Philippines road towards independence has been long and fraught.
Since 1591, what is now the Republic of The Philippines was a Spanish colony. Spain’s long decline as a maritime empire was deeply shaken during the Spanish-American War of 1898. The war was short and decisive in America’s favour and was America’s first taste at global rather than continental colonialism. In addition to receiving Cuba from Spain, America also took possession of the Philippines.
During the war with Spain, independence minded Filipino republicans were made promises of freedom by Washington. This of course did not pan out and a bloody war ensued between the American military and Filipino republicans.
The war lasted over three years longer than the one with Spain, a crucial reminder that large modern military forces often have easier victories over large but outmoded forces than when up against amateur forces defending their homes. This was a lesson America would have to re-learn over half a century later in Vietnam.
America eventually won the war, although insurgents continued to resist colonial rule. Formal colonial rule ended in 1946, but America continued to call the shots. The Philippines was greatly dependant on America and in return, the US steadfastly supported the strongman President Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the country from 1965-1986.
During the controversial reign of Marcos, the CIA maintained close links to the leadership of Philippines. The legacy of Marcos is one of law and order, something which in all societies is necessary, but many of the measures Marcos took to suppress legitimate, legal opposition and the wider post-colonial development of Philippines were deeply unpopular among Filipinos and with very good reason. No country wants their president propped up by the CIA, but this is essentially what the CIA did in respect of Marcos.
Indeed, much evidence as subsequently surfaced that it was losing the support of the CIA and the White House that led to the US allowing Macros to fall in 1986–a popular uprising with CIA approval but for all the wrong reasons. The CIA felt that Marcos in his own way, was becoming too independent.
Subsequent years, particularly those under the Aquino dynasty have left the internal potential of the country unfulfilled while crime has increased vis-a-vis the Marcos years. All the while, dependence on the US has remained as much under leadership that was too weak as it was under Marcos who was strong but in many of the wrong ways.
In 2016, the real potential for change came: that change came in the form of Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte promised tough law and order, especially in the area of drugs and related criminality that has plagued Philippine society for decades. He promised a fairer distribution of wealth, he promised to reach accords with Islamic and Communist insurgents with pragmatism and he promised to conduct a foreign policy that was independent of the United States in every sense.
Duterte’s popularity in Philippines is emblematic of the fact that he represents a change from the pro-US strongman leadership of Marcos and also the corrupt, ineffective, overly pro-American leadership of most of Marcos’ successors. To the conspiracy theorists who say that Duterte is un-democratic, they simply do not realise that Duterte remains incredibly popular and furthermore they do not understand how he differs from the authoritarianism of Marcos nor the out of touch elitist politics of the Aquinos and their political allies.
Against this background it is not difficult to see why some are claiming the CIA seeks to oust Duterte.
“The Philippines National Democratic Front has alleged the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been plotting to kill exiled Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison, and overthrow President Rodrigo Duterte. If true, it won’t be the first time the US has sought to meddle in the country’s affairs.
The NDF claim military officers, who are assets of the CIA and close to AFP chief General Eduardo Ano, were engaged in a “two-stage” plot. The first step would see the dispatch of a hit team to Sison’s Netherlands home, comprised of elite AFP forces disguised as disaffected dropouts from the New People’s Army, to take out the dissident.
The second would result in the overthrow Duterte, ostensibly for violating human rights in his ongoing “War on Drugs and Criminality” in the country, but in reality for veering towards Russia and China in international affairs.
Armed Forces chiefs have however dismissed the “preposterous” allegations, claiming they are “propaganda” aimed at gaining “sympathy” for Duterte and engendering “anti-US” sentiment in the country.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s no secret relations between the Philippines and US have soured significantly under Duterte’s rule”.
Beyond the fact that it is no secret that there have been tensions between Washington and Manila during Duterte’s time in office, what’s more is that Duterte has all the characteristics of the kind of leader that the CIA would hate. He is popular, he is populist in the positive sense of the word, he is in favour of making his country’s wealth more evenly distributed in the hands of the people rather than oligarchs and elites and his foreign policy is based on the pragmatic understanding that the future of South East Asia lies in understanding that China is the super-power of the region and not the United States. Furthermore he wants to stamp out the corruption that is a swamp in which foreign meddling can breed.
The CIA is powerful, but if the people of Philippines unite to support their President, this would send a message. Additionally, Duterte must not be timid in purging the military of treasonous elements.
While I am personally not a supporter of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Erdogan realised that the prevalence of coups against Turkish leaders in the 20th century was based on a strong, self-governing military that took it upon itself to enforce its version of Turkish Constitutionalism against any leader that they felt was out of line.
In some cases the Turkish Army’s decision to remove leaders was popular and at other times it was not. But Erdogan realised that he represented the biggest shift in Turkish politics since the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and as such he took measures to purge the army of would be conspirators.
The reason that the 2016 Turkish coup attempt failed was because it was led by low level officers and soldiers. The high level military officers that in years past would have likely tried to overthrow Erdogan, had been largely replaced by Erdogan loyalists. Duterte must furthermore capitalise on the fact that among ordinary soldiers, he is highly popular. They are the future generations of officers that Philippines requires.
Although the Philippine Constitution does not allow for the kind of Presidential powers of today’s Turkey, Duterte like Erodgan and indeed Ataturk (the founder of modern Turkey) before him, must realise that an army loyal to the President rather than its own pro-American ideas, is the only thing that can preserve not only Duterte’s popular Presidency, but also the future independence of Philippines as a nation.
For decades, Turkey’s army was loyal to Ataturk’s ideas even after the man’s death and the same may well be the case in respect of Erdogan, assuming he can settle the many crises he himself created. The fact that Duterte is more popular in Philippines than Erdogan is in Turkey is a further sign that in terms of organising a disciplined, nationalist (rather than pro-US), he could follow the Erdogan model in these respects.
President Rodrigo Duterte must realise that he is an epoch making leader. He must take the steps necessary to make sure that no one can violently undo the progress he makes and intends to keep making.