Economic nationalism anti-Chinese before it became anti-American
Like many among us, I’m reading up on our past, trying to figure out why we’ve turned out the way we have. Fortuitously, a great deal of material is turning up—more and more of it by our own historians.
Filipino nationalism makes an absorbing study, because it evolved differently from that of our neighbor-countries.
In this evolution of patriotic feeling, the Filipino-American War was a turning point. The tenacity of the republican resistance induced the US colonialists to partner with the Filipino “ilustrado” elite in a kind of “compadre colonialism” unique in East Asia of the period (Norman G. Owen, 1971).
Symbolically united, as in the traditional “compadrazgo” or ritual co-parenthood, they damped down the “insurrection” cooperatively and then took up the leadership of the new colonial state together.
The ilustrados (“enlightened”) were typified by historical figures such as Pedro Paterno, who brokered the Treaty of Biak-na-Bato; Cayetano Arellano, our first chief justice; the scholar T. H. Pardo de Tavera, of the ruling American Commission; and our national hero, Jose Rizal.
Minor members of this social class were the municipal principals—local officials, landowners of varying affluence; the few professionals and religious auxiliaries of the Church.
Few ilustrados dedicated themselves unequivocally to the nationalist cause. Generally of two minds about the wisdom of the Revolution, they instead drifted effortlessly between the rival causes.
Arellano’s career didn’t seem too unusual. From 1887, he had served in the Spanish bureaucracy. In Sept 1898, he was foreign-trade secretary of the Malolos Republic; and, in May 1899, he was appointed the first Chief Justice of Washington’s Pacific colony.
The kind of paternalism that came to characterize US rule (1898-1946) has had lasting effects on our country. It disarmed mainstream Filipino nationalism—leaving the field to marginal rebels, such as the “Sakdalista” firebrands, the millenarian colorum, and the Pampango socialist, Pedro Abad Santos.
Just as significantly, collaborative colonialism committed the American administrators to the class interests of their land-owning clients—therefore forestalling any effort at meaningful agrarian reform.
As the historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo noted: “Intellectual nationalism … faded as US rule lengthened. The middle class [became]reasonably content. In other places, educated colonials were denied access to middle-level and higher employment by colonial administrations. “In our country, ‘Filipinization’ was a basic policy: the Americans steadily withdrew from civil-service positions; opening doors to administrative office to Filipino pensionados.”
Only in the post Pacific-War period were middle-class illusions about America’s benevolence shattered, and middle-class resentments aroused, by the economic strings Washington thoughtlessly attached to independence, and by its continued interventionism in national politics.
“Parity rights” and Washington’s attempt to claim title to Clark-Subic set off fears of continuing foreign domination that many of us harbor until now.
Worst of all, the US bases threatened to embroil the Philippines in America’s wars. This real fear among middle-class Filipinos of that era, the Hispanist Don Claro M. Recto expressed most eloquently.
But our political leaders also recognized the leverage implicit in the archipelago’s strategic value, and used it to push economic and financial demands on the Americans.
The Indiana University historian Nick Cullather notes that our base negotiators obtained concessions on jurisdiction better than those Washington conceded to Spain.
Despite parity rights, Filipino investors managed to wrest Meralco, PLDT and the largest broadcast network away from their American owners.
Anti-Americanism ended up reconciling the conservative and radical poles of the Filipino intellectual tradition. Senator Recto became a major influence on the university students who made the CPP-NPA insurgency.
Like the Latin Americans, who have lived with the North American colossus longer and more closely, Filipino patriots began to see America’s overwhelming influence as mirroring their own weakness.
Their nationalism turned inward—away from competitiveness into protectionism and indigenousness.
In fact American penetration of the economy was both shallow and fleeting. Neither the Spaniards nor the Americans invested in the Philippines as much as the Japanese did in Korea and Taiwan; the British in Malaya, and the Dutch in their East Indies. The US itself was then capital-hungry—a need met by migration from Europe.
Not colonial exploitation but colonial neglect was our undoing. As one result, our physical infrastructure until now is at least 10 to 15 years behind that of Malaysia or Indonesia.
Uncertainty about Washington’s intentions in the Philippines also made investors reluctant to venture into the archipelago. US states growing sugar and tobacco feared the colony’s competition; anti-imperialists like the writer Mark Twain prevented carpetbaggers from exploiting the Philippine public domain.
So that even after a generation of US rule, private American investments made up only about one percent of all American overseas investments.
Economic nationalism was anti-Chinese before it was anti-American—driven as much by fears of migration from mainland Asia as by expanding Chinese participation in national commerce. It was promoted by the politically powerful industrial class that emerged from the landed oligarchy under the stimulus of the import-substituting industrialization (ISI) policy the Quirino government adopted in the wake of the economic crisis of 1949.
Historically, a self-seeking elite has used the rhetoric of nationalism (“Filipino First!”) to justify monopoly profits for its import-substituting industries under a regime of controls that penalized agriculture and kept down workers’ wages. Until now, it chokes the flow of foreign capital, technology, and managerial skills into the economy.
To “Filipinize” the economy, policymakers have risked even economic setback. Anti-Chinese economic measures, starting in the 1930s (they included retail trade nationalization in 1955), eventually provoked a recession that put 1.2 million people out of work. “It is useless to amass wealth which is not ours to dispose of,” reasoned the industrialist Salvador Araneta.
Until now, our country suffers from the policy mistakes set off by this inward-looking nationalism, which nurtured “infant industries” that never grew up; and heaped on consumers tariff burdens that, at one point, raised Manila prices to four times world market rates.
As one result, we have the worst record in reducing poverty among all the East Asian middle-income countries.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Philippines averaged GDP growth of only 3.1 percent over the 25 years 1976-2000. This rate doubles the size of the economy every 23 years. Over the same period, South Korea was doubling its economy every 9.5 years; and Thailand every 11 years.
Joining the world
So what are we to do?
In sum, I believe our next President must do more than preside over just another chapter in our tele-novela of factional politics. He must set out a series of national goals compelling enough to engage our people’s civic spirit.
We need not accept our world as it is: we can aspire to make it better. After all, we Filipinos are not a cipher in the world: we’re a people a hundred million strong.
We need first of all to create for ourselves a more rounded kind of nationalism—a forward-looking nationalism focused on the effort to account for ourselves—and to claim our place of dignity—in the community of nations.