With the arrival of Emperor Ahihito, our mind flashes back to the Japanese occupation, specifically the grant of independence by the conqueror (cynics would describe it as the erection of a puppet government) and the establishment of the Kalibapi or Kapisanang ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas [Association for Service to the New Philippines] – the political party which served as the only political grouping permitted by the Japanese conquerors. It is significant because it was the grandfather of President Benigno S Aquino who served as its director general – a position that, after the Allied victory, caused the Tarlac politician to be incarcerated in Sugamo Prison in Japan charged with collaborating with the enemy together with other prominent Filipinos.
Another prominent politician who served the Japanese-erected Philippine republic was former president Manuel Roxas who escaped incarceration due to the intervention of Gen. Douglas McArthur who vouched for Roxas.
The Japanese officially justified their occupation of our country as their noble act of liberating the Filipinos from US colonialism. American rule followed a bloody three year Filipino-American war, which cost the lives of more than a hundred thousand Filipino lives and thousands of US soldiers. While the US justified its occupation of the Philippines as its “manifest destiny” and its willingness to shoulder the “white man’s burden” to civilize and Christianize us Roman Catholic Filipinos whose Pontifical university antedated Harvard, the Japanese offered the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere or GEACPS. This had an underlying ideology of pan-Asianism, Asia for the Asians with Japan as the primary Asian nation, an ideology that propagated the liberation and unity of all Asian peoples then colonized by different European powers.
The KALIBAPI it was designed to serve as an important political instrument for the implementation of the concept of the GEACPS in the Philippines. While some historians may be quick to claim that the KALIBAPI was a mere tool for Japanese propaganda, its pan-Asianism ideology had many adherents among nationalistic Filipino politicians who had before the WWII fought fiercely (as covert operatives and intellectuals and propagandists) to overthrow US colonial rule.
The decade of the 1930s was dominated by the Filipino independence movement which was spearheaded by Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmena, Roxas and most of the top political figures.
The KALIBAPI functioned as the single political party led by Benigno S. Aquino, who acted as the party’s Director-General, along with Pio Duran as Secretary-General and Benigno Ramos as a member of the executive council. It was inaugurated on December 30, 1942, the death anniversary of Philippine national hero José Rizal, to emphasize the patriotic basis of the organization. Party members saluted each other by bowing with their right hand over their heart. Even though the KALIBAPI functioned as the sole political party, Aquino insisted that it was a “non-political service association.” At the same time, however, it was rule that only KALIBAPI members could be employed in the government and any of its institutions.
At the party’s inauguration, Jorge Vargas, chairman of the Executive Commission set up by the Japanese to administer the country, pointed to the close connection between the goals of José Rizal who was claimed “to have died for a Philippines freed from Occidental rule” and Japan’s war objective of allegedly emancipating and protecting the nations of the Orient.
The Philippine membership in Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere thus was hailed as the fulfillment of what was alleged to be Rizal’s dream of getting rid of bad, Western influence on the Filipino people and their culture. The KALIBAPI, Vargas added, would be “dedicated to Rizal’s great humanitarian principle of peaceful cooperation among all nations as brothers.”
Benigno S. Aquino, too, in his speech on the same occasion emphasized the necessity for the Filipino people to develop a spirit of self-sacrifice for the sake of the Philippine nation, just as Rizal had done. Aquino also considered it Japan’s obligation to provide the people of the Philippines with an “older brother’s guidance” in their efforts to contribute toward the formation of the GEACPS.
Indeed the pan-Asianists and architects of the KALIBAPI utilized Rizal as a figure who admired Japanese culture and fought Western rule in his country ignoring the fact that Rizal had been more of a cosmopolitan and a Filipino patriot, rather than an Asianist despite the fact that he had a Japanese girlfriend during his sojourn in Japan. He also had sweethearts in every country he lived in.
After the party’s inauguration, Aquino, Duran and Ramos toured the entire archipelago to promote the idea of the “New Philippines” and set up KALIBAPI chapters all over the country.
By pointing to Rizal, the initiators of the KALIBAPI wanted to stress their belief that its alleged Oriental values had always been part of Filipino culture but had been merely buried under US-imposed hedonism and superficiality during the years of American rule.
The KALIBAPI also played a crucial role in the preparations for Philippine independence as KALIBAPI delegates chose the members of the “Preparatory Commission for the Philippine Independence” at a meeting held on 18 and 19 June 1943. The Philippine Asianists Duran and Ramos were, however, not among the 20 persons chosen to join the commission.
It was a main duty of the KALIBAPI to propagate the concept of the GEACPS among the Philippine population. By April 1943, the KALIBAPI counted 550,000 members. The group’s strongholds were Aquino’s home province of Tarlac and the capital, Manila.
Despite the official inauguration of the KALIBAPI, and despite its not being officially counted as a political organization, it did in fact function as a political party, which sought to proselytize Japanese pan-Asianist thought throughout the islands. Its purpose was to convince Filipinos of the concept of the GEACPS and make them aware of their duties towards building the “New Philippines.” The concept of a “New Philippines” as part of an Asian brotherhood, were never realized under the Japanese and for decades after the Japanese defeat.
We had to wait more than half a century for partial Asianism in the form of an Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) community to be realized!
As we speak, the Chinese is again waving the carrot of its version of an Asian Co-Prosperity sphere led by China with the New Silk Route and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank as its engines for growth. On the other hand, the Americans want to return to the Philippines via the EDCA bases agreement.
Quo Vadis, Filipinas? Choose your wild as they say in poker!