U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines
By E. San Juan, Jr.

After Afghanistan, the Philippines has become the second battlefront in the "global war on
terrorism." U.S. troops have intervened to fight the Abu Sayyaf, a CIA creation, as well as the
Communist-led New People's Army. This is a challenge to all Americans: will they allow U.S.
imperial domination to continue? This book is a critical analysis of the social and political crisis of the Philippines under the brutal Arroyo regime. What are the stakes? Peace, social justice for 87million Filipinos and 10 million Moros, democracy, genuine independence, and the struggle for selfdetermination. [272 pp. / 1-4039-8376-3 / $69.95 cl.]

"San Juan is one of the sharpest and most clarifying voices vis-à-vis Filipino/U.S. and Filipino/world relationships extant. He is an internationalist and political analyst of high morale. It’s about time his incisive theoretical summations are given broader access to strengthen the growing understanding of the multicultural united front of progressive thinkers around the world."
--Amiri Baraka, author of Tales of the Out and Gone

"San Juan is a scholar of remarkable range and varied talents…remarkable for his commitment to literature and culture as vital areas of contemporary social life."
--Fredrick Jameson, author of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

"San Juan is one of the world’s most distinguished progressive critics. His book on Carlos Bulosan, among his numerous works, is one of the major documents in the development of Third World cultural criticism."
--Bruce Franklin, John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies, Rutgers University

"This book provides a panoramic exposition on the Philippine experience over the past century. The author offers a new articulation of the deeper-level experience, masterfully appropriating colonial discourse and turning it in on itself."
--Sam Noumoff, McGill University, Montreal

"San Juan’s intervention in the current debates on cultural studies is both necessary and significant. We can all learn valuable lessons from the Philippine experience."
--Ngugi wa Thiong'o, author of Wizard of the Crow
Introduction * Post-9/11 Warnings: The Return of the Anglo Conquistadors * Imperialism under Its Victims' Eyes *Symbolizing Resistance against Empire * Language and Decolonization * Understanding the Bangsa Moro Struggle for Self-Determination * Terrorism and Popular Insurgency * Emergency Passage to the Liberated Zones * Afterword

E. SAN JUAN, JR. heads the Philippines Cultural Studies Center in Connecticut, USA. His latest works include Racism and Cultural Studies (Duke U Press), Working Through the Contradictions (Bucknell U Press), In the Wake of Terror (Lexington Books), Toward Filipino Self-Determination (SUNY Press), and Balikbayang Sinta: An E. San Juan Reader (Ateneo University Press, Philippines). San Juan was recently a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center at Bellagio, Italy; and 2009 fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University.



by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.

