The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has been known for his anti-US rhetoric. Ever since he was sworn in on June 30 this year, he has been highly critical of President Barack Obama and his foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
So, apart from the cold political calculations behind his anti-US stance, is his hostility toward Washington justified?
Perhaps we can look back at history in order to get some clues.
Relations between the US and the Philippines date back to 1898 when the US military fought side by side with Filipino resistance leader Emilio Aguinaldo against the Spaniards during the Spanish-American War.
At the time, the Americans and the Filipinos were close allies.
However, after the Spaniards were defeated, the US began to backpedal on its promise to grant the Filipinos full independence and turned the country into a colony.
Outraged at the Americans’ betrayal, the Filipinos rose up by the hundreds and then thousands against the US occupation forces, resulting in the Philippine-American War between 1899 and 1902.
The war was notorious for its brutality and atrocities, costing the lives of 16,000 Filipino guerrillas in battle and up to 200,000 civilians, many of whom were killed during the scorched-earth campaigns by the US army.
However, after the Filipino rebellion was crushed, the US colonial administration adopted a so-called “benevolent assimilation” approach in order to repair bilateral relations.
Under the new approach, the US started to nurture the local elites on a national scale and indoctrinated them with American values such as freedom and democracy, a far-cry from the policy of pure exploitation by the former Spanish colonialists.
In order to win the hearts and minds of the Filipinos, the US colonial administration poured tens of billions of dollars into building infrastructure and establishing public services across country.
Thanks to the US initiatives, the Philippines underwent a period of rapid modernization during the early 20th century.
Today the atrocities committed by the US during the Philippine-American War are long forgotten. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center in 2015, 92 percent of Filipinos regard the US as their ally and friend.
Given that, President Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric is apparently just part of his diplomatic tactics to maximize his country’s gains amid the intense struggle for influence between Washington and Beijing in the South China Sea.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 16
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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