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The Philippines During the Cold War 1950 to 1960
We know of the Cold War as the conflict between the two superpowers, namely the United States and the Soviet Union, over ideological, political, economic and social differences. This ‘conflict’ that started in the February 1945 Yalta Conference resulted in forty years of tensions that constantly presented the threat of a nuclear war. The Cold War not only affected the two countries involved, but also all other sovereign states continually fearing the outbreak of a destructive war. Upon stating this fact, we Filipinos could certainly be considered as ‘involved’ in the said war.
How did our country get into the middle of the Cold War? What happened to our foreign policies? How did they evolve? To whom did we side on? Hopefully, these and other questions will be answered as we look at the Philippines during the Cold War.
Our country was under the American rule for almost 48 years (from 1898 to 1946). These colonizers had a pretty long and strong hold over our shores; that’s why it’s no wonder “American political ideals and institutions have had a deep influence on the Filipino way of life.” We believe in what they believe. We see what they see. Both countries are pretty much on the same wavelength as far as looking at the world is concerned. The fact that the United States slowly helped the Philippines in the transition from a colony to an independent state through establishment of the Commonwealth, “the Filipinos didn’t have to fight the United States to acquire independence and, therefore, were not receptive to the Leninist image of imperialism.” That is why from 1946 to 1976, the Philippines distanced itself form communist countries as a demonstration of loyalty to its ex-colonizer. It adopted a very strict anti-communist foreign policy, which equated communism with the three major threats to Philippine national security, subversion, insurgency and rebellion [which mean pretty much the same if you look it up in the dictionary]. We saw the communists as ‘evil’ and ‘wrong.’ We saw communism as something we have to get away from. We saw communist countries as a livewire ready to electrocute our country if ever it gets near us. The ‘safe’ thing to do as far as we’re concerned is to “keep distance from communist countries and to remain close to democratic ones, particularly the United States.” Part of this perception is the fact that we Filipinos continued to look at the United States as our only source of security and protection. Our country had been traumatized by the Japanese attacks during the Second World War that we agreed to the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. It was originally meant for any possible repetition of a Japanese attack, but the Korean War prompted us to shift our focus from Japan to People’s Republic of China and to communists in general. This ‘following’ we faithfully did to the United States resulted in the many years of manipulation we endured during the course of the Cold War.
You could label the Philippines as ‘pretty’ naïve and ‘pretty’ blind during the first few decades of the Cold War. It ‘pretty’ much resulted form our high regard for the United States. You could say the Free World still had control over us even after the declaration of our independence in 1946. Former President Roxas even said that, “We are fortunate to have a guarantor of our security, the United States of America, which is today the bulwark and support of small nations everywhere in the world.” After 1946, we had a string of unequal treaties and agreements with the United States. First, the Bell Trade Act that “provided for reciprocal free trade for eight years whereby both countries were to admit each other’s goods duty-free and an annual five percent tariff increase in the following 10 years (up to 1974)…The Act did not limit the amount of United States goods entering the Philippines but subjected seven of the Philippines’ most important exports to the United States to absolute quotas.” Second, the Parity Amendment which declared that “American citizens and business enterprises be given full and equal rights with Filipinos concerning property, residence, occupation and taxation.” Third, the Military Bases Agreement, where our country “leased bases occupying over 400,000 hectares of good agricultural land at no cost to the United States.” Not only was our country obliged to give large tracts of land for free to the United States; but also our government had no power or jurisdiction over American personnel inside the bases no matter what their behavior might be. Fourth, even the Mutual Defense treaty we said earlier had flaws. Even though it stated a guarantee against aggression from the outside, it didn’t say anything about the United States taking immediate retaliatory action in the event of external aggression against the Philippines. It states clearly in the treaty’s Article IV that if and only if the United States military bases were directly attacked will they move to protect us. If you look at each agreement closely, the Philippines always got the worse end of the deal. The problem is, though we were already at a disadvantage, it even compelled some Filipino politicians to use their power over others. President Roxas was one of those continually clinging to the United States. He was said to have prevented eight elected representatives to Congress known to be against the Parity Amendment from assuming office.
This way of executing our foreign policy during the 1950s to early 1960s didn’t really give us a lot of benefits. It just proved our loyalty to just one side of the Cold War. The same thing happened to South Korea. Both countries obviously had a close alignment with the United States and had a rigid anti-communist posture. There eventually came a time when Filipinos saw the Philippine-US ties to be one-sided rather than that of mutual benefit; and that the United States used the Philippines as a tool in its larger global designs. By the time President Marcos assumed office, he ordered a re-assessment of our foreign policy. Upon this re-assessing of ‘special ties’ with the United States, our country learned that it could no longer depend on the “alliance and protection of [only] one strong and powerful nation.” We must be prepared for alternatives and opportunities in order to strengthen our position in international relations. As early as 1968, Philippine foreign policy sought to slowly turn away from being US-centered and move towards the wider base of Asia. The president also started to work on establishing formal ties with the Soviet Union. Before all of this, the implication was that we had no common interest whatsoever with the Soviet Union and that we could gain nothing from contact with them. By the early 1970s, the Philippines had had “contacts in culture” with the Soviet Union; and “material foundations for Philippine-Soviet relations were being quietly laid through trade.” The Philippines was now moving forward, not just staying on the same spot like we did for a number of years. We were moving outward, and slowly opening our minds to the thought of contact with ‘un-democratic’ states. Since sticking to one side of the world showed a rather “simplistic approach to world affairs…[which] were not very useful in coping with the emerging realities of an increasingly complicated world,” the Philippines needed a change. In the years to follow, we continued ties with USSR, US and to other countries of the world.
In the end, we could see the Philippines during the Cold War as a changing nation, an evolving nation. As we look back on the unfolding events of the war, the Filipino people experienced hardships and sometimes confusion. We started in square one, being under the United States and following its every rule on us. The events that followed eventually opened our eyes to reality that Filipinos needed to stand on its own over stronger countries. We don’t need to stick to one country, because the continually evolving world didn’t call for it. We were ‘involved’ in the Cold War, because we stuck with one side. This resulted in some unfavorable conditions for us. The benefit of it is that we were able to learn from our mistakes, especially in foreign policy. We found out that in an increasingly interconnected world, interdependence is necessary in order to survive. The Philippines was still a ‘young’ nation back then. We should therefore look at the Cold War as one of the lessons our country learned in the many years of its existence.
Collantes, Manuel. The Establishment of Relations Between the Philippines and the Soviet Union. Fookien Times Philippines Yearbook. 1976.
Jocano, F. Landa. Philippine-USSR Relations. 1988.
Lim, Benito. Philippine-US Relations An Overview of Philippine Foreign Policy. 1988.
Polo, L. Philippine-South Korean Relations. 1984.
Romualdez, Eduardo. The Philippines and the United States - Shifting Perceptions in a Changing World. Fookien Times Philippines Yearbook. 1987.
Romulo, Carlos. The Only Enduring Basis for RP-American Relationship. Fookien Times Philippines Yearbook. 1978.
Taylor, George. Philippine-American Relations. 1966.
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