A Policy of Imperialism

A Policy of Imperialism

U.S. Public Policy and Christian Social Advocacy: Implications of U.S. Foreign and Domestic Policies on the Philippines
“A Policy of Imperialism”
Peter R. Monkres

U.S. Public Policy and Christian Social Advocacy: Implications of U.S. Foreign and Domestic Policies on the Philippines
“A Policy of Imperialism”
Peter R. Monkres

The foreign policy of the Bush administration is often described with liberal words and phrases and these are repeated by the mainstream media. Thus, Americans usually hear that United States foreign policy emphasizes the promotion of freedom, the spread of democracy or the liberation of the oppressed. Secretary of State Congoleeza Rice has taken to characterizing her work as “transformational diplomacy,” conjuring up associations of global leadership that will usher in a new world order of justice and peace.

But when one takes the time to live, study, work and worship with the people in developing countries such as the Philippines or Chiapas, Mexico, from which I just returned two days ago to attend this conference, one quickly understands that the general assessment outside our nation is that the United States is engaged in the pursuit good old fashioned imperialism. Over and over again, I hear this refrain from colleagues in the Philippines, “Tell the American people that we love America and welcome Americans. But we hate your policies; they are killing us.”

The term imperialism, is of course, a “hot button” term. When we Americans hear the word being used, our first assumption is that the speaker is engaged in some form of “America bashing.” But if we are careful to define the term, we can say—without attacking the United States—that imperialism is a system of domination by which a stronger nation uses its superior power to influence the affairs of a weaker nation. I am fond of using the human hand as a metaphor for imperialism. The five fingers of the hand work in concert to implement the system. The fingers represent: the military, multinational business interests, the church, educational institutions and client government.

Imperialism can be harsh, as we saw when operation “Shock and Awe” was unleashed against Iraq. But it can also be subtle, as with international development programs that dam ecologically sensitive rivers or engage in mining on indigenous lands. Generally speaking, powerful nations prefer to use subtle, rather than overt, forms of imperialism. These subtle forms are represented as extending a helping hand to Two Thirds world nations, in order to help them achieve political, economic and social progress But, if the helping hand of imperialism is rejected, it can quickly “morph” into a clenched fist that is used to compel the weaker nation to conform to the stronger nation’s agenda.

Three laboratories of imperialism currently are being operated by the United States government in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Philippines. They are being used to refine more sophisticated ways to implement U.S. control of developing countries.

In the Philippines, the new laboratory of imperialism was created in 2003, when the Bush Administration signed the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Macapagal Arroyo government. Arroyo received a $357 million dollar military aid package and another $126 million to train the Armed Forces of the Philippines in techniques of counter insurgency war. In return, Arroyo gave permission for U.S. Special Forces to conduct counter insurgency operations in the Philippines as well as immunity for U.S. soldiers involved in militarizing of the Philippines.

The Arroyo administration is a notably corrupt client government of the United States. GMA, as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo often is called, is widely perceived to have been elected on the basis of fraud. Most Filipinos with whom I work say that their country is in a de facto state of martial law. The Arroyo presidency has been characterized by wide-spread human rights violations and increasing militarization throughout the country. An average of one progressive social leader is being killed each week. Reporters, clergy, community organizers, union leaders and human rights workers are being assassinated with impunity. T-shirts of the martyrs are being printed and distributed.

Last October, I met with union leaders who organized a successful strike against the Lepanto Corporation—the oldest active mine in Asia. Lepanto is seeking to appropriate ancestral lands in Northern Luzon for mining and is polluting the wild and scenic Abra River. There is a growing people power movement in indigenous communities to challenge Lepanto’s activities. While we were sharing dinner, word came by cell phone that the union president of the Nestle workers had been gunned down in Manila. He had been too outspoken about advocating for worker’s rights. In the Philippines, the violence is never far away from those who speak out for justice and the killers are rarely brought to justice. For me, it is a situation reminiscent of the Central American death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala, where I did solidarity work in the l980’s. For my Filipino fiends, the current situation conjures up “back to the future” memories of the Marcos government.

The United States is implicated in this reign of terror, although our leaders go to great lengths to maintain what we have come to call “plausible deniability.” When I visited Mindanao last fall, I met with leaders of Moro Islamic and Moro National Liberation fronts, as well as many Christian mission partners. I discovered that U.S. Special Forces are involved in providing a military presence in Mindanao that might best be described as a “Rambo Peace Corps.” As reported by Robert Kaplan in the October, 2005 New Yorker, U.S. “imperial grunts,” as the author calls them, build hospitals, schools and roads while also killing suspected Muslim terrorists. U.S. troops are busy going on joint training exercises in various areas of the Philippines, from the mountains in Luzon to the rainforests in Mindanao. In discussions with Marwyn Gayak, Deputy Secretary General for Military Affairs of the Moro National Liberation Front, I learned that U.S. intelligence services—most likely the CIA—are involved in the systematic surveillance of Bangsamoro civilian communities in the province of Midsayap. Drone aircraft fly over the area each night, searching for signs of terrorists. But residents believe the drones also are mapping the strategic oil reserves which lie beneath Linguasan Marsh. Muslim members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have told Bangsamoro leaders that U.S. scientists often accompany troops on their maneuvers in the countryside of Midsayap. Locals call it “treasure hunting.” In the Philippines, one can easily see that development aggression and militarization go hand-in-hand, and this relationship is being orchestrated by the United States to enhance security interests and globalization by multinationals.

