Has America invaded the Philippines?


Domestic politics

Since the Philippines gained independence 74 years ago, on July 4, 1946, there have been noticeable constants in the country's domestic politics:

  • Fight against communist and Muslim resistance groups
  • several attempts to implement a land / agrarian reform
  • Rural exodus and internal colonization
  • rampant violence and poverty
  • Corruption and bribery
  • Efforts to negotiate ceasefire and peace negotiations with Muslim and communist rebel groups
  • internal power struggles between conflicting political family clans and military blocs as well
  • diverse commitment on the part of a wide-ranging extra-parliamentary opposition and civil society.

In the first decade of its independence alone, all the governments of the young republic were concerned with putting down the "internal turmoil" which at the time originated mainly from the Huk movement that arose and operated in central Luzon. No wonder; Central Luzon, traditionally the rice bowl of the country, has always been the breeding ground for protest and resistance, especially since the rural population (small farmers and tenants) was fleeced by extremely high rent rates. Sometimes the farmers were forced to pay up to 75 percent of their harvest to the landowner.

With a policy of carrot and stick, President Ramon Magsaysay succeeded in militarily defeating the rebellious Huk in the mid-1950s as part of so-called counterinsurgency (counterinsurgency) measures. Under his aegis, major resettlement programs took place at the same time, with Huk combatants holding one to two hectares of government-owned land on the southern island of Mindanao in the event of their surrender. Mindanao was known as the "Land of Promise" at the time, and the island experienced the second major surge of immigrant (Christian) settlers from Luzon and the Visaya archipelago after the 1930s.

In order to remove the breeding ground for socio-political displeasure, almost all subsequent presidents have since promised land reforms. But until today it has not been possible to implement a genuine land / agrarian reform. Corresponding laws were passed solemnly, but not implemented. Loopholes and exemptions were just as responsible for this as the ultimately successful resistance of real estate politicians.

The era of Ferdinand E. Marcos (1965-86)

In order to be able to enforce political ambitions and calculations beyond economic interests, the three Big Gs (rifles, crooks, gold) ruled - especially during election campaign times. Since the respective opponents were not squeamish with each other. The consequences were prolonged ridos - armed family feuds. On November 23, 2009 alone, a pre-election campaign-related massacre broke out in the southern province of Maguindanao, in which 58 people, including 32 media people, were brutally murdered.

President Marcos nationalized the "three big Gs" by declaring martial law nationwide on September 21, 1972 and holding himself in power until the spring of 1986, supported by the bayonets of the army and police and a close-knit network of loyal followers. When his formerly fiercest political rival, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, was shot dead at the airport in Manila in August 1983 after years of exile in the USA, not a day went by without protest marches and demonstrations against the Marcos dictatorship. It was the wedding of the Street Parliament. Marcos fell because the confluence of three central factors - people power, the revolt of a significant part of the armed forces (AFP) and, so to speak, the departure of high-ranking military personnel five to twelve and a clever crisis management on the part of the former colonial power USA - had undermined his regime. The new shining light was now Corazon C. Aquino, the widow of the murdered ex-senator, whose assumption of office at the end of February 1986 was celebrated exuberantly both at home and abroad.

Who was this Marcos, whose state terror, plundering of the state treasury and forgery of medals are historically documented and are considered gargantuan?

Marcos' rise - guarantor of regional US interests

When Ferdinand E. Marcos moved into the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila at the end of December 1965, the young head of state was inspired by two things. In terms of domestic and economic policy, he wanted to implement his campaign slogan "We will be one great nation again" as quickly as possible. In terms of foreign and security policy, he was concerned with loyal to the former colonial power USA (1898-1946) and Washington’s military hegemony in Southeast and East Asia with the continued provision of the world's largest US bases outside the North American continent, the Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Field.

A targeted policy of incentives for foreign capital should enable the agrarian, feudal-dominated country to catch up with the western industrialized countries - almost in fast motion. Cadres trained in US political and economics faculties were ready to take Marcos. In unison, the company relied on an export-oriented development strategy which, according to the mantra of the time, created massive amounts of jobs and led to prosperity that would benefit everyone.

