CAVAN HOGUE. Duterte – China and the US.

Oct 23, 2016

Attitudes to the USA have varied in the Philippines since they first came in contact in 1898 when the Americans invaded the Philippines and spent 1898 to 1904 in a brutal colonial war against the Philippine Republic under President Emilio Aguinaldo. Needless to say, Americans were widely hated for depriving the Filipinos of their freedom and many never really forgave them.

The American colonial regime introduced a good education system and improved health facilities. Some infrastructure projects were also carried out. These things got them some brownie points although American text books advising them how to handle heavy snow falls were not taken too seriously. Independence was promised for 1946 when Japan invaded. The Japanese behaved very badly and the Americans were welcomed back with open arms. The immediate post-war population was very pro-American. While giving back political freedom, the departing colonial power tied the Philippine economy to that of the US and gave American businesses advantages over others who might have offered better deals to the Philippines. This didn’t worry most people who were unaware of it but upset some who did understand what had been done.

The military  bases issue caused problems and opinions varied on those. Nationalists wanted them removed and they were but others wanted them back. They were very popular amongst small businesses around the base and of course amongst prostitutes.

Today, there is a generation for whom the Philippine-American War and the Japanese Occupation are just things they read about in history books. Poor Filipinos want to emigrate to the US where they will become rich or at least get a pension. Anti-American feelings tend to be stronger amongst the better educated nationalists. A steady diet of American TV and other material helps the US image.

Duterte seems to be influenced by personal feelings. He claims he was refused a visa to the USA and was abused as a child by an American priest – without knowing anything about these claims they are credible. Filipinos are very sensitive to personal insult particularly if made in public. Public lectures from the Americans about his internal policies and practices would only add fuel to an existing fire. Like Australians, Americans can be very insensitive to the feelings of people who don’t like foreigners telling them how to run their country.

It is unclear how the coming generation will feel. There does seem to be a more Asian approach emerging but against this is the traditional prejudice against Chinese. It is nothing like the situation in Malaysia or Indonesia but there is social prejudice especially amongst the ordinary folk. On the whole, Americans are seen to hand out money while Chinese take it away or charge exorbitant interests rates for loans. In an intensely Catholic country, Communists are seen as the bad guys. How much this domestic prejudice will influence attitudes towards the Chines nation remains to be seen.

Cavan Hogue was a senior Australian diplomat and Ambassador to USSR and Russia.


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