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Independence Day 2023 Series: National Identity and Modern Nationalism, Part 4

For a colonizer to have the staying power over a sovereign, it must be able to control its destiny. Since Julius Caesar applied “Divide et impera” to conquer Gaul, other European powers have used it to effectively reign elsewhere. “Divide and conquer” is a philosophy, a rule policy to keep people in control by employing strategies or methodologies where new paradigms are created favorable to them.

Rulers used this policy to divide along certain fault lines (i.e., religious groups, ethnicities, social standings) to keep the population under control. The Spaniards did it too. Magellan started with Christianizing the Humabons and used them against Lapu Lapu. Then when the Conquistadores were firmly in place, they used Filipino troops from other provinces to fight insurrections in other provinces. In essence, it was Filipinos fighting a surrogate war against fellow Filipinos to keep Spain’s hold over the sovereign people.

Betrayal became a byproduct of “divide and conquer.” Regardless of how we view Dr. Jose Rizal’s contribution to Philippine history, he was against the armed revolution that Andres Bonifacio was advocating to achieve independence. Rizal established a secret reform movement, La Liga Filipina, in 1892 seeking to reform the Philippines into a cohesive society, and Bonifacio was one of its first members.

Despite its loyalty and non-violent goals of reform, Rizal, however, posed a threat and was arrested for La Liga that year and deported to Dapitan. Bonifacio fled for the hills and founded the secret organization Katipunan based in Manila. Emilio Aguinaldo joined but formed his own group in Cavite. History tells us that the two could not get along. Bonifacio’s group consisted of the working class; Aguinaldo’s was the opposite.

Bonifacio and Aguinaldo’s rivalry bitterly divided the underground revolutionary group. Katipunan was discovered when a member, Teodoro Patiño told his sister who then informed a nun. The nun informed the cura, an Augustinian priest named Mariano Gil and the crap rolled downhill from there. The Cry of Balintawak happened and the war broke.

The skirmishes spread throughout Luzon and multiple battlefronts emerged. One successful revolutionary leader was General Emilio Jacinto who commanded Katipunan troops in several decisive battles, caught the eye of a Spanish General Camilo de Polvieja who was the new Spanish military governor. Jacinto’s successes earned him the title as the “Brains of the Katipunan," frightened the Spaniards who resorted to the “reconcentration” strategy that was implemented in Cuba.

Reconcentration is practically ordering the rural population into a centralized area, the Pueblo, for convenience in political or military administration. By doing so, Polvieja was able to have some 4,000 rebels arrested. Among those ordered arrested and executed were Jose Rizal, GOMBURZA, and many others who posed a threat to the authorities.

The crackdown was devastating to Bonifacio who lost many of the group’s adherents. Bonifacio’s misery was Aguinaldo’s bonanza who practically took over the Katipunan through the Tejeros Convention. Eventually, Aguinaldo had Bonifacio arrested for treason and sedition and executed. Rizal’s martyrdom and peaceful approach to advocating reform would earn him accolades from the Americans and would later make him a national hero.

During the Philippine American War, another brave and noble Filipino General Juan Luna created a lot of headaches and deaths to American soldiers because of his genius in battle. Americans feared him but could not kill him. It was again Emilio Aguinaldo who made it easy for the Americans by having Gen Luna assassinated. Karma, however, is a bitch. His betrayal begot betrayal. Hiding in Palanan, Isabela Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans with the Macabebe Scouts leading the way.

The rest is history as Filipinos continued a tradition of betrayal of fellow Filipinos during the American Occupation, Japanese Occupation, and again during the continued occupation of American forces. This time around, the American occupation had some veneer of legitimacy with the aura of democracy dangled over the land. Many of the elites took advantage of the opportunity to work with the Americans to advance their own personal interests in the name of the country.

Such acquiescence made it easy for the Americans to govern from Mainland America. Provision of American patterned education that was used against Black slaves in the U.S., military protection through the bases and troop rotations (sending Filipino soldiers to American military institutions like West Point or National Defense Colleges ensured their Western military strategy bent) and of course, the economic part. The Philippine economy became part of the larger American economy that was heavily tilted in favor of the Americans.

The saga of betrayal and treachery, however, was not a monopoly of Filipinos. Americans betrayed Filipinos from the start when Philippine Independence should have been granted already after Spain’s defeat. In 1916, the Jones Act promised eventual independence. It took, however, 30 some years before “full” independence was granted on July 4, 1946, and another 45 years before the U.S. military bases were closed.

One would think that the Philippines by 1991 would have been modernized as previously promised by the Americans. No, because the so-called modernization is a striptease that was never really meant to be followed. The bases they left behind were mostly damaged by the Mount Pinatubo eruption and many facilities were temporary structures. The United States wanted the Philippines to “want and need” America’s security blanket.

Sure enough, and as soon as the bases closed, China began its moves in the South China Sea without being bothered, unmolested. The Americans watched the buildup unfold. Philippine presidents even facilitated China’s aggressive moves by allowing them to quarry on Philippine soil and literally shipped them over to these islands to build military structures and airstrips.

When former President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. declared Martial Law, one of his official acts was to establish a so-called Philippine Baselines Law under Presidential Decree No. 1596 in 1978 that included an area west of Palawan called Kalayaan Island Group (KIG). The KIG was practically a huge area as large as Mindanao that included the islands being disputed now by China and others.

The Marcos’ baselines decree was not challenged in international court, not even by China or Taiwan. The Marcos decree was solidly grounded based on a sound claim in 1956 by a Filipino explorer named Tomas Cloma who claimed 33 maritime features of the Spratly Islands. At that time, no other countries had a valid claim to them. The Treaty of Paris in 1951 caused Japan to renounce ownership of the KIG by virtue of not passing the title to another state. Therefore, under international law, these islands belonged to no one.

Well, the EDSA Revolution happened, and the Americans wanted Marcos gone and gone he was. Through the American trained and educated General Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile, Corazon Aquino became the next American surrogate through Enrile’s Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) Boys. Filipinos thought at that time that Philippine’s young democracy has withstood its biggest challenge yet - from within. (To be continued)


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