The intense Filipino love/hate relationship with America
Sanne van Oosten
Last week, the American Embassy in Manila was flogged by protesters standing up against the planned American military intervention in the Philippines. Last November, the convoy of Hillary Clinton was bombarded with red paint by about 60 protesters. Still, when observing Filipino life, one would not conclude that Filipinos are in any way hateful towards America. In fact, they seem more loving towards America than any Asian country I have ever visited before.
If one reviews Filipino history, it is hard to understand where this love comes from. Right after the Philippines shook of Spanish rule, the Americans sailed in and started a three year war to take over power in the Philippines, only to offer independence in 1946 after bombing Manila to shreds. Bombing Manila was seen as collateral damage in getting the Japanese out of the way. After getting the Japanese out of the way, American colonial power moved even though America stayed present in the Philippines up to this day.
The subject of contemporary controversy, and the red paint splashing of Hillary Clinton, is the Visiting Forces Agreement instated in 1999. This allows the U.S. government to maintain authority over U.S. military employees charged with committing crimes in the Philippines. The U.S. can refuse to arrest accused employees, or may instead prosecute them under U.S. instead of Filipino law. In 2006, the US refused to hand over two Americans who were accused of rape to the Filipino courts so they could be tried for their crimes.
Still, I’ve never noticed so much copying of American culture in any other country outside America. American clothes, for instance, are widespread. One could posit that American clothes are everywhere as it is still the cultural hegemony of the world. One can spot t-shirts of American colleges and jeans all over the world, also in the Philippines. However, nowhere where I’ve been before I have noticed so many basketball jerseys on the streets, especially LA Lakers shirts. In Europe and the rest of Asia nobody would ever want to be caught dead in the basketball jersey unless they were actually on their way to shoot some hoops. And hoops they do shoot. Filipinos love playing basketball, unique in Asia, as football is predominant in the hearts and minds of most other Asians.
Another distinctive feature of American culture that is predominant in the Philippines is the music. Of course, American music is everywhere, also outside the Philippines. Lady Gaga, Flo Rida and Kelly Clarkson are heard out of speakers all over the world. But the only other place where I’ve heard the classic twang of country music outside of America is the Philippines. From old classics like Johnny Cash to newbies like Taylor Swift, Filipinos love country music. I’ve asked around as to why this is, but no one could answer this odd question of mine.
The most predominant way to observe American love in the Philippines is the nostalgic way Filipinos speak of the American colonial period. Before American bombers smashed Manila to smithereens, it was a cosmopolitan city, the Paris of Asia. Manila was the first place in Asia to view the newest Hollywood movies. The Philippines had the first Asian aircraft carrier ever, as many Filipinos have proudly cited to us. The Philippines show a unique attachment to the American period and contemporary culture, while despising the country for their current interference in the Philippines. As always, love and hate seem to be two sides of the same coin.