In the mid-1990s I had an African American coworker with two sons. She had recently moved here from California. Not knowing Tacoma, she moved to Tacoma’s East Side because it was affordable. She had been living there about six months when she started working with me. Her sons were ten and eleven. She explained that she was moving to another neighborhood that was going to cost her significantly more money, but that she recognized the gang activity on Tacoma’s East Side was increasing. She said raising two black teenagers in that neighborhood at that time would result in one or both of them joining gangs. It was inevitable.
I mention this because when looking at the past 120 years of events in the Philippines it seems like the Philippines is like a kid growing up in a bad neighborhood. They never had a chance.
Looking at the present day Philippines run by a dictator who proudly murders his enemies and compares himself positively to Hitler, it’s easy to wonder how such a leader could possibly exist in the 21st century. But like discovering that the abusive father was himself abused, a look at what’s gone before is illuminating.
Taken from the Spanish by the Americans at the turn of the 20th century during the Spanish American War, the Americans then went out of their way to hobble any attempts at true independence for most of the next hundred years. Elections were made sham elections only electing who we want despite America’s proud reputation as a bastion of Democracy. When we occupied the Philippines and were basically treating it like a colony we would fake elections and lie to get our guy in office whenever necessary. So is it any surprise that left to their own devices strong man dictator sorts would behave exactly the same way? When has the Philippines ever experienced true democracy?
It did not matter what sort of parenting my coworker did for her children because she knew the neighborhood. She knew there were hours that she would be at work and times they would be at friends’ houses. It did not matter how inherently good her children were. There were forces surrounding them she could not control. Similarly, the people of the Philippines have literally never known anything else beyond a power uninterested in their wellbeing taking advantage and exploiting their country for their own benefit. Whether it was the Spanish, the Americans, the Japanese during WWII, the Americans again, or the series of despots that have taken charge since then, none of them have had the will, desires, or wellbeing of the people of the Philippines as their primary concern. In this way, the Philippines is like my coworker’s sons in that neighborhood without their mother, without anyone who genuinely cares what happens to them. And they have never known it any other way.
Given such circumstances, what is the path forward? Is the Philippines doomed to be ruled by strong arm dictator after strong arm dictator? I really wish I could end this with some great idea that might fix things, but it’s like trying to get a hardcore gangster to get a day job. Like so many problems in this world, there is no simple answer. If a true democratic rebellion swelled up, would Americans support it? If we did, could we support it in such a way that doesn’t include us occupying the country? Given that Donald Trump is a great admirer of Duterte, would Trump send troops to help him fight off the rebellion?
Unfortunately, the Philippines cannot move out of the bad neighborhood like my coworker. They are stuck. And no one seems interested in helping them. Like always.
– Jack Cameron