Sunday, November 30, 2008
The Philippines during the American Era and the Japanese Occupation is a study in contrast. The foreigners present during those times may be similar in being conquerors, but there are basic differences between the Americans and the Japanese that resulted to the disparate appearance of the two colonial periods in Philippine history.
First, there is a difference in the manner of conquest by these two colonizers. On the one hand, the Americans tried to be as subtle as possible in their intent to take over the Philippines after the Spanish colonization. While the Spanish-Philippine War raged on during the turn-of-century Katipunan Revolution, the Americans—a newly-emerged superpower—seemed just to look on, waiting for events to unfold. Inspired by the crumbling of the Spanish Empire primarily in Latin America, Filipino revolutionaries asked for the help of the United States in freeing the islands from Spain. Their plea was responded to favorably, except that the US, by virtue of the Treaty of Paris, had another thing in mind apart from assisting Filipinos to their colonial independence. When the Spaniards were already driven away, the Americans proved to harbor a naked motive of staying for good in order to seize the Philippines as its first colony. The rest of the Americans’ policy involving the Philippines is, as is often said, history. On the other hand, this subtlety was not displayed when the Japanese interrupted the American Commonwealth government in the Philippines at the onset of 1940’s. Forced by the economic paralysis sanctioned by the US upon it, Japan bombed the American state of Hawaii and the Western Pacific Rim where the Philippines is in what turned out to be the beginning of the World War II this side of the globe. When the Japanese succeeded in invading the entire archipelago, they uprooted the American colonial government and laid down their own in the name of Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Whereas the overt goal of the Japanese was to create an Eastern-oriented cooperative of countries, the actual goal was to establish a Japanese Empire. Nonetheless, comparably, the Japanese were less subtle in occupying the country than the Americans: the former instituted educational, political and economic policies in the name of Japanese Imperialism while the Americans masked their imperialism with the euphemistic Benevolent Assimilation.
Having mentioned the colonial policies of the two, it is imperative to present the nature of the motive behind these policies. In creating GEACPS, Japan intended localization to happen in East Asia so that the colonies in its empire will look up to the local culture thriving commonly between these neighboring countries. Hence, as part of this empire, the Philippines was intended to be more Oriental despite the influences of two Western colonizers. Filipinos were supposed to learn and appreciate the Asian culture of conservatism, family-orientedness, and the like. Meanwhile, the US’ Benevolent Assimilation intended Westernization of the Filipinos in the effort of producing brown Americans who will look up to Western culture as superior for its modernism, individualism, and the like. The Philippines was intended to imbibe Occidental culture in order to civilize its citizens in American fashion.
The two colonial periods are also different as presented in history. While the American period proved to be more deadly than its Spanish predecessor with its martial policies like the Howling Wilderness of Balangiga, Samar among other military strategies, Western-centered Philippine history textbooks portray the Americans as saviors of the Filipinos for leaving the English language, a Western-style democracy, and American popular and consumerist cultures as legacies—legacies that only honed us to become dependent, colonial-minded breed of people. The Japanese, meanwhile, were not as lucky in historiographic depictions, because the War they initiated in the Pacific caused them to be portrayed as traitors to Americans and the rest of the imperialized Asians. No matter how Japan itself tries to redress and justify its martial causes, Philippine history has remained marked by Japan’s lingering criminality during World War II.
Readers of the American and Japanese Periods in Philippine History, most especially Filipinos, have a lot to learn from these eras of colonization. First is the lesson of trust. The Philippines had been betrayed by the Americans many times during the course of their stay here (and, seemingly, even beyond, meaning now). Right after the flushing of the Spaniards from the islands, the Filipinos expected their seeming American friends to leave as well, having been done with their humanitarian duty of assisting the Filipinos to their colonial independence. However, history has it that they remained to establish American Colonial government. Also, for implementing Benevolent Assimilation, the Americans yet again betrayed the Filipinos for instituting colonial policies that will have far-reaching effects on the Filipino psyche, from colonial mentality to consumerism. When the Japanese succeeded in occupying the Philippines, the Americans ruined again our trust by leaving us to fight all on our own while they tried to defend their country and the US’ allies in Europe. On the other hand, Japan has a hand in betraying the Filipinos too by bypassing the common Asian heritage and conquering the country for its selfish sake of establishing a Japanese Empire in Asia. It seems that Japan put more importance on national pride than in realizing an intercultural community devoid of traces of Western influences.
Related to this lesson is that of the virtue of self-reliance. No colonizer can claim that they know how to save us from our social problems. They are outsiders to our own milieu, so there is no way that they can fully understand how our culture functions. They cannot justify their colonial motives with supposed assistance like Benevolent Assimilation and Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Americans in particular cannot even stand up to their messianic role when they left posthaste with the Japanese Occupation. Hence, Filipinos can only rely on themselves in terms of trying to save their country.
Another lesson from those periods is the brutality of war. Not only does war take away the humanity in both the conquerors to the colonized, but also does it cause wide-ranging issues like racism, poverty and cultural relativism. Not only were Filipinos dehumanized by their American and Japanese invaders with the ravages of war, but also were they treated as racial inferior, were deprived economically and were contaminated culturally. Because history cannot anymore be rewritten, Filipinos still had to cope up from these social ills even with the post-War period.
Despite everything, there is still a saving grace from these periods, because not all legacies from these colonizers are bad. Some of their cultures are not outright detestable, like the American individualism which taught Filipinos to celebrate individuality in spite of the onslaught of collective institutions, and the Japanese nationalism which taught Filipinos that the ultimate sacrifice a citizen can do for its country is to die for it.