When U.S. occupation troops in Iraq continued to suffer casualties every day after
the war officially ended, academics and journalists began in haste to supply capsule
histories comparing their situation with those of troops in the Philippines during the
Filipino-American War (1899-1902). A New York Times essay summed up the lesson
in its title, “In 1901 Philippines, Peace Cost More Lives Than Were Lost in War” (2
July 2003, B1)), while an article in the Los Angeles Times contrasted the simplicity of
McKinley’s “easy” goal of annexation (though at the cost of 4,234 U.S. soldiers killed
and 3,000 wounded) with George W. Bush’s ambition to “create a new working
democracy as soon as possible” (20 July 2003, M2).
Reviewing the past is instructive, of course, but we should always place it in the
context of present circumstances in the Philippines and in the international arena.
What is the real connection between the Philippines and the current U.S. war against
With the death of Martin Burnham, the hostage held by Muslim kidnappers
called the “Abu Sayyaf” in Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines, one
would expect more than 1,200 American troops (including FBI and CIA personnel)
training Filipinos for that rescue mission to be heading for home in late 2002. Instead
of being recalled, reinforcements have been brought in and more joint military
exercises announced in the future. Since September 11, 2001, U.S. media and Filipino
government organs have dilated on the Abu Sayyaf’s tenuous links with Osama bin
Laden. A criminal gang that uses Islamic slogans to hide its kidnapping-for-ransom
activities, the Abu Sayyaf is a splinter group born out of the U.S. war against the
Soviet Union in Afghanistan and used by the government to sow discord among the
insurgent partisans of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front. Protected by local politicians and military officials, the Abu
Sayyaf’s persistence betokens the complicated history of the centuries-long struggle
of more than ten million Muslims in the Philippines for dignity, justice, and selfdetermination.
What is behind the return of the former colonizer to what was once called its
“insular territory” administered then by the Bureau of Indian Affairs? With Secretary
E. San Juan 2
Colin Powell’s decision to stigmatize as “terrorist” the major insurgent groups that
have been fighting for forty years for popular democracy and independence—the
Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, part of a coalition
called the National Democratic Front, the introduction of thousands of U.S. troops,
weapons, logistics, and supporting personnel has become legitimate. More is
involved than simply converting the archipelago to instant military bases and
facilities for the U.S. military—a bargain exchange for the strategic outposts Clark Air
Base and Subic Naval Base that were scrapped by a resurgent Filipino nationalism a
decade ago. With the military officials practically managing the executive branch of
government, the Philippine nation-state will prove to be more an appendage of the
Pentagon than a humdrum neocolony administered by oligarchic compradors (a
“cacique democracy,” in the words of Benedict Anderson), which it has been since
nominal independence in 1946. On the whole, Powell’s stigmatizing act is part of the
New American Century Project to reaffirm a new pax Americana after the Cold War
Immediately after the proclaimed defeat of the Taliban and the rout of Osama
bin Laden’s forces in Afghanistan, the Philippines became the second front in the
U.S.-led war on terrorism. Raymond Bonner, author of Waltzing with Dictators (1987),
argues that the reason for this second front is “the desire for a quick victory over
terrorism,… the wish to reassert American power in Southeast Asia….If
Washington’s objective is to wipe out the international terrorist organizations that
pose a threat to world stability, the Islamic terrorist groups operating in Pakistancontrolled
Kashmir would seem to be a higher priority than Abu Sayyaf” (New York
Times, 10 June 2002). Or those in Indonesia, a far richer and promising region in
terms of oil and other abundant natural resources. As in the past, during the Huk
rebellion in the Philippines in the Cold War years, the U.S. acted as “the world’s
policemen,” aiding the local military in “civic action” projects to win “hearts and
minds,” a rehearsal for Vietnam. The Stratfor Research Group believes that
Washington is using the Abu Sayyaf as a cover for establishing a “forward logistics
and operation base” in southeast Asia in order to be able to conduct swift preemptive
strikes against enemies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, and
Overall, however, the intervention of U.S. Special Forces in solving a local
problem inflamed Filipino sensibilities, its collective memory still recovering from
the nightmare of the U.S.-supported brutal Marcos dictatorship. What disturbed
everyone was the Cold-War practice of “Joint Combined Exchange Training”
exercises. In South America and Africa, such U.S. foreign policy initiatives merged
with counter-insurgency operations that chanelled military logistics and equipment
to favored regimes notorious for flagrant human rights violations. In Indonesia
E. San Juan 3
during the Suharto regime, for example, U.S. Special Operations Forces trained
government troops accused by Amnesty International of kidnapping and torture of
activists, especially in East Timor and elsewhere. In El Salvador, Colombia and
Guatemala, the U.S. role in organizing death squads began with Special Operations
Forces advisers who set up “intelligence networks” ostensibly against the narcotics
