300 years in a convent, 50 years in Hollywood (and still counting…)

Three hundred years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood – this roughly sums up our colonial history. Unfortunately we’re still in Hollywood (not that I’m making a dig at the "Men In Black"), and by the looks of it, we shall remain in Hollywood for quite some time.

In the light of the impending war the US might carry out on Iraq, can we really detach ourselves from America’s sphere of influence? Almost immediately, we supported President Bush’s "somos o no somos" (Are you with us or against us?) speech after 9-11. This is understandable since we too have been victims of terrorism. But then again, do we really have much of a choice but to align ourselves with the United States?

A little over a century ago, the US declared war on Spain, the Americans’ first-ever conflict outside of their borders. The Philippines then was known as Las Islas, or The Islands. In fact, then US president William McKinley could not even locate the archipelago on his world map. After a brief naval encounter at the Manila Bay, the United States lost no time in colonizing the Philippines and paid Spain roughly US$20 million for it.

Shortly after, the Americans came in droves, like secular missionaries bringing with them their own kind of institutional gospel: Democracy, prosperity and free trade. After liberating us from the Japanese, the Americans introduced their own brand of educational system. English, before long, became a major subject, which, for the most part, has been the biggest contribution of America to our society. More than ever, the Filipinos’ knowledge of English has made us the most preferred workforce all over the world. It is one of the major subjects in our schools that we must continue to develop and keep.

During the 50s, the US supported the campaign of former president Ramon Magsaysay against the Huks. In 1986, no one can dispute the major role America played in People Power I. During the serious coup attempt of 1989, and upon the request of the Aquino government, the US Air Force sent their Phantom jets and foiled the almost successful military coup against the Aquino administration. In 2001, the US gave special support to the PGMA government immediately after the end of the Erap administration.

Just as America is right in the thick of our political arena, Filipinos are wrapped up in the social and economic life of the US as well. Today, more than three million Filipinos live and work in the United States, 2.5 million of which are documented. Almost every other Filipino has a relative or a friend living in America. The US Embassy in Manila processes the documents of about 1,500 visa applicants a day. By the end of this decade, Filipinos are expected to be the biggest Asian minority group in the US.

Economically, the Philippines is pretty much tied in with the US. Approximately 50 percent of our national debt come from loans granted by the US. They are still our chief trading partner, and one of our biggest investors, putting in US$2.8 billion in investment capital into our economy. Approximately US$100 million in special economic aid package has been allotted by the US Congress. Another US$1 billion in Generalized System of Preference (GSP) benefits is reportedly being worked out by the Bush administration.

In the military front, about 90 percent of our military hardware and equipment come from the United States. After 9/11, US$100 million was granted by the Bush administration under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) agreement, and another US$200 million is being lobbied for inclusion in the 2003 foreign military assistance budget in Washington for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Thus, we have to strike while the iron is hot. For the first time in years since the withdrawal of the bases, the Philippines is back on the radar screen of the Pentagon and the State department. Under the Mutual Defense Treaty, in the event that a foreign power attacks the Philippines, the US is compelled to come to our aid. As one military analyst said, "We are an independent nation dependent on the US." He however stressed, "Make no mistake about it, this is part of an overall strategy of the United States to protect its own interests." He further emphasized that the US has no intention whatsoever of making the Philippines a colony – again. For better or for worse, present U.S. Policy will not allow an unfriendly government to take power in the Philippines, especially Noriegan or Taliban-nic in nature. (Translation: Narco-politics and/or Muslim extremists.)

Considering, therefore, all of these facts and figures, do we really have much of a choice? Maybe not. Perhaps, it would be better for us to enhance this unique relationship instead with the United States, much like what Israel is doing. Everyone knows that Israel today has a very strong negotiating stance in Washington. All these years, they have managed to sway decisions made by the US Congress and the White House in their favor. We can begin to approximate a certain level of influence if we focus our energies on doing what no other Philippine ambassador to the US has been able to do: unite the 100 plus Filipino-American associations that have mushroomed all over the United States. If we are successful, this will translate into a potent force in influencing policy in Washington for the benefit of the country and our people.
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Controversial congressman Mark Jimenez says he is ready to voluntarily depart for the US as soon as his American lawyers come up with a plea bargain agreement with the US Justice Department. He claims he wants to put this case behind him.

It’s very difficult to be in the wanted list of the FBI. Its computer monitoring capabilities and data sharing systems have been improved tremendously since 9/11, making it easy and fast for the bureau to exchange information with the CIA, INS, IRS and the Interpol. Michael Savage (the name alone strikes fear) of the US Justice Department has been relentlessly pursuing the extradition case of the congressman for the past two years. Some liken Savage to the US Marshall played by actor Tommy Lee Jones in the movie The Fugitive.
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