By: Victoria G. Smith
I’m currently writing my sixth book, a historical novel set at the turn of the twentieth century during the inception of America’s colonial rule over the Philippines. After reading and analyzing historical accounts of that era, I am compelled to offer the following reflections.
Cries for political independence by so-called nationalist leaders and the resulting independence achieved mostly by spilling of the blood of the poor and the ignorant have not produced the democratic freedoms and economic prosperity that the masses of Filipino people have yearned for and for which they had fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice. The people were tricked and manipulated by their own political and economic elites who in reality wanted independence from colonial rulers so they could replace their former masters with themselves and establish their own dynastic reigns free from the upward mobility restrictions they suffered under colonial rule. Thus while the elites massively benefi tted from political independence, no real changes in the economic well-being of the poor resulted because the native political and economic elites only continued the exploitation began by their colonial masters. The latter enriched and aggrandized themselves at the expense of the poor masses who, believing in their so-called revolutionary leaders, fertilized the land with their own blood and bones—land that the political and economic elites then divided among themselves.
In a blatant disregard of the spirit of the revolutionary wars against the Spaniards and Americans, the political and economic elite of the Philippines sold off the country’s natural resources in quid pro quo deals with the Americans after the so-called grant of political independence on July 4, 1946. Thus, the Americans got their cake and ate it too because while they were freed from the burden of governance of the Philippine Islands, they still enjoyed almost unlimited access to the country’s natural resources through the connivance of the new political and economic leaders who thereby likewise benefi tted from such deals at the exclusion of the masses. The profi ts gained by such elites from such unethical deals provided the capital they then used to further acquire new businesses or expand what they already owned. This, in simplistic terms, how the rich get richer at the expense of the masses.
This is a common thread in the tragic histories of all colonized peoples, not just Filipinos. And this is why I no longer believe in the rhetoric that glorifi es selfrule saying, “I don’t care if we make mistakes in governing our own people as long as it is we and not the foreigner who governs us!” Beautiful words, but deadly to the masses who only end up being oppressed by their own kind. Therefore, I conclude that the only revolutions worth fi ghting for are those that actually improve the economic and human conditions of the greater masses of the people. What matters in the end is the quality of human life, not who is in power. For ultimately the ruler’s right to govern rests primarily on his fealty to the people’s aspirations, and as long as such ruler satisfi es the people’s essential human rights and needs, it does not matter who he or she is. While political systems are certainly important to people’s lives, they are only important if they actually serve to create equitable economic freedoms for all their people. Think Maslow’s hierarchy of values. Serve fi rst a human being’s basic need for economic security and then and only then could self-realization and self-determination be truly possible.
Wars of national independence are just wars to give the country on a silver platter to the native elites who then continue the corrupt political leadership and economic policies of their predecessors. Should the Philippines then have been given political independence by the U.S.? A moot and useless point perhaps. But I can’t help wondering what might be the economic condition of most Filipinos now if the Philippines were allowed to have been the 51st state of the United States. This is not an idealization of America, especially not now with its current leaders. All I’m saying is that what I do know is that the masses of poor Filipinos did not fare better under their own leaders—a fact still true today. The traditional political and economic Philippine elite still oppress, suppress, and exploit their own people to aggrandize themselves no end.
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