America emerges as new global power

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

At the stroke of midnight tonight, India will replace China as the world’s most populous nation. According to the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “by the end of this month, India’s population is expected to reach 1,425,775,850 people, matching and then surpassing the population of mainland China.” Lack of birth control on the one hand, and an overabundance on the other hand, are the seeming immediate causes behind this momentous change in India and China, respectively.

Over the next few decades, India and China will have to grapple with a host of problems: For India, how to find jobs for millions of young people entering the workforce; for China, how to sustain economic prosperity with an aging population; and for both, how to leverage their standing on the global stage without sinking into stagnation or revolution.

For the Philippines, we will have to navigate between the competing interests posed by China and India.

In the Philippines, Chinese and Indians have left their distinct mark in our society. While we were never colonized by either, they bequeathed to us their art, industry and cuisine. While not as prominent as the Chinese in our country, the Indians first arrived as slaves of our Spanish colonizers. Later on, some came as vassals of the British in the 18th Century, when the Philippines briefly fell under their rule. When Manila was reverted to Spain, some of the Indian soldiers, known as “Sepoys,” deserted their British masters and settled in what is now Pasig City, Taytay and Cainta. While fully assimilated into Philippine society through intermarriage, Filipinos of Indian heritage retain some of their clannish ways, notably money-lending practices, in the community.

The most famous Filipino of Indian heritage is, of course, the former mayor of the City of Manila – Ramon Bagatsing – whose family arrived during the American Commonwealth period. The current Acting Secretary of Health, Dra. Rosario Vergeire, and her sister, Supreme Court Associate Justice Filomena Singh, are both of Indian heritage.

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In April 1898, the US Congress voted for war against Spain, without a direct request coming from the President. In Korea, Vietnam and other similar conflicts, it was the President who led the nation into military actions overseas without the specific consent of the legislature. In contrast to imperial presidencies of recent years, executive influence at that time was at a low point and the champions of expansion led by Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, who were more attuned to the mind of the American public, prevailed in government.

Shortly after the declaration of war, Commodore George Dewey, the newly appointed head of the US Asiatic Squadron in Hong Kong, received the following instructions: “Proceed at once to the Philippines, commence operations against Spanish squadron. You must capture and destroy. Use utmost endeavors.” This naval force consisted of four cruisers and two gunboats. The Spanish fleet, under Admiral Patricio Montojo, had seven fighting ships but was clearly an inferior force in terms of available range and firepower.

Ralph Graves’ article “When A Victory Really Gave Us a New World Order” published in the March 1992 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, provides a graphic account of the naval encounter that would forever change the course of Philippine history.

“In the early morning hours of May 1, 1898, the US Asiatic Squadron entered Manila Bay. Spanish batteries on Corregidor and Carballo Islands failed to fire their guns because, it was explained later, no one gave the order. By dawn, Dewey sighted the enemy fleet. Aboard his flagship the cruiser Olympia, he closed up his ships to 200-yard intervals and in single file led them to battle.

“The two fleets were almost equal in number, six against seven, and in manpower, just under 1,800 men each. At 5:40 a.m., as the Olympia steamed broadside to the first Spanish ship, Dewey, standing on the bridge, turned to Olympia’s captain, Charles Gridley, and gave the orders that have lived in American history: ‘You may fire when ready, Gridley.’ The world would grow to love the courteous nonchalance and the supreme confidence those words suggested.

“After completing five passes at Spanish ships and shore batteries, Dewey decided to withdraw and check and re-distribute his supply of ammunition. Seeing Spanish ships all ablaze and unable to return fire, he gave his second memorable command of the day: ‘Serve the men breakfast.’ That afternoon, Dewey sent word to the Spanish Captain-General that if the American ships were fired on, he would destroy Manila. The Olympia’s shipboard band then saluted the enemy by playing ‘La Paloma’ and other Spanish airs.”

As the music reached the curious crowd that gathered to see the victors, a Spanish artillery colonel whose honor was stained by the defeat, put a bullet through his head.

When word of the incredible triumph reached the United States, President McKinley promoted Dewey to admiral. He would later confess that “he could not have told where those darned islands were within 2,000 miles.” Incidentally, the 7.2-kilometer stretch of highway from the Manila Hotel running along the shores of Manila Bay, up to Parañaque, was originally named Dewey Boulevard in honor of the naval hero. After the death of President Manuel Roxas in 1947, Dewey Boulevard was renamed Roxas Boulevard. Surprisingly, not all street names have been changed. Taft Avenue named after Governor-General William Howard Taft, remains Taft Avenue to this day.

The Battle of Manila Bay has been described as Uncle Sam’s greatest and shortest naval victory. In less than three hours, an entire Spanish fleet was destroyed with no loss of American lives. The victory would signal America’s emergence as a major player on the world stage. It would also spell the doom of General Emilio Aguinaldo’s dream of an independent Philippine republic.

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