trade but also against leftist insurgents and nationalists. During the Huk uprising in
the Philippines, Col. Edward Lansdale, who later masterminded the Phoenix
atrocities in Vietnam, rehearsed similar counter-insurgency techniques combined
with other anticommunist tricks of the trade. Now U.S. soldiers in active combat side
by side with Filipinos will pursue the “terrorists” defined by the U.S. State
Department—guerillas of the New People’s Army, Moro resistance fighters, and
other progressive sectors of Filipino society.
Are we seeing American troops in the boondocks (bundok, in the original
Tagalog, means “mountain”) again? Are we experiencing a traumatic attack of déjà
A moment of reflection returns us to what Bernard Fall called “the first
Vietnam,” the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902, in which at least 1.4 million
Filipinos were killed. The campaign to conquer the Philippines was designed in
accordance with President McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation” of the
uncivilized and unchristian natives, a “civilizing mission” that Mark Twain
considered worthy of the Puritan settlers and the pioneers in the proverbial “virgin
land.” In Twain’s classic prose: “Thirty thousand killed a million. It seems a pity that
the historian let that get out; it is really a most embarrassing circumstance.” This was
a realization of the barbarism that Henry Adams feared before Admiral George
Dewey entered Manila Bay on 1 May 1898: “I turn green in bed at midnight if I think
of the horror of a year’s warfare in the Philippines where…we must slaughter a
million or two of foolish Malays in order to give them the comforts of flannel
petticoats and electric trailways.”
In “Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903
(1982), Stuart Creighton Miller recounts the U.S. military’s “scorched earth” tactics
in Samar and Batangas, atrocities from “search and destroy” missions reminiscent of
Song My and My Lai in Vietnam. This episode in the glorious history of Empire is
usually accorded a marginal footnote, or a token paragraph in school textbooks.
Miller only mentions in passing the U.S. attempt to subjugate the unhispanized
Moros, the Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao and Sulu islands. On March 9, 1906, four
years after President Theodore Roosevelt declared the war over, Major General
Leonard Wood, commanding five hundred and forty soldiers, killed a beleaguered
E. San Juan 4
group of six hundred Muslim men, women and children in the battle of Mount Dajo.
A less publicized but horrific battle occurred on June 13, 1913, when the Muslim
sultanate of Sulu mobilized about 5,000 followers (men, women and children) against
the American troops led by Capt. John Pershing. The battle of Mount Bagsak, 25
kilometers east of Jolo City, ended with the death of 340 Americans and of 2,000
(some say 3000) Moro defenders. Pershing was true to form—earlier he had left a
path of destruction in Lanao, Samal Island, and other towns where local residents
fought his incursions. Anyone who resisted U.S. aggression was either a “brigand” or
seditious bandit. The carnage continued up to the “anti-brigandage” campaigns of
the first three decades which suppressed numerous peasant revolts and workers’
strikes against the colonial state and its local agencies.
With the help of the U.S. sugar-beet lobby, the Philippine Commonwealth of
1935 was established, constituted with a compromise mix of laws and regulations
then being tried in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hawaii. Eventually the islands became a
model of a pacified neocolony. Except perhaps for Miller’s aforementioned book and
assorted studies, nothing much about the revealing effects of that process of
subjugation of Filipinos have registered in the American Studies archive. This is
usually explained by the theory that the U.S. did not follow the old path of European
colonialism, and its war against Spain was pursued to liberate the natives from
Spanish tyranny. If so, that war now rescued from the dustbin of history signaled the
advent of a globalizing U.S. interventionism whose latest manifestation, in a different
historical register, is Bush’s “National Security Strategy” of “exercising self-defense
[of the Homeland] by acting preemptively,” assuming that might is right.
The revolutionary upsurge in the Philippines against the Marcos dictatorship
(1972-1986) stirred up dogmatic Cold War complacency. With the inauguration of a
new stage in Cultural Studies in the nineties, the historical reality of U.S. imperialism
(the genocide of Native Americans is replayed in the subjugation of the inhabitants
of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba) is finally being excavated and reappraised.
But this is, of course, a phenomenon brought about by a confluence of
multifarious events, among them: the demise of the Soviet Union as a challenger to
U.S. hegemony; the sublation of the Sixties in both Fukuyama’s “end of history” and
the interminable “culture wars,” the Palestininan intifadas; the Zapatista revolt
against NAFTA; the heralding of current anti-terrorism by the Gulf War; and the
fabled “clash of civilizations.” Despite these changes, the old frames of intelligibility
have not been modified or reconfigured to understand how nationalist revolutions in
the colonized territories cannot be confused with the nationalist patriotism of the
dominant or hegemonic metropoles, or how the mode of U.S. imperial rule in the
twentieth century differs in form and content from those of the British or French in
E. San Juan 5
the nineteenth century. The received consensus of a progressive modernizing
influence from the advanced industrial powers remains deeply entrenched. Even