Because the Bush Administration is rigidly ideological, it has encouraged a climate of guilt by association. In the Philippines, this means that all Moro people are suspected of being sympathetic toward terrorists. There is a lack of discrimination between legitimate Muslim liberation groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Muslim terrorist groups such as Abu Sayaff. Because of this pattern of generalization, the U.S. is often involved in the displacing and shooting of innocent civilians who are falsely accused of being terrorists. This is particular true in Sulu, the SW island chain leading to Indonesia. In November of 2005, U.S. troops joined with the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a military offensive against the Moro National Liberation Front in Indanan, Sulu. Residents who were forced to flee from besieged rural villages in the area signed a testimony saying they have seen U.S. soldiers participating in military operations.

Equally serious, the U.S. is offering tacit permission to the Philippine military to serve as its anti-terrorist enforcers. Those who are identified as “left leaning,” “terrorist coddlers” or “communist sympathizers” are put on hit lists. If they speak-out too openly for justice, for human rights, for Filipino self-determination, for land for peasants, against globalization that harms the environment, against assassinations or against militarization they are eliminated.” The list of recent victims includes several clergy of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, with whom I am involved in mission partnership work.

Given the magnitude of suffering I have shared with friends in the Philippines, the colleagues I have lost over the past two years, and the daily violence I have experienced while ministering in the Philippines, it seems necessary and is inestimably sad, to have to say that the current group of American power holders are covering-up their role in the Philippines. Rather than advocating human rights, condemning the pattern of assassinations and funding non-violent peace initiatives, they are involved in military occupation, the prosecution of counter insurgency war and the encouragement of globalization. These facts are well-known in the Philippines, but they are cleverly hidden from the American people. Whenever I speak about the human rights crisis in the Philippines and the role of the U.S. military there, U.S. audiences are inevitably surprised. “I’ve never heard this before. I didn’t know this was happening,” most Americans say.

In the U.S. context, one of the meanings of being in solidarity with those who are struggling for justice and peace in the Philippines is to be a voice for the voiceless, a witness for the martyrs, a casama, or comrade, of the victims of militarization and globalization. More than this, it is to analyze critically the U.S. presence in the Philippines, teach our people what is being done in our name and work to transform policies that are not in keeping with democratic values and Christian principles.

Those who are shaping American foreign policy have been shown to be people who manipulate words, mislead and deceive. Their analysis cannot be taken at face value because it has so often been proven to be disingenuous. These are the people who fabricated reasons to invade Iraq, such as the “weapons of mass destruction” hoax. These are the people who created Guantanamo, Abu Graib and a host of other so-called “black sites” in Eastern Europe, while hiding the program of prisoner abuse that occurred there. These are the people who call kidnappings “renditions,” rationalize torture as “aggressive interrogation” and dismiss human rights as quaint constraints. These are the people who claim democracy can be enhanced by spying on its own citizens. Common sense says the claims of such people must be tested for accuracy. Americans must learn the skill of looking beneath the clever word play and the cover-ups to discover the truth about our foreign policy..

When it comes to the Philippines, we must understand that it is “open season” on progressives who are seeking for social justice and on the Philippine environment. U.S policy currently promotes client government, multinational “development aggression” and militarization to enforce American economic and security interests. The recent mudslide in Southern Leyte was not just a natural disaster. It was, in part, also a consequence of over-logging that is promoted by multinational timer interests. The point is, safeguarding human rights and funding empowerment projects that enhance the lives of the people is not a priority when it comes to foreign policy in the Philippines.

Whenever people and the land are being victimized, Christians need to reaffirm the sacredness of life and stewardship of the environment. We must witness clearly for God’s preferential option for peace and push for non-violent ways to resolve conflicts.

President Bush has frequently said that he wants the United States to offer “a culture of life.” One of the best ways we can do this is by stopping militarization, promoting human rights and challenging the economic forces of globalization that do violence to developing countries and indigenous societies.

Ten Commandments for Solidarity

  1. Go on a delegation to the Philippines, immerse yourself in Filipino reality, work and walk with the people.
  2. Develop mission partnerships that allow member of your faith community to work mutually with the Filipino people on critical peace and justice issues such as defending human rights, challenging development aggression that damages the environment or critiquing militarization in the Philippines.
  3. Study and analyze in order to understand the connections between the war against terrorism, globalization and the current crisis in human rights in the Philippines.
  4. Write your legislators and ask that the presence of U.S. Special Forces in the Philippines end.
  5. Call for abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which has never been ratified by the U.S. government.
  6. Ask your legislators to publicly defend human rights in the Philippines and call for an end to assassinations of progressive social leaders.
  7. Develop an appreciation for the integrity of Bangsamoro communities in the Philippines and participate in building bridges of peace between Muslims and Christians both in Mindanao and in the U.S.
  8. Ask your legislators to reduce military aid to Philippines and fund small-scale, non-violent development programs that improve the lives of the Filipino people. Particularly needed are: land redistribution for peasants, protection of indigenous lands and ways of life, education and health care initiatives and environmental restoration.
  9. Pray for peace and justice to come to the Philippines and for the United States to offer a non-violent, people power preswence in the Two Thirds World.
  10. Speak truth to power in order to insist that U.S. foreign policy be consistent with democratic values and traditional spiritual teachings.

Peter R. Monkres is an United Church of Christ pastor, writer and teacher. He currently serves as the Pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ, a Just Peace Church, and ministers internationally in Chiapas, Mexico and the Philippines.