The American factor in Philippine foreign policy


First of a three parts

THIS article is a composite of excerpts from my two presentations or lectures: 1) “The Rejection by the Philippine Senate of the RP – US Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Security” which I presented as Ambassador to India before the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal University New Delhi, 25 August 1994; and 2) “Diplomatic History of the Philippines” which I delivered as a retired ambassador at the Foreign Service Officers Cadetship Course, Foreign Service institute, Department of Foreign Affairs, 18 May 2009. The latter part of the article is a juxtaposition of the post-cold War period with the realities of the present.

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From the grant by the United States of America of “real independence” to the Philippines on July 4, 1946 up to 1991, Philippine foreign policy gravitated under the centripetal force of American colonialism and ideological influence. The grant of independence did not bring in its wake total sovereignty for the Philippines. Manila, after Warsaw, Poland, was the second most devastated city in the world at the end of World War II in 1945. The Philippines and its economy lay in ruins and definitely could not get up without the crutches provided by the Americans. Economic aid and reliance on export to and import from the US had to be resorted to.

In view of the fact that the end of World War II brought about the ideological Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union together with the rising communist tide in China and Indochina, the US adopted a policy of containment to thwart communist expansion. This American approach put Philippine foreign policy under the sway of US influence.

While India and other newly-“decolonized” countries could adopt a policy of non-alignment during the Cold War, the Philippines was left with no other choice than to align itself with the US The Manila Pact of 1954 or the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty (Seato) and the American military facilities or bases in Philippine territory were part and parcel of the US network designed to contain the spread of communism in Asia-Pacific.

The Filipinos, because of their predominant Christian orientation and due to an indigenous communist insurgency, were even more rabid anti-communists than the Americans. In 1963, the Philippines forfeited its hosting of the world basketball championship because of its decision to ban the entry of basketball players from communist Yugoslavia. While the US had normalized relations with all the communist states in Eastern Europe, the Philippines decided to establish ties with them only in 1973 or thereafter. The Philippines labeled these countries as “centrally planned economies”.

Ironically enough, one of our very first diplomatic missions in Eastern Europe was established in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. When US President Richard Nixon made his “shock visit” to China in 1972, then President Ferdinand Marcos made his own visit in 1976 to forge rapprochement with the Chinese. It was a case of doing the follow the leader game.
In many instances during the period 1946 to 1991, the Philippines tried to project its nationalistic bent and regional inclination. The Carlos P. Garcia administration promoted a “Filipino First” economic policy. However, colonial mentality proved to be difficult to surmount. Early on in 1950, President Elpidio Quirino made the first attempt to bring the Philippines closer to its Asian neighbors. He held a conference in Baguio with the leaders of Australia, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Thailand and Indonesia. He proposed the creation of a non-military Pacific Union among Southeast Asian and Pacific Countries but it did not materialize.

In an apparent jab at the major powers, particularly the US, who were meddling in Asian Affairs, then Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Leon Ma. Guerrero delivered in February, 1954 a controversial speech that had no prior clearance from President Ramon Magsaysay.

Guerrero asserted that despite the Philippines insular location it could endorse an Asia-for-Asians slogan, claiming that the administration believed in nationalism and therefore Asia belonged to Asians for the same reason that the Philippines belonged to the Filipinos. The slogan induced fiery debates in both houses of Congress that Pres. Magsaysay was forced to state that Philippine foreign policy espoused the right of self-determination and independence of all Asian nations and opposed the return of nationalism in any form.

The regional aspiration of the Philippines found expression in embracing the short-lived Maphilindo (Malaya, Philippines and Indonesia) concept in 1963 and joining the equally ephemeral Association of Southeast Asia (ASA). ASA, nevertheless, became the forerunner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)which was formally organized in Bangkok, Thailand in 1967.

Wittingly or unwittingly, these moves toward regional and subregional groupings were in line with American interest in the Asian region. The fear at that time was that certain countries of the region were in danger of being engulfed by the tide of communism, the so called “falling domino theory.” This grim scenario was averted by American military and economic might. While the numerous US military outposts in the area served as a security umbrella, the US also provided the market for the products of the region coupled with aid and direct investments. Thus, some states of the region, instead of becoming political dominoes, developed into economic dynamos, like the Four Little Dragons consisting of South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It is undeniable that the Philippines played a significant and active role in the United Nations, particularly in the person of Carlos P. Romulo, the first president of the UN General Assembly from Asia. Our delegates to the UN gave the Philippines some of its shining moments in multilateral diplomacy. But it also cannot be denied that Philippine posturings in the UN in the 1950s and 60s were mainly in support of US positions and advocacies, such as the UN resolution on the Korean War. The Philippines was one of the 16 countries that contributed combat troops to Korea under the UN Command led by the US

The rejection by the Philippine Senate of the RP-US Treaty of Friendship Cooperation and Security in September 1991 signified the dawning of a new era in the relations between the two countries. The Treaty had provided for the continued operation of American military installations in the Philippines for the next ten years after 1991. The long held view of certain Filipino politicians and nationalists was that these US bases were instruments of colonialism and foreign intervention. They said the bases had caused derogation of Philippine sovereignty and had perpetuated Philippine dependence on the US for defense and security. The presence of these bases was also considered anachronistic in light of the end of the Cold War in 1991.

The monumental Senate decision relieved the Philippines of a political and psychological baggage. It also shattered the perception that the Philippines was a subservient and dependent American satellite. With the absence of the bases, the Philippines was no longer encumbered in the formulation of an independent foreign policy. The country regained its self-respect so much so that it secured membership in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) after being a mere observer for a number of years because of the presence of US bases in the Philippine territory.

The Philippines and the US were placed in a position to forge realistic and more meaningful relations with each other. The once special relationship between them was gone and the Philippines was ushered in as new partner and friend.


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