Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 5 July 2014


July 4 is now celebrated as Philippine-American Friendship Day. But until I was married and had two children, the Philippines celebrated its Independence Day on July 4, because it was on that day in 1946 that the United States recognized our independence and relinquished its sovereignty over the Philippine Islands.

That July 4 is also the Independence Day of the United States could not have been coincidental, although I don’t know which side suggested it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be the Philippine side, because those were the days when the Americans could do no wrong in the eyes of adoring Filipinos.

As I look back, I realize that we had a one-sided view of Philippine-American relations, due in no small measure to the fact that they controlled the information that was fed to us for more than two generations. Philippine history since the start of the 20th century was their story—and naturally they were the heroes.

But slowly the scales over our eyes were removed. In my case it has been a long and painful process, particularly because I was fighting to keep my picture of America undisturbed. Why? Well, I was a Fulbright-partial Smith Mundt scholar, which meant that my graduate studies expenses (travel and tuition) in the United States were borne by that country, and these came together with indoctrination lectures that I hungrily absorbed. Plus, the fact is that four of my five siblings are American citizens and live there. Plus, I remember with fondness the chocolates I received from American soldiers, and the hero worship that Mom held for MacArthur. Mababaw ang kaligayahan?  Perhaps, but there it is.

But even with my reluctance, it was difficult, for example, to explain the following acts of America that had tremendous negative impact on the Philippine economy, not to mention bringing into serious doubt the supposed friendship of the United States for its “brown brothers.”

There is the Rescission Act, passed by the US Congress and signed into law by President Harry Truman on Feb. 18, 1946. Rescission is defined as the revocation, cancellation, or repeal of a law, order, or agreement. What was rescinded? A July 26, 1941, order by President Theodore Roosevelt to the effect that those serving in the military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines would be considered in the service of the Armed Forces of the United States. In other words, with the rescission, the estimated 200,000-250,000 Filipinos who fought in World War II “shall not be deemed to be or to have been in the military or national forces of the United States…” and therefore not entitled to any rights, privileges or benefits pertaining thereto. They were stripped of veteran status with one stroke of the pen.

Thus did the United States go back on its word, making liars out of Roosevelt’s attorney general, and of 5-star Army Gen. Omar Bradley who, as head of the US Veterans Administration, had assured the Filipinos that, of course, they were considered veterans.

But this is the unkindest cut of all: The Philippines was the only one out of 66 countries with similar non-US-citizen veterans that was “rescinded.” So much for friendship.

Imagine, Reader, what would have happened had our veterans or their families been paid for their services and benefits, instead of being left to scrounge around and pick up the pieces of their lives. The impact on the economy would have been comparable to an economic stimulus package, with the benefits being equitably spread over the population and over the country rather than to the rich alone. We would have been spared a lot of the social unrest the country has experienced.

Then there is the matter of our postwar foreign exchange rate. “In a small open economy, managing the exchange rate is the single most important macroeconomic policy.” Yet, Reader, even though our independence was “recognized” by America, did you know that the Philippines could not change its exchange rate without permission from the president of the United States?

So what happened? Well, the Philippine-US exchange rate was P2=$1 before the war, while the Japanese-US exchange rate was Y3=$1. After the war, we were kept to the prewar rates (making it easier for American interests to get the most dollars for their pesos), while the Japanese switched to Y360=$1.

The Philippines had its first foreign exchange crisis in 1950, while Japan had an export boom that left the Philippines far behind. We have been limping along uncompetitively since then. To add insult to injury, the import control situation caused by scarcity of foreign exchange (imports were so cheap, our exports were relatively expensive) led to the 10-percenters and the increasing acceptability of government corruption.

The last example is one of omission, not commission. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China are the most successful countries in Asia as far as growth is concerned. They have at least one thing in common: They concentrated on land reform (family-type agriculture) as the basic first step. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan had another thing in common: Their land reform was more or less imposed by the United States after World War II. The Philippines, however, escaped that imposition. We all know where these others countries are, and where we are, now.

Perhaps I am too harsh on the US government, but on the other hand Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, in a private conversation (that was leaked), said: “The Polish-American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security. It’s bullsh-t.” Are we in the same boat?