion. That is a bold face lie. Let D30 be real honest. If he doesn’t want Americas’ friendship, trade, military aid and “Green Cards”; then he should just say it. Americans love and yes respect the Philippine people. The current socialist/Islamic administration in Washington does not reflect our sincere friendship and support by the American people. However, if you all continue to rewrite history, then delete the massacre, brutal torture and killings of unarmed American soldiers during the uprising by Filipinos. BTW, not all Philippine citizens agreed with the rebellion. Most wanted to become a US State.

    • “MOST wanted to become a US State”

      This is an assumption I believe.
      Why would “most” want the Philippines to become a US state?

    • You discredit DU30’s claim about the massacre despite the picture of our killed Muslim brothers. But where is/are your facts to support your claim? Why do you think the country is still not part of the US despite your claim that most Filipinos wants to become a US State? It is not the Filipinos who decide to become one of U. S. A. but the Americans. Unfortunately it is sad to say that even the WWII Filipino veterans who fought alongside the US army are still in anguish of recognition. Many Filipino veterans have died without benefiting their sacrifice. In 1941, more than 250,000 Filipino soldiers responded to President Roosevelt’s call-to-arms and later fought under the American flag during World War II. Many made the ultimate sacrifice as both soldiers in the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East and as guerilla fighters during the Imperial Japanese occupation of the Philippines. For over 60 years, Filipino veterans and community advocates have fought to obtain compensation for those who served with American soldiers during World War II.

    • And once Trump becomes the next president, he will formally declare the Philippines as a terrorist nation instead of insinuating it from his campaign trail…

  19. A superb article. She could be mistaken as one of our own. For a long time, we have turn blind eye to the atrocities done to our muslim brothers perpetuated by the American colonizers. We finally have a Real President beholden to no one except his people.

  20. A friend sent me an article of a certain Avila in Baguio Midland Courier’s Sunday edition, September 11, 2016
    which looked suspiciously like a carbon copy of your article on the Supreme Court interpretation of President Duterte’s favorite bad word.

    Might be a case of plagiarism? Just asking. Salamat po.

  21. That is the problem of being a colony of any nation. No matter how bad our politicians are, I still will choose being independent against any other nation no matter how good that nation is. Japan and Korea were never colonized by any country. Our cpinuntry was colonized by many nations.

    • Korea was occupied and colonized for 35 years by the Japanese. The Japanese were inundated with westerners in the 1800’s which led to the Boshin-Shogunate War, then again by US occupation after WWII. The US was a British colony.

      It seems majority of Filipinos would disagree with your comment on “bad politicians…” with regard to fmr President Marcos’ removal and necessity to draft a new constitution in 1987.

      Most countries in the world have a colonial history, independence doesn’t stipulate economic failure or prosperity.

  22. Silverio Cabellon Jr., on

    Filipinos in the exercise of self determination should be the judge on whether the Philippines is doing right in the deaths of drugs addicts and drug pushers. Comments from other countries can be taken into consideration but it has to be the Filipino who will have to make the final decision.




  24. I hope duterte understands how powerful of an enemy the US can be. PSEI is aleady falling like a rock, yet we’re not even anywhere near the eye of the storm

  25. “Why is the Philippines president so angry about the prospect of the US president confronting him about human rights abuses? History. As Duterte said himself on Monday, violent acts of the past don’t stay in the past. They get passed on from generation to generation, especially when the injustice goes unacknowledged and unaddressed.”

    These two last sentences in this quote above from this article contradicts to Pres. Duterte’s position on the burial of Pres. Marcos in LNMB.

    • I copied that particular passage ‘word-for-word’ for precisely the same purpose. Thanks and more power…

  26. This very president has killed so many helpless people in his country in just a few weeks of taking power. This is a real butcher of a president and may become the worlds most terrible head of state. Stop killing those people that need your help mr Duerte President, look for solution to your country problems. Don’t transfer your shame onto the US.

  27. Many thanks Ambassador Tiglao for this enlightening article, much appreciated, indeed!

    More power,