This strategy required reliable control bodies. Centralization and concentration of state power (apparatus) were the result. Economic planning authorities (such as the National Economic and Development Authority, NEDA) drafted blueprints for “national renewal”, while political and military measures were taken to immunize the new development strategy against possible disruptions (protests, strikes, resistance). In Manila alone, a capital command (METROCOM), drilled specifically for counterinsurgency and supported by the US Office for Public Safety (OPS), had emerged by the early 1970s. This gave Marcos powerful tools to counter political protest "efficiently". In 1968/69, with the Communist Party (CPP) and its guerrillas, the New People's Army (NPA), and with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which was fighting for independence in the south of the archipelago, impressive military formations had emerged, which challenged the state security forces.

Martial law and (armed) resistance

In September 1972, Marcos declared martial law nationwide in order to guarantee domestic "order and security" and not let the country overturn as another "domino" in the face of the looming US debacle in Vietnam. In doing so, his regime secured considerable power to eliminate political adversaries, harass unions and the free media, and strike hard against anything that opposed his claim to rule. The result was a militarization of the state and society. The military alone was increased from 62,000 to approximately 285,000 men between 1972 and the mid-1980s. Likewise, the Integrated National Police / Philippine Constabulary (forerunner of today's Philippine National Police) was expanded and numerous paramilitary vigilante groups emerged.

The Oplan Katatagan (Operation Plan Stability), which was drafted by the military at the same time, aimed primarily at smashing the infrastructure and logistics of the "communist subversion" and "Muslim secessionist efforts" in the south of the country. According to estimates by the Philippine Red Cross, between 1972 and the mid-1980s 5.7 million people, one tenth of the population, were the victims of displacement. Most affected were the urban poor, slum dwellers, farmers, ethnic minorities and Muslims in the south. At that time the NPA was the fastest growing guerrilla in the world and numbered nearly 30,000 combatants. As part of the left-wing alliance of the National Democratic Front (NDFP), which was formed underground in 1973, NPA units operated in 62 of a total of 73 provinces - in some places with battalion strength. New recruits had reached such proportions that a study by the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by US Senator David Durenburger feared that the NPA could establish a military "strategic stalemate" within three years.

Aquino Murder - Crisis Management - "People Power"

The murder of the most famous opposition politician Benigno Aquino Jr. at Manila airport (August 21, 1983) was not the cause, but it was the decisive trigger of a rapidly worsening social, political and economic crisis of the regime. It shouldn't recover from that. Until its final fall in February 1986, not a day went by without protests and strikes - a movement that went down in history as the »Parliament of the Street«. Sharp social polarization and a severe economic crisis turned into a process of progressive delegitimization and isolation of Marcos and his followers. In addition to the radical left, the metropolitan middle classes also mobilized and worked towards the overthrow of the regime.

Alerted by such events, since the fall of 1983 everyone of name and reputation in Washington traveled to the Philippines to study the extent of the unrest on the ground. The State Department finally presented a comprehensive assessment of the situation in November 1984. This served US President Ronald Reagan as the basis for his National Security Directive, which he signed in January 1985. It included measures to avert the risk of radicalization in the Philippines "destabilizing the entire region." In Sibylline terms, this document said: "Marcos is part of the problem, but necessarily also part of its solution."

In plain language: Marcos was only tactically tenable. Of strategic interest - in the sense of an "orderly succession plan" - was an alliance of less corrupt, more efficient military and politicians from the moderate bourgeois spectrum. While Washington distanced itself from the longtime "voice of its master" and the longtime protégé was urged to hold early presidential elections in May and October 1985 by CIA chief William Casey, who traveled to Manila, and Reagan's special envoy, Senator Paul Laxalt, respectively other choice than to bow to this octroi. At the end of November 1985, in interviews with US television stations, he announced February 7, 1986 as the date for such elections. The massive manipulation of the results of these elections finally aroused the ire of the people in Manila that they protested on the streets of the metropolis for four days - from February 22 to 25, 1986 - until Marcos with his family and closest companions flew out of the country were.

