A Pacific partnership between the Philippines and the US

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WE million Americans born in the Philippines worry about our hometowns and the families we left behind. We worry that the Philippines might become another Vietnam. We recall how other ``unlovely towns'' in Vietnam were bombed and burned with napalm, and their citizens killed in free-fire zones. We are concerned about alarming, highly negative reports filed by reporters who would depict beautiful Philippine towns like Claveria as unlovely, and even make it out to be the home of disloyal dissidents. It seems to me the story of what is taking place in the Philippines is being told by reporters who don't like the Philippines and Filipinos. We worry these reporters do not share our hope, vision, or confidence in America's destiny in our native land.

Our view of politics in the Philippines varies depending upon where we are from. Mine is an Ilocano's view. The Ilocano fought the Japanese throughout World War II, and went into the hills to join surviving remnants of the American Army. Thus it was that Ferdinand Marcos, an Ilocano, formed his working relationship with the United States Army.

Americans should realize that Ferdinand Marcos is probably the last political leader of the military fraternity that descended from the hills after World War II to take control of the government of Manila. This control was formerly held by Manila families collaborating with the military rulers initially sent by Spain, then by the United States, and then briefly by Japan.

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Under foreign military domination, these traditionally ruling families held no military power of their own, and their civil authority was delegated by foreign military commanders. The only military power in the Philippines held by Filipinos was that of the Moros of Mindanao. In considering the Philippines, it is important to realize the former dominance of Islam until it was displaced from Manila by Spanish military power during the 16th century. The continuing military character of the Philippine government since then can be attributed to the ongoing rebellion of Mindanao.

From Mindanao, Islamic Filipinos regard the Marcos government as an extension of the US, which they feel holds the real military power in the Philippines.

While the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is motivated by its perceived participation in jihad, or holy struggle, in the Roman Catholic north, the New People's Army (NPA) continues a more secular tradition, against which the Philippine constabulary has struggled since it was first established by American military police authorities after the Spanish-American War.

Today, both the government and the NPA take some satisfaction from referring to the NPA as a communist force, because of international implications. The NPA's morale is lifted by believing it is part of an international struggle, and the Marcos government is able to blame NPA insurgency upon outside troublemakers and deflect blame from itself.

Both the MNLF and NPA are made up of educated but unemployed young people who use family loyalties and fear to finance their communal existence in the hills. They operate in their own home regions against Philippine Army troops who are usually from other regions and enjoy little local support and loyalty.

But this kind of insurgency has always existed in the Philippines since Spanish colonial times. If guerrillas enjoy increased political support these days, it may be due to the loss of real local government since martial law was decreed by President Marcos in 1972. Although no longer imposing martial law, the centralized, military-supported government maintains its hold on local government, and the provinces and provincial towns are governed by governors and mayors loyal to the ruling national KBL party. By default, the MNLF and the NPA became the only locally constituted authority, operating like self-appointed national guard units. But the MNLF and the NPA are no more democratically controlled than the government, and their vigilante justice often masks a lot of private laundry.

The democratic quality of the Marcos government appears much better, however, when compared with other governments of Southeast Asia: Indonesia, an Islamic repressive military government; Malaysia, an Islamic kingdom ruled by hereditary sultans; Singapore, a one-party city-state ruled by an authoritarian government; and Thailand, a kingdom ruled by the Army; and the Communist dictatorships of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Among these nations, the Philippines is by far the most democratic, and Filipinos are by far the most free and well educated of all the people of Southeast Asia.

America's destiny in the Philippines is bright. The US must work to replace its military partnership with a strong economic trading partnership which will expand to bring American democratic influence to all nations of Southeast Asia. The US must help Christian Manila come to terms with Islamic Mindanao. So long as communal warfare exists on Mindanao, military influence will suppress the growth of strong local and provincial governments in both southern and northern Philippines.

Today, the Philippines is still in a post-World War II transition through which she is struggling. I believe it will pull through and that younger generations of leadership will work to maintain and build its Pacific partnership with the US.

The common ``tao,'' the ordinary citizens found in rural towns like Claveria, still believe in America and are proud when family members manage to travel and live in America. Struggle for economic and political justice in the Philippines is based upon a common vision of American prosperity and justice. Political disaffection in the Philippines occurs when leaders fail to meet popular expectations measured by our own American standards. My hometown of Claveria, a beautiful coastal town of northern Luzon, continually strives to meet these standards, which were taught to me as a young girl by my parents and teachers, and which still continue to be taught there today.

Thelma Garcia Buchholdt is founder and president of the Filipino Heritage Council of Alaska Inc., in existence since 1973.

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