The Philippines – Dreams and nightmares

Imagine a country of 7,107 islands and some 94 million people; a beautiful and lush tropical landscape in Southeast Asia, the western Pacific Ocean. A people who have fought for their own identity against the most powerful in the world: The International Monetary Fund and The World Bank and us, The United States of America. This is the Philippines and it is my adventure in early April.

Why travel to the Philippines? I am turning 60 in April and wanted to have an adventure as opposed to a party or going on a dream vacation. I met a teacher from the Philippines on line and we became friends. I have learned a great deal from this teacher about the politics and control of the Philippines by outsiders. More importantly, she has taught me and demonstrated the amazing