postcolonial and postmodern thinkers commit the mistake of censuring the
decolonizing projects of the subalternized peoples because these projects (in the
superior gaze of these thinkers) have been damaged, or are bound to become
perverted into despotic postcolonial regimes, like those in Ghana, Algeria, Vietnam,
the Philippines, and elsewhere. The only alternative, it seems, is to give assent to the
process of globalization under the aegis of the World Bank/IMF/WTO, and hope for a
kind of “benevolent assimilation.”
What remains to be carefully considered, above all, is the historical specificity or
singularity of each of these projects of national liberation, their class composition,
historical roots, programs, ideological tendencies, and political agendas within the
context of colonial/imperial domination. It is not possible to pronounce summary
judgments on the character and fate of nationalist movements in the peripheral
formations without focusing on the complex manifold relations between colonizer
and colonized, the dialectical interaction between their forces as well as others caught
in the conflict. Otherwise, the result would be a disingenuous ethical utopianism
such as that found in U.S. postnationalist and postcolonialist discourse which, in the
final analysis, functions as an apology for the ascendancy of the transnational
corporate powers embedded in the nation-states of the North, and for the hegemonic
rule of the only remaining superpower claiming to act in the name of freedom and
The case of the national-democratic struggle in the Philippines may be taken as an
example of one historic singularity. Because of the historical specificity of the
Philippines’ emergence as a dependent nation-state controlled by the United States in
the twentieth century, nationalism as a mass movement has always been defined by
events of anti-imperialist rebellion. U.S. conquest entailed long and sustained violent
suppression of the Filipino revolutionary forces for decades. The central founding
“event” (as the philosopher Alain Badiou would define the term) is the 1896
revolution against Spain and its sequel, the Filipino-American war of 1899-1902, and
the Moro resistance up to 1914 against U.S. colonization. Another political sequence
of events is the Sakdal uprising in the thirties during the Commonwealth period
followed by the Huk uprising in the forties and fifties—a sequence that is renewed in
the First Quarter Storm of 1970 against the neocolonial state. While the feudal
oligarchy and the comprador class under U.S. patronage utilized elements of the
nationalist tradition formed in 1896-1898 as their ideological weapon for establishing
moral-intellectual leadership, their attempts have never been successful. Propped by
the Pentagon-supported military, the Arroyo administration today, for example, uses
E. San Juan 6
the U.S. slogan of democracy against terrorism and the fantasies of the neoliberal free
market to legitimize its continued exploitation of workers, peasants, women and
ethnic minorities. Following a long and tested tradition of grassroots mobilization,
Filipino nationalism has always remained centered on the peasantry’s demand for
land closely tied to the popular-democratic demand for equality and genuine
For over a century now, U.S.-backed developmentalism and modernization
have utterly failed in the Philippines. The resistance against globalized capital and its
neoliberal extortions is spearheaded today by a national-democratic mass movement
of various ideological persuasions. There is also a durable Marxist-led insurgency
that seeks to articulate the “unfinished revolution” of 1896 in its demand for national
independence against U.S. control and social justice for the majority of citizens (80
million) ten percent of whom are now migrant workers abroad. Meanwhile, the
Muslim community in the southern part of the Philippines initiated its armed
struggle for self-determination during the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) and
continues today as a broadly based movement for autonomy, despite the Islamic
ideology of its teacher-militants. Recalling the genocidal U.S. campaigns cited above,
BangsaMoro nationalism cannot forget its Muslim singularity which is universalized
in the principles of equality, justice, and the right to self-determination.
In the wake of past defeats of peasant revolts, the Filipino culture of
nationalism constantly renews its anti-imperialist vocation by mobilizing new forces
(women and church people in the sixties, and the indigenous or ethnic minorities in
the seventies and eighties). It is organically embedded in emancipatory social and
political movements whose origin evokes in part the Enlightenment narrative of
sovereignty as mediated by third-world nationalist movements (Gandhi, Ho Chi
Minh, Mao) but whose sites of actualization are the local events of mass insurgency
against continued U.S. hegemony. The Philippines as an “imagined” and actually
experienced ensemble of communities, or multiplicities in motion, remains in the
process of being constructed primarily through modes of political and social
resistance against corporate transnationalism (or globalization, in the trendy
parlance) and its technologically mediated ideologies, fashioning thereby the
appropriate cultural forms of dissent, resistance, and subversion worthy of its
people’s history and its collective vision.--###


Cowitz said…
US IMPERIALISM AND REVOLUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES is a topic I am glad you posted on the blog.
We promote Asian American advancement in the United States

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