Nationalism, the Philippines, and Independence
November 23, 2009
by William P. Meyers

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When did the Philippines become an independent nation?

July 4, 1946?

October 14, 1943?

Or maybe June 12, 1898?

The United States of America granted the Philippines its independence on July 4, 1946. The Philippines had been de facto governed by the United States since the battle of Manilla Bay on May 1, 1898, and in the eyes of the U.S. government, legally since the Treaty of Paris was signed with Spain on December 10, 1898.

But long before the U.S. did its first big land grab since the Mexican-American war, there was a movement in the Philippines seeking independence from Spain. If you chose June 12, 1898, that was the day they declared independence from Spain. Imperialists like President William McKinley and soon-to-be President Theodore Roosevelt (both Republican Party leaders) did not just choose to ignore a few Philippinos whining for the chance to govern themselves. They had the U.S. army murder hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in order to establish their enslavement of the island [See The U.S. Conquest of the Philippines for details].

I like the June 12, 1898 date myself. That makes almost everyone who was in the ruling class of the Philippines a traitor and collaborationist who later helped the United States repress and exploit their people.

The third date, Octover 13, 1943, is the day the government of the Philippines became de facto independent without the permission of the United States. They felt safe doing that because Japan appeared to have defeated not just the United States, but the entire gamut of imperialist nations (Holland, Great Britain, France, and the United States) all in one swoop. This government was called the Second Philippine Republic.

What prompts this post is my reading of American Caesar by William Manchester, which is a biography of General Douglas MacArthur. Manchester is a good writer. I got American Caesar because I enjoyed his The Arms of Krupp and The Glory and the Dream . I figured a book on MacArthur would be very readable and lend much insight into my own U.S. War Against Asia. But Manchester has an American national bias that colors his factual presentation and his interpretation even of the facts that he presents.

The section on the Japanese military occupation of the Philippines is skimpy partly because the book dwells in such intimate detail on MacArthur. For the most part he was in Australia during the occupation, after failing to provide food, medicine, and ammunition for his army but insisting that they fight on against the Japanese until they were all dead. The book deals with the aftermath of the occupation because MacArthur had to deal with the members of the "Japanese puppet government" after he defeated the Japanese in the archipelago.

Wait a second, William. You say they were the same people, almost to a man. They were the ruling class of the Philippines under the bosseration of the United States. They all signed up to be in the "Japanese puppet" government, during the occupation. [See also Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere]. They were lucky most of them were personal friends of Douglas MacArthur, who had grown up in the Philippines while his father General Arthur MacArthur killed every rebel, I mean freedom fighter, his soldiers could find. MacArthur had also been the War Lord of the Philippines prior to World War II.

And they pretty much all became part of the new American puppet government of the Philippines, which became "independent" on July 4, 1946. Within, of course, the American-Asian Co-Exploitation sphere [my term], which Japan itself was part of by then as well.

The new President of the Philippines, Manuel Acuña Roxas, had collaborated closely with the Japanese. One of the nationalist groups, the Hukbalahap, fought Roxas's new government because of its class nature and Roxas's previous cooperation with the Japanese and Americans. What did the U.S. do? It helped the new Republic of the Philippines to fight the Huks, which was a fine prelude to John F. Kennedy's war against the Vietnamese people.

I try not to be nationalist, but I understand the nationalism of people who want to throw off foreign oppressors. What I don't understand is how historians like William Manchester get away with saying that the U.S. governed the Philippines well, and was beloved by Filipinos. In contrast on page 375 he states: "While the vast majority of the captive population ignored its new masters [the Japanese] , there were two conspicuous exceptions: the guerrillas and the collaborators." But the same can be said to be true about the American masters both before and after the Japanese interlude. The size of the guerilla resistance against the Japanese was dwarfed by the size of the resistance against the U.S. invaders when they first replaced the Spanish.

If the Philippines were independent of the U.S. as of October 14, 1943, then they had to be resubjugated in order for the U.S. to "grant" independence on July 4, 1946.

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