The widow of the murdered Aquino moved into the presidential palace as a beaming victor. Carried on waves of euphoria, a "rosary" or "people power revolution" triumphed in Manila, from which, paradoxically, two long-standing corsets of the ancien régime benefited first and foremost: the chief of the Philippine Constabulary and deputy chief of staff, Lieutenant General Fidel V. Ramos, and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. Long before the term "turning neck" became acceptable, Ramos and Enrile were its prototypical incarnations. Literally five minutes to twelve they had given up their allegiance to their president and taken the lead in a military revolt that weighed in on Aquino. Ms. Aquino paid her thanks by first becoming Chief of Staff, then Minister of Defense, and finally succeeding her in 1992.

"Turn necks" and political figures standing up

Enrile, in turn, initially remained Secretary of Defense, although he later distanced himself from the new president and would have liked to have pushed her away. Which didn’t hurt his career. He has since been a businessman, a congressman and a powerful figure in the Senate, from which the 92-year-old did not finally leave until the end of June 2016. For the past six years he has served in the Senate with Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., son of the dictator couple, who narrowly missed the leap to vice-presidency in the presidential election in May.

The Marcos widow, Imelda Romuáldez Marcos, born in 1929, was able to return to Manila from exile in Hawaii in 1991. Here she began her second career in politics and show business. In 1995 she was elected to Congress as a member of her home province of Leyte and ran unsuccessfully in the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections. Since the end of June 2010, Ms. Marcos has been re-elected as Congresswoman. Since then, she has represented the second district in Ilocos Norte, her husband's home province, in the House of Commons. A position previously held by her daughter Imee, who has been governor of Ilocos Norte since June 30, 2010. When a team of BBC reporters asked at the beginning of 1996 whether she was still the third richest woman in the world at around six billion US dollars, the bustling Imelda literally stated: “I don't know whether I'll be the first or the last. The Marcoses did not take anything from the country, they gave everything. (...) I am a beggar; I don't even know where I'll get my next meal from. "

The Post Marcos Era (1986-2010)

People Power included a vital civil society - including the country's influential Catholic Bishops' Conference under the leadership of its Archbishop of Manila (Jaime Cardinal Sin). With Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos, two long-time followers of Marcos who had previously served his regime as unconditional administrators of martial law and corsets, had given up their allegiance to the dictator. Enrile was Secretary of Defense and Ramos chief of the Philippine Constabulary / Integrated National Police (the forerunner of today's Philippine National Police (PNP) and Deputy Chief of Staff. The USA, which at the time with Clark Air Field and Subic Naval Base was still its largest outside of North America Had learned from previous experiences in Laos, Nicaragua and Iran not to support despots unconditionally until the bitter end. Even before Marcos' fall, the US State Department (State Department) and the Pentagon (Department of Defense) had clear signals Sent to Manila that reforms are overdue there - a diplomatic paraphrase of a process that, as soon as dictators even get involved in reforms, they usher in their end.

It was almost a classic guilt of gratitude (utang na loob) that Ramos, who helped Aquino to power and had saved her from attempts to overthrow her several times, was chosen as her "heir to the throne" and was himself president from 1992 to 1998.

Unique in the history of the country, Ramos' successor, the formerly extremely popular actor Joseph E. Estrada, had to quit his job in January 2001 after only two and a half years in office. Estrada, who had previously served as Vice President and at the same time as the highest crime and corruption fighter, stumbled over numerous corruption scandals. He was therefore legally convicted, but a short time later he was amnestied and rehabilitated by his successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Ms. Arroyo's tenure (2001-2010) was a lost decade for many domestic and foreign analysts. After Marcos, she became the most hated president. Her election in 2004 was obviously massively manipulated in her favor as part of the "Hello Garci" scandal. In a recorded phone call, Ms. Arroyo had assured herself with the national campaign manager, Virgilio Garcillano, whether her lead in votes had already reached the agreed one million mark. It survived several impeachment trials, while one corruption scandal followed another, so that businesspeople rank the Philippines as the most corrupt country in the region - a sad position it shares alternately with Indonesia. Transparency International listed the Philippines in its 2017 index at 111th place out of 180 countries.

