Today, July 4, marks the Philippine Republic Day, also known as the Philippine-American Friendship celebration; only a few weeks shy from our very own Independence Day.

A global superpower and a rising commonwealth seem to be an unlikely pairing, but this accounts for a cultural and historical tie borne more than a century ago. The United States is considered our closest western ally after colonizing the country during the end of the 300-year rule of the Spaniards in 1898, which then followed the short-lived but bloody Philippine-American War from 1899 to 1902. Since then, both of our countries have basked in the bilateral benefits of trade, assistance, and industrialization.

American greed has established itself as a superpower. A Goliath murdering and stealing from a lot of  Davids. In 1901, General Jacob H. Smith ordered the killing of all boys over 10 years old in the town of Balangiga, Samar. What he said was a howling reminder of the disregard for lives and a blatant display of brutality, "I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me. The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.”

By 1902, it was estimated 200,000 Filipinos were dead. A US general estimated this to be up to 600,000. So this day is not supposed to be a celebration of friendship but a reminder that we continue to lose so they could always reap: a method of superpowers to remain.

At present, about four million Filipino-Americans are documented in the U.S., with the majority of these serving as OFWs, while some are still undocumented.  The Philippines also serves as a retirement hub for U.S.  veterans and is a gracious host for tourists, specifically Americans, because of our proficiency in the English language.  At this point in time, it is suitable to say that we are reliable partners when it comes to trade of raw materials and manpower, proving that still, both of our countries are enjoying prolonged and equitable socio-cultural and economic interests long after our histories of tumultuous warfare have ended. But just like every other friendship, this one is not as smooth-sailing.

To say the least, the Philippines has given a bigger slice to its American ally, one which our generosity may be questioned to an extent. The United States is very keen on getting significant manpower from the Philippines, specifically healthcare workers such as doctors and nurses, that in turn promotes shortage in our own medical workforce in the country. At around a rough estimate of 150,000 to 200,000 healthcare workers, the promise of greener pastures has made it easy for the United States to capitalize on the skills of our own people, leaving us at a settlement of losing our best for their convenience.  Over the past years, especially during the Trump presidency, there has been little regard for migrant workers especially in terms of their labor rights and ultimately their human rights.

The US talks big about championing democracy and human rights to the world and yet fails to settle scores with former colonies. One can also reminisce about the cruel death of Jennifer Laude, a Filipina trans woman killed by Joseph Scott Pemberton, a United States Marine Corporal under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) program, in October 2014. Scott admitted to assaulting Laude at the time but was then granted pardon by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in 2020, six years after the gruesome incident. This sparked major backlash from the Filipino queer community, stating that the release was a prompted act of courtesy from the president to attain mutual respect from the Americans and was later challenged in court.

It is also no secret that, at present, the United States has been tiptoeing along with the Philippines regarding territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea. The greenlight given by President Ferdinand Marcos last February to continue the United States’ establishment and operation of military bases in the country was a controversial yet necessary one. These bases are strategically linked to the surveillance and security of the said disputed waters. In President Marcos’ recent visit to the Oval Office last May, he sought help from U.S. President Joe Biden against China’s harassment of Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea.  To ask whether these military bases and prolonged alliance are an alpha move towards the power grabbing of these two nations is a concern: it is, but as long as we are playing our cards right, then we are on the right track.

Immortalizing this friendship as a testament of good fate and willful historical bond is underestimating the political climate we are experiencing right now.

Credit is given if we harken back to warfare times when the Americans were the ones who recognized our democracy at our most vulnerable state; a war-stricken nation fresh from the rubbles of colonizer troubles—but today, our role spans far more than a bilateral purpose or a boost towards the United States’ continued world dominance.  There is a definite reason as to why these relations have spanned for so many years, it’s because each of our nations have significantly played into the strengths and weaknesses of one another; it’s pretty much a give and take situation, but clearly, we have also been at the hands of their injustice.

As we look back in commemorating the fruits of our friendship today, may we inculcate in our hearts that savoring the benefits of friendship with a global powerhouse is not enough because we still deserve accountability. The Americans have been very polite with their mutual and relational tactics since, and we owe them some gratitude, but not a lot. At the end of the day, that is what friendship is after all. 

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