The Philippines: power and money . . .

Posted on Dec 22 1998

“This is a country where power and money really counts,” said the late Larry Hillblom, the eccentric American multi-millionaire who founded DHL Worldwide Express. It was a remark he made to my father and me as we breakfasted in the lobby of Manila’s Admiral hotel back in 1993, just two years before he died in an airplane accident somewhere off Pagan island. It was a lesson I never forgot.

It is no wonder, then, that visiting scholar Vicente Rafael approached the photographic images of America’s colonial foray into the Philippine islands from a Marxist-based cultural studies perspective. In an essay he recently presented at the University of Hawaii, Mr. Rafael spoke in insecure, victimized terms. In examining the historical photos of America in the Philippines, he spoke of peculiar notions such as “colonial exploitation,” “the imperialist gaze,” “predatory objects of foreign intent,” “weapons of subjugation,” “dialectical images,” and “the politics of seeing.”

Through these historical photographs, Mr. Rafael painted a vivid picture of American colonial exploitation. Images of Filipinos progressing toward civilized Western standards in dress, education and manner were sharply contrasted with “Igirot” Filipino mountain people, tribal savages all; thus justifying America’s sublime policy of “benevolent assimilation.”

But as Mr. Rafael himself later conceded during questioning, Filipinos themselves discriminated against one another, drawing class distinctions based on wealth, education and race. The “illustrado” class, as they were known, those with some European ancestry, fared far better than the purer indigenous Filipinos of greater Malay stock.

“How do you suppose true Filipino patriots like Manuel Quezon and Carlos Romolo would respond to your [blatantly leftist, anti-American] presentation?” I asked the professor.

“I wouldn’t know,” responded Mr. Rafael, evading the question. “They are both dead.”

“Yes, but surely you could speculate. Carlos Romolo was a prolific writer. He left a substantial body of work,” I countered.

Carlos Romolo and Manuel Quezon, the Filipino elite, the Spaniard meztisos, the professor replied, would not consider the tribal “Igirot” mountain savages to be true Filipinos at all. They were completely embarrassed when the Americans displayed them at some sort of state fair in the United States–apparently, a showcase for the ‘White man’s burden,” a.k.a. “benevolent assimilation.”

The so-called “politics of seeing,” the politics of power relationships, really, remains in the Philippines to this day. It was there both before and after American rule.

Americans — or for that matter, Europeans — did not introduce exploitation and abuse into their colonial outposts. According to author Thomas Sowell, for example, black slavery took place in Africa centuries before the introduction of Western Europeans into
the continent. And yet still, the West continues to be vilified in “intellectual” and academic circles everywhere.

When in doubt, the leftists tell us, blame America. Blame the evil, greedy West for all of our miserable afflictions.

But to be fair, this isn’t always the case. When President Harry S. Truman was showing Carlos Romolo around his new presidential library in 1950s Missouri, he pointed toward a photo of General Douglas MacArthur and sarcastically declared, “And over there is God himself.”

To which Mr. Romolo replied, “But, Mr. President, in the Philippines we think he is.” Sadly, for many Americans, almost nothing is sacred.

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