Today, Philippines celebrates 199 years of independence from Spain, but it was during that fateful year of 1898 that the country switched one colonial master for another.
The Spanish-American war saw Philippines along with Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico come under US control. However, it was Philippines that gave the United States the most to worry about. It was during the Philippine-America war of 1899-1902 that was America’s first experience in fighting a colonial insurgency. It would be the first of many. Simultaneous to this, a separate rebellion broke out among Philippine Moros, the Muslim population of the country. This was something that both the US and later independent Philippine governments had to face.
Although Philippines became fully independent in 1946, it was a kind of independence that perversely relied on a deeply dependant relationship on America which by the end of the 1940s was a world-leading economic and military super-power.
Today, Philippines has a strongly independent President who has spoken openly and clearly of his desire not to be treated like a colony any longer. President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued a foreign policy independent of US edicts and one which disregards the neo-clonial attitude of US funded NGOs.
Duterte is now having to face down an ISIS insurgency on the southern island of Mindanao and the city of Marawi in particular. ISIS coalesced during Duterte’s Presidency not because Duterte wanted war with Moros but because he wanted peace.
Duterte had promised a new federal structure for the country and barring that, promised autonomy for Mindanao, where Duterte himself was born and for years was mayor of the city of Davao.
ISIS also knew that if Duterte was successful in crushing the violent drugs trade in Philippines, they would be deprived of a major source of revenue, generated from the cultivation, sale and trafficking of drugs.
Duterte has pledged to fight all of these threats but many in Philippines are not giving him the support nor the credit he deserves.
Many opposition figures, particularly those in the Philippine Liberal Party have questioned his decision to declare martial law in Mindanao. Even more concerning is a recent statement by the Philippine Department of Tourism which stated that it is Duterte’s declaration of martial law that has seen tourism to Mindanao decline. Logic would dictate that the presence of ISIS is the reason tourism has declined, but there is increasingly little logic among Duterte’s opponents who are keen to retain their position as post-colonial elites who care more for their own wealth and prestige than for the people of their country.
Now, Duterte is facing yet another problem, the very real threat of a soft military power struggle against his Presidency. After initial reports that the Philippine government requested US assistance in fighting ISIS, a request confirmed by the United States, President Duterte has stated that no such request originated from himself or his colleagues.
He furthermore stated that,
“…our soldiers are pro-American, that I cannot deny”.
He further stated that he only found out that American forces had agreed to ‘assist’ Philippines from the same Reuters report cited in breaking reports from The Duran.
It is a deeply dangerous scenario if military commanders in Philippines are acting unilaterally, without the permission let alone consent of their President.
It is imperative that at this time of crisis, Philippine law makers and ordinary people alike support their President. The very independence celebrated on the 12th of June is better represented by Duterte than any previous Philippine leader in the modern age.
President Rodrigo Duterte wants for his people that which a subservient post-colonial/neo-colonial attitude could never possibly achieve: dignity.
Duterte is the last best hope for the Philippine people and the Philippine nation. He is, simply put, the best President that the country has ever had and may have for some time.
Duterte understands not only the modern realities of his country but the modern realities of a multi-polar world. It is not realistic in the 21st century for an East Asian country to continue to act as a post-colonial satellite of declining American power. It is essential for Philippines to develop and cultivate new regional partnerships, especially with China, a super-power which is far closer to Philippines than the United States.
Rodrigo Duterte understands that while building new bridges, one must not burn the old. His apparently good relationship with Donald Trump is evidence of the fact that Duterte means what he says when he states he is still wiling to work with America on important issues, only from a position of mutual-respect rather than that of a slave to a master.
President Duterte is a man uniquely moved by a patriotic purpose and uniquely guided by the hand of destiny. If his plans are embraced, Philippines stands the real chance to enter into a new, more peaceful and more prosperous age. If Duterte is rejected, the Philippine people will have rejected their best chance at achieving true independence in every sense: political, military, economic and even spiritual.
On this day, one must celebrate not only achievements of the Philippine past but the prospects of a better Philippine future, a future which Duterte can guide the country towards better than any of his rivals.