Preserve US-Philippines Ties
THE American military presence in the Philippines may be ending, but America's relationship with the Philippines is ripe for a new beginning. A feeling of bitterness is evident in American commentary on the prospective withdrawal of American forces from Subic Bay Naval Base. What is forgotten in this emotional drama, and what must be further developed, is the special relationship the United States and the Philippines have had for nearly 100 years, one that encompasses a broader spectrum of affairs than military bases. The rest of this decade will mark dates of symbolic importance to both countries that reflect their shared history. Next year is the 50th anniversary of the battles of Bataan and Corregidor. The year 1995 is the 50th anniversary of the liberation by American forces of the Philippines from the Japanese. The following year marks 50 years since the Republic of the Philippines was born from the womb of Mother America, which had ruled the Philippines and granted it commonwealth status, like Puerto Rico. And i n 1998, the centennial of American presence in the Philippines arrives. Amidst these landmark dates is the specter of American punishment of the Philippines in retaliation for losing Subic Bay. Millions of dollars of crucial aid could be withheld. This "sour grapes" policy would be unwise. First, many Filipinos are pro-American and want the US military presence to remain. Second, the Philippines continues to be a strategically important country in Southeast Asia, with which it is in the best interest of the US to maintain close ties. Finally, the US should save its enmity fo r its adversaries, not its friends, otherwise its bullying posture will work against it around the world. The seeds of Philippine nationhood were sown and tended this century by the US. America developed the Philippine government, schools, churches, and other institutions in its own image. Many Filipinos grew up singing the Star Spangled Banner and learning American history. Filipinos have been able to serve in the US Navy since 1903. In recent years, American influence produced less impressive results, as shown by Washington's support of the repressive Marcos government and by aid dollars linked to concessions on US military bases. Despite the bumpy road, however, American culture has settled over all aspects of Philippine society. If ever there was a special relationship between America and another country, this is it. Certainly, the call by some Philippine senators for the removal of the last vestige of American colonialism rankled American officials. In fact, it must be puzzling to many Americans who see the Philippine government shooting itself in the foot. What will their military do without US assistance? What will happen when thousands of base workers lose their jobs? How will the country cope with the loss of money that flowed through Subic Bay into the rest of the Philippine economy? It is a mother hen reflex, left over from 50 years of American rule. The expression of nationalist sentiment by many Filipinos is not hard to comprehend for anyone who has served in Subic Bay. There is an "American Raj" atmosphere around the base, where Filipino maids and yard boys, bar girls and dancers, ply their adopted trades for American service members and their families. The poverty of the Philippines is starker there, where the contrast with America is so evident. It is no wonder that many Filipinos find this and the politics of American aid so upsetting. Ironically, the withdrawal of Americans from Subic Bay is the result of a democratic process Americans have vigorously promoted. It is not a tin-pot dictator that has caused this, but a system known and respected by America itself. A US military withdrawal from Subic Bay should not diminish the satisfaction that the democratic process reinvigorated by "people power" is alive and well. Now is the time for the US to look past the bases issue. The Philippines seeks American assistance in joining the ranks of its prosperous neighbor countries. For its part, the US must strengthen its alliance with that island nation, which lies off strategic sea lanes and is a key player in the region. Above all, the Philippines are part of American history, as US history is part of theirs. The withdrawal from Subic Bay is a bitter pill to swallow for American military planners, but rather than act in ways that will diminish the current relationship, the US should meet the Philippines anew, and construct a solid foundation of friendship and alliance for the future.