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PHILIPPINES: Torn Between Two Colonisers -- Spain and America

By Johanna Son
MANILA, Jun 9 (IPS) - Philippine flags of all sizes are fluttering atop buildings, houses and cars here, as Filipinos prepare for a year-long party to mark the centennial of the country's independence from Spain.

The centennial year of Philippine independence begins on Jun 12, the anniversary of the day in 1898 when Filipino revolutionaries declared the birth of Asia's first republic after rising up in arms against its Spanish colonisers.

The proclamation of independence, made in Cavite province south of Manila, marked the end of more than 300 years of abusive Spanish rule in the country.

So far, official celebrations have been focusing heavily on fanfare and parades. But historians and analysts say focusing only on the revolution that began in 1896 against Spain, one that was shortlived, glosses over a complete picture of Filipino nationhood.

This is because just six months after Filipino revolutionaries kicked Spain out, the country fell under the yoke of American conquest with the signing by Spain and America of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898.

The Philippines became fully independent after American rule on July 4, 1946 -- a day that for a long time had been marked here, many believe oddly, as 'Filipino-American Friendship Day'.

July 4 had in fact been celebrated as independence day here until 1962, when a more nationalistic government decreed that the Philippines mark independence day on June 12 instead.

Other analysts say the centennial celebrations mark only the first phase of the Philippines' struggle for nationhood, and reveals a tendency to paint Spain as the villain and the United States as saviour, or the more benevolent colonial power.

The message of the centennial celebrations seems to be that ''more precious is the revolution against Spain than the insurrection against the Americans'', observed Adrian Cristobal, a political analyst and social critic.

It is as if ''Spain had been the only colonial master of the Filipinos'', he added.

This focus had in fact led what some observers say was the lack of cooperation by Spain with the Philippines' centennial rites, for instance in the naming of an avenue in Madrid after Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero the Spanish had executed in December 1896.

However, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain have been to the Philippines -- a country named after King Philip of Spain centuries ago -- twice since 1996.

In the whole discussion on nationhood, there has been little mention in official celebrations of the Filipinos' bloody struggle against the United States, which ruled the Philippines for some five decades.

''Come to think of it, many Filipinos and Americans are not aware that there was such a thing as the Filipino-American war,'' wrote Ambeth Ocampo, a historian and professor.

In fact, historians say the war and pacification campaign from 1899 to 1902 waged by the American government under a policy of ''benevolent assimilation'', ''civilising'' and ''Christianising'' the Filipinos was marked by torture, cruelty and racism.

''Poor Spain, for being the focus of villainy in our centennial celebrations. There has to be a sense of (historical) proportion,'' Cristobal pointed out.

''It was as if 'benevolent assimilation' under 'manifest destiny' was the best thing that happened to the Filipinos while being 'under the bells' as the warehouse of faith was the worst,'' he added in a commentary last week in the English-language newspaper 'Philippine Daily Inquirer'.

Cristobal argues that Filipinos lose out in the end in the perception -- reinforced by decades of American tutelage here -- that Spain was the only ''true and only tyrant'' in the country.

He says this view may also be behind Filipinos' neglect of their Spanish-language heritage, despite the fact that the Filipino language draws richly from Spanish and Filipinos often have Hispanic names.

This is unfortunate because much of the literature of the revolution remains in Spanish, Cristobal says.

Ocampo does not seem surprised by the dichotomy in the views toward Spain and America. In one of several articles on Philippine independence, he recalls that talk of the Filipino-American war in February 1899 and the barbarity shown by a supposed democracy, remains a touchy issue.

''Hate mail always follows narration of the excesses of the Filipino-American war. One American writer replied to this centennial countdown series, punctuating his letter with the f- word,'' Ocampo explained.

History books say the U.S. had colonial designs on the Philippines even before the Spanish-American war broke out on April 25, 1898, two months after the blowing up of the battleship 'Maine' in Havana harbour.

More than two months before the destruction of 'Maine', American Admiral George Dewey had his eye on the Spanish possession of the Philippines, say authors Moorefield Storey and Marcial Lichauco in their 1926 book, 'The Conquest of the Philippines'.

Subsequently, U.S. officials, including Dewey, deceived Filipino revolutionaries led by Gen Emilio Aguinaldo into thinking that the Americans were helping them in order to block Spanish reinforcements and then would let the Philippines be free.

But this was not to be: a century ago, the Filipinos had been duped by both Spain and America.

Cooperation between Filipino pro-independence forces and the Americans turned into hostilities as U.S. forces occupied Manila, then shut them out. After intense debates at home over annexation of the Philippines, the U.S. Senate voted to annex the country.

In short, in a matter of months, independence from Spain had turned into conquest by the United States.

Spain and America had struck a bargain, to allow the U.S. to take the Philippines without embarrassing Spain, which was already suffering the ignominy of losing Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The Battle of Manila Bay -- where the Spanish, defeated by Filipino forces, were evicted from Manila -- involved no real fighting.

As agreed between American and Spanish forces, ''there was to be no real fighting, no resistance except the display of a white flag after the firing of a few shots to save the delicate honour of the Castillians'', authors Moorfield and Lichauco wrote.

And, making final peace through the Treaty of Paris that formally ended the Spanish-American war in December 1898, Spain and America agreed that Spain would ''sell'' the Philippine islands for the sum of 20 million dollars.

It is with this piece of history in mind that some are saying the Philippines should put as much emphasis on the second phase of the Filipino independence movement -- the American conquest -- as the revolution against the country's first coloniser, Spain.

But then again, yet others argue that the end of American rule in 1946 merely ended the formal U.S. dominance -- and that real independence came only in 1992.

That was the year the Americans closed down their largest overseas military bases located in the Philippines, after the Senate had voted the year before to kick the U.S. installations out. (END/IPS/AP-IP-CR/JS/RAL/98)