No Philippine president has ever won without US backing. So, who’s the secret US candidate this year, asks Mong Palatino.
The Philippines may have gained its independence from the United States in 1946, but its former colonial master continues to be influential in the Southeast Asian nation’s politics.
The colonial legacy has meant Filipinos want their leaders to emulate their American counterparts, and they’re proud when their elected leaders are compared to popular US politicians. Former President Joseph Estrada, for example, was likened to former US President Ronald Reagan (both were actors before joining politics), while current President Gloria Arroyo always reminds visiting US dignitaries that Bill Clinton was her classmate in college. And, after the historic victory of Barack Obama in 2008, several Filipino politicians identified themselves as the ‘Filipino Obama’.
Indeed, Obama’s win looms large over the Philippine presidential election taking place next week, underscored by the fact that the most popular campaign message espoused by candidates here has been the idea of ‘change’ that was used to such good effect by the US president. In addition, Filipino politicians have taken another leaf out of Obama’s playbook and are tapping social media to reach a broader audience.
That Filipino politicians want to adopt the styles of leadership of successful US politicians reflects the enduring power of colonialism and the hegemonic appeal of the US brand of politics.
But activists and scholars here are less worried over the lingering colonial mentality that afflicts many Filipinos than with how the US exercises its influence through indirect (or even direct) interference in the domestic affairs of an independent nation like the Philippines.
It’s an open secret that Filipino politicians who covet the presidency must first seek the support of the United States if they want to prevail at the polls, even if this means compromising the country’s sovereignty. A case in point was the Marcos dictatorship, which lasted for more than a decade because it was tolerated by the US.
Much more recently—just two weeks ago in fact—presidential candidate Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino told the media that he and his team had been meeting with mid-level diplomats from the US Embassy. Is this a hint that Sen. Aquino is the favoured candidate of the US?
This revelation must have come as uncomfortable news for rival and former Philippine Defense Secretary Gilbert ‘Gibo’ Teodoro who was assumed to have received Washington’s tacit approval to serve as the country’s next president after he boasted of his ties with the United States after a well-publicized trip there last year.
Speaking to a US audience made up largely of defence officials, Teodoro reportedly said:
‘My great grandfather came from here and helped build what is now Baguio City in the Philippines. My own grandfather, my father’s father, was among the very first Filipino scholars to graduate from a United States college.’ He also affirmed his support for the continued presence of US troops in the Philippines to fight terrorist cells.
The United States at one time operated two military bases in the Philippines, until the Philippine Senate decided in 1991 not to renew the military treaty between the two nations, a move that forced the US to abandon its bases in Central Luzon. In 1999, however, then President Estrada signed an agreement that allows the temporary entry of US troops and warships into the Philippines, while current President Arroyo encouraged a greater US troop presence on taking office in 2001 to help fight terrorism in the region.