Monday, August 28, 2006
Goodbye America (Star Cinema, 1997) tackles the 1992 real-life closure of the U.S. Base in Olongapo City and the effect this situation creates to the Filipinos and Americans whose lives are tied up there. A Philippine-American collaboration, the film serves some kind of historic-cultural reference for the present-day Filipinos whose context of living is still entangled in the perceived web of American neocolonialism manifested through Hollywoodization, McDonaldization and other permutations of American imperialism. This is especially interesting in the light of the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement which provides a virtual U.S. Base in the country even when for certain cases to be discussed later, disadvantages apparently outweigh the advantages of keeping the American servicemen onshore.
The Base’s closure might have occurred in the movie, but as aforementioned, the U.S. troops are actually back and it may only be a matter of lenient time and forgetfulness before the virtual base becomes a reality somewhere in the country. The economy may somewhat get a boost what with a superpower backing us up with foreign aid, loan, investment and industry, but as the movie’s tagline goes, “There is a price.” Just now that the series of Balikatan exercises—a joint military undertaking between American and Filipino soldiers—begins a new episode somewhere in Mindanao, girlie bar joints are slowly mushrooming in the area, for starters. The U.S. government may have warned the G.I.’s to act like its country’s ambassadors, but with the superiority complex of some power-driven servicemen, who will not replicate the recent Subic rape case as well as other numerous sexual assaults on Filipino women throughout American presence? Most if not all of these rape cases, by the way, did not prosper in terms of taking the American perpetrators to jail because the vague bilateral provisions can allow these servicemen to escape. The movie has shown Filipinas working as hospitality girls to Americans in the Base, like being prostitutes to these foreigners is the only occupation they realize for our American Dream-driven Filipinas; this commodification and objectification of our women find parallelism in real life in the current Balikatan as in before when the Base operated a century ago. With the ongoing lopsided (because it militarily benefits U.S. mostly) Visiting Forces Agreement, the U.S. is figuratively raping again the Philippines.
The actual slowing down of the economy is actually foretold in the movie. The prickly character of Nanette Medved is shown working double-time with the Olongapo City Mayor’s staff in the hope of maintaining the city even when the Americans have left their largest naval facility in the world. The movie shows how our economy is at the mercy of Americans, that we are better off subsisting on their money. We have conveniently overlooked that their multinational companies are sucking off Philippine money by capitalizing on our colonial mentality. Even American-identified institutions like World Bank and International Monetary Fund loan us money for economically unviable projects and at astronomical interest rates at that. We are made dependent to the U.S. if that is how we can consummate a semblance of American Dream—Hollywood films over Filipino films, McDonald’s over locals, imported products over native-made—even if it entails destroying the Filipino sensibility. This is how America slows down not only the Philippine economy but also the Filipino identity. With regards to America’s betrayal for closing the Base as was symbolized by the Senator whose assassination was being plotted by the American soldier, it was a betrayal, all right. This is not simply true in our experience but is being felt across the globe ever since the U.S. achieved the superpower status to bully the world into submission. The Iraq and Afghanistan invasions are testaments to this betrayal, for after toppling the countries’ respective regimes, the Americans refused to leave, the oil-minded President George Bush seeing harnessing potential of such energy in the region. Back home, we felt betrayed because certain provisions in the VFA are so unclear that any activity to be undertaken by the servicemen remains undefined. Does that include abusing the Filipino people and the guarantee of getting away with it? So the film’s motif of betrayal resonates in the treachery of the Americans against not only our raped women, but also the countless people who were randomly picked as target shoots (i.e. an Aeta aborigine), who were open fired to (i.e. a pregnant Mindanaoan woman and her brother), who were mistaken for wild pigs (the subject of the film Minsan Isang Gamugamo), and who were tortured physically and psychologically (characters in Lualhati Bautista’s Gapo) just because our great American brothers can do so with their arms and inherent power. The VFA, with its many loopholes and unconstitutionalities, is itself a betrayal for giving pro-American provisions that support American-led alliance against universal terrorism (which expose us further to terrorists), that threaten our internal security with virile and trigger-happy servicemen, that makes a worry-inducing military laboratory out of our territory. This is how U.S. target shoots, opens fire at and ultimately, betrays the Philippines.
Goodbye America can give one the ambivalent feeling of ridding off a master at the expense of one’s economy, like you need but you don’t really need America. It is Goodbye, America, but Hello America all the same. The contradictory insight is good, though it’s only a movie, and the same ugly things are stubbornly happening yet again as if we Filipinos never learn.