Saturday, March 24, 2012

l. 9380 -- “If we don't take it now, we'll never get it.”

The Philippines became independent on 4 July 1946. It was the first time that a nation has voluntarily surrendered a colonial possession (l. 8505). The US high commissioner Paul McNutt became the ambassador. MacArthur, in attendance, said to a friend: “America buried imperialism here today” (l. 8518).

A ceremony took place in the ruins of central Manila. The war's devastation made some prominent people on both sides privately consider postponing independence. However, commonwealth president Sergio Osmena spoke for many when he said, “If we don't take it now, we'll never get it” (l. 8532).

Still, the US wielded considerable influence. Following a familiar world-wide pattern, the US favored a thin layer of wealthy people who didn't have contact with the normal life of the country but spoke English and had money. Within this small group, the favor of influential men like MacArthur could mean forgiveness of past sins and elevation to the highest level. In this case, Manuel Roxas, who had stayed in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation, was proclaimed by MacArthur on little visible evidence to have been a resistance leader (l. 8623) and then helped to become leader of the upper house of the pre-independence legislature (l. 8591). With further assistance, Roxas beat Osmena in an election for first leader of post-independence Philippines (l. 8677). However, he died of a heart attack in April 1948, before he could finish his first term (l. 8989).

Meanwhile, negotiations for use of military bases in the Philippines dragged on slowly over issues like who would have legal jurisdiction over American soldiers and even Filipinos working on the bases. After the US threatened to withdraw, the Philippines caved on these and most other issues. The US signed a 99-year lease on twenty-two sites, including Clark Field and Subic Bay, in March 1947 (l. 8745).

Also at the same time, McNutt negotiated a favorable trade agreement, which included pegging the peso to the dollar (l. 8791) and blocking many products from import to the US while preserving the Philippines market for US business. After his Ambassadorship, McNutt went directly to the chairmanship of the Philippine-American Trade Council and became a director of several Manila firms (l. 8819).

Both of the above agreements caused much political dirty dealing in Manila before they were both finally passed (l. 8850). For example, former members of the leftist Huk guerrilla group were excluded from their legislative seats on accusations of fraud (l. 8855), which was seen “as a signal to subdue the Huks. Police, soldiers and private gunman rounded up and often assassinated numbers of suspected radicals in what a US Army historian called a 'near pogrom' ” (l. 8973). The Huks organized again with a new name, the People's Liberation Army, which conveniently could still be shortened in Tagalog to “Huk”.

The extent to which the Huks were under the control of Communists from other countries is probably clearer today than in 1988, when Karnow was writing. It would be interesting to read research on this based on material from former Soviet archives and elsewhere. Karnow believes that Soviet or Chinese Communist influence was minimal (l. 8883, 9005, 9034), and the Huks were generally heroic.

The Huk military commander, during and after WWII, was Luis Taruc (l. 8912). Born into a poor family, he received an education that caused a great interest in American history. He could reportedly recite the Gettysburg Address from memory (l. 8930). But he had to drop out of college for financial reasons and worked as a tailor (l. 8935). He was one of the six deprived on a legislature seat by Roxas. His seat was restored, along with back salary, by Roxas's successor (l. 8993). However, the amicable relationship soon broke down.

Huk violence returned, sometimes in an ill-discipled manner, including at one point shooting dead both the widow and the daughter of Manuel Quezon (l. 9028). When Roxas's corrupt and unimaginative successor, Elpidio Quirino, won re-election in a dubious 1949 ballot, the Huk uprising continued. Taruc later said, “We couldn't have had a better recruiter” (l. 9060). So, as has happened many times since, the US was saddled with a client government that squandered its credibility with its people (l. 9061), and supported it because the US saw the incompetent client as the only alternative to a worse fate (l. 9068).

However, in this case, the Americans were delivered, at least for a time, by the appearance of an adequate alternative. Ramon Magsaysay succeeded Quirino as President but died prematurely in a 1957 plane crash, which (combined with his apparently genuine interest in the welfare of the poor) gave the character of a romantic legend to his career and achievements (l. 9112).

Magsaysay was spotted after WWII as a potential leader by American intelligence operatives, most famously by Edward Landsdale, who was immortalized in fiction in The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugeue Burdick and (possibly) in The Quiet American by Graham Greene (l. 9145). “Landsdale privately remarked years later that, having concluded that 'Asia needs its own heroes,' he had in effect invented Magsaysay” (l. 9200). With the help of US influence, Magsaysay was elevated to minister of defense, where he mobilized the army to promote fair elections, blunting a Huk call for a boycott (l. 9241).

In 1953, the US mobilized substantial propaganda efforts behind electing Magsaysay President. He won with nearly 70 percent of the vote (l. 9294).

The next year, Magsaysay, working with Benigno Aquino (then a 20-year-old journalist), negotiated the surrender of Taruc, by that time in danger of being murdered by former allies. He received three life sentences and spent 14 years in jail (l. 9314).

However, the day-to-day work of running a country seemed to bore Magsaysay, limiting his accomplishments. He also found his hands tied by various alliances and compromises that he made on his way to the top, and was attacked as an American puppet (l. 9324).

The plane crash that killed him occurred after a long day of heavy politicking, and was blamed on pilot error. “Gossips claimed that the aircraft was overweight with passengers and baskets of ripe mangoes, and some said that the pilot had been drinking. A year afterward, a new CIA man assigned to Manila was told by his boss: 'Find another Magsaysay' ” (l. 9379).

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