Despite the enactment of an anti-terrorism law in 2007, euphemistically called the Human Security Act of 2007, and the implementation of the two-phase counter-insurgency plan Oplan Bantay Laya ("Freedom Watch Operation Plan"), the country is still at war with the NPA and in Mindanao. Since the end of 2010, this counterinsurgency plan has borne the euphemistic name of Oplan Bayanihan ("Neighborhood Aid Operation Plan").

Another controversial issue in domestic politics is and remains the debate about Cha-Cha - Charter Change or a constitutional change. The question is whether the existing presidential system should be converted into a parliamentary, federal system. The majority has so far rejected this, while the Cha-Cha supporters - including President Duterte, who has been in office since summer 2016 - vehemently insist on a corresponding constitutional amendment.

From son to president - the tenure of Benigno S. Aquino III. (2010-16)

On the 10thMay 2010, presidential, congressional and senate, governor, mayor and municipal council elections took place, from which Benigno "Noynoy" Simeon Aquino III emerged as the presidential winner by a clear distance ahead of his pursuers, ex-president Joseph E. Estrada. Numerous foreign guests were present as election observers and the international media reported extensively about the ballot in English.

On June 30, 2010 Aquino, the only son of the former President Corazon C. Aquino (1986-92), was sworn in and solemnly moved into his new domicile, the Malacanang Palace in Manila. The hopes that something will finally take place for the good of the people and that the social and economic situation will turn in favor of the marginalized and poor were extremely high. But the country's problems outlined at the beginning were not really tackled under Benigno Aquino either. Above all, the processing of the numerous murders under "Noynoy's" predecessor failed to materialize - much to the annoyance of the numerous relatives of the victims of extrajudicial executions and of "disappearances". However, a cosmetic correction was made in this context: On December 21, 2012, Aquino signed the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act (Republic Act 10353), whereby in the future the kidnapping and "disappearance" of persons committed by the state or by state actors will be considered a special criminal offense and should be punished - little consolation for those affected and their bereaved. Meanwhile, Ms. Arroyo is the first woman president of the country to apply for a seat in the House of Representatives at the same time as she left office. In May 2010, she became a member of Congress for the second district of her home province of Pampanga, a post that gave her at least political immunity.

In the first half of 2011, an excited Marcos debate caused a stir. There was long and wide public debate about whether Marcos was now a national hero who deserves to be buried at last in the Manila Heroes' Cemetery (Libingan ng mga Bayani), or whether he will finally go down in history as a despotic sinister. Opinion on this is and remains divided across the country to this day, even though the Marcos family succeeded more than five years later in having the ex-dictator's body buried in this very cemetery.

Conversations with the MILF and NDFP or movements in rigidity

It turned out to be positive that Aquino resumed direct talks and negotiations with the political underground alliance of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Oslo, Norway, and consultations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Malaysia's capital during the first year in office Kuala Lumpur continued. With the presentable result that on March 27, 2014 a peace agreement in the form of the "Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro" (CAB) was negotiated between the two sides. But just ten months later, the high expectations of finally establishing peace in the oldest conflict region in Southeast Asia were bitterly disappointed. A disastrous commando operation in the early morning hours of January 25, 2015 in the town of Mamasapano in the southern province of Maguindanao claimed 64 deaths - 44 members of the police, 17 members of the MILF and at least three civilians. This incident has heated the minds and heated up the domestic political debate to such an extent that the core of the entire peace process, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, was not passed, contrary to the original timetable. Worse still: Since the beginning of 2016 it has been clear that the BBL in its original form no longer has any chance of ever being realized. Bitter disappointment, anger and frustration could therefore also be heard everywhere during the election campaign in spring 2016. Many people wondered why a negotiation marathon over more than 18 years did not produce a presentable result.

The dialogue with the NDFP stalled again. The main point of contention was the question of how the previously agreed immunity guarantees for the negotiators on both sides will be concretely interpreted. The NDFP leadership accused Manila of illegally preventing over a dozen consultants from doing their jobs or of keeping them detained on flimsy allegations. The fronts solidified when, on March 22, 2014, two high-ranking CPP / NPA cadres, Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma Austria, were captured about 60 kilometers southwest of Cebu City - just one week before the 45th birthday of the NPA.

Since the summer of 2016, however, the thread of conversation between the two parties has been tied again. Preliminary talks on the formal resumption of the peace negotiations as well as a first official round of talks have already taken place again under the aegis of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry in Oslo. The new government under Rodrigo R. Duterte has indicated that it is seriously interested in a settlement of this longstanding conflict and is considering the release of (almost) all political prisoners as a gesture of "goodwill". Duterte released 19 NDFP consultants on bail and even allowed them to take part in the Oslo talks. One reason for this (at least temporary) de-escalation is likely to be that the CPP's founding chairman and chief political advisor to the NDFP, José Maria Sison, who lived in exile in Utrecht in the Netherlands for many years, was a teacher for Duterte in the early 1960s. The next round of negotiations in Oslo took place in the first half of October 2016 and was primarily devoted to economic, social, political and constitutional issues. The third official round of negotiations took place in Rome in January 2017. The initial euphoria on both sides was completely gone in February when both sides accused each other of violating unilateral ceasefire agreements. On February 7, 2017, the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called an "uncompromising war" against the communist fighters in the country after the ceasefire agreements had suddenly been lifted.

In March 2017, thanks to intensive crisis management behind the scenes, an agreement was reached in Utrecht, the Netherlands, to hold the fourth and fifth official round of talks in the Dutch seaside resort of Nordwijk aan Zee in the first week of April and in June. However, the fifth round of negotiations, which was ultimately scheduled for the end of May 2017, failed: The government side demanded a "more relaxed atmosphere for discussion" and a binding ceasefire, while the other side rejected this sequence. Instead, the NDFP emissaries wanted substantial reforms to be initiated before a ceasefire and also criticized the martial law on Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, which was imposed by presidential proclamation 216 on May 23, initially for a period of 60 days. The government decided to take this drastic and criticism-worthy step because there had been open fighting between government troops and members of the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups in Marawi City in central Mindanao, who now profess to be part of the Islamic State (IS). According to the resolution of the Congress, martial law remained in place until the end of December 2019.

Era of Dutertismo (since 2016)

Never before in the history of the republic has the relationship between president and vice-president been so shattered as it was in the case of Aquino and Jejomar Binay just under a year before the presidential election on May 9, 2016. The controversy between the two turned out to be so harsh that Aquino did not mention his deputy during his last speech on the State of the Union and the deputy reacted unusually sharply by unceremoniously presenting his own view of the state of the nation, which was not a good one in his remarks Let hair on Aquino. On the contrary: He accused him of "failure", "insensitivity" and "procrastination".

Binay had to bury his lofty ambitions to become the new president, as did the candidate and former interior minister, Manuel Roxas II, who was supported by President Aquino. The ex-mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo R. Duterte, presented himself as the shining winner of the election. After all, he won the election on May 9th by 6.2 million votes ahead of Roxas.

One thing has already been certain since Duterte, the 16th President of the Philippines, took office on June 30, 2016: He is by far the most colorful and controversial person who has ever moved into the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila. For his fan base, the 72-year-old "Rody" is the long-awaited messiah - moreover the first president to come from Mindanao - who speaks a clear and understandable (sometimes extreme gutter) language and has made it up to the bastions of the hated "Imperial Manila" grind. The fight against corruption, crime and the transformation of the republic from a presidential to a federal system are avowedly its main political concerns.

For his opponents and critics, however, Duterte is regarded as a "sociopath", an "indecent loudmouth" and someone who not only reintroduces the death penalty, but also cleans up and briefs with "drug lords and other criminals of the seedy underworld" Want to go to trial. National and international human rights organizations accuse the new president of at least tolerating death squads in "his" city, if not actively supporting them himself. On the other hand, immediately after his election victory, Duterte announced that, as a gesture of goodwill, the political prisoners would be released and talks immediately resumed with the left underground alliance in the form of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). According to the latest polls by the two polling institutes Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations, the president still has approval ratings of almost 80 percent. A dream result for some, a leaden trauma for others.

Since Duterte took office, a ghost has haunted the Philippines - the ghost of Dutertismo. It is dragging makeshift wooden coffins that have been nailed together - with at least over 8,000 corpses (as of the end of June 2017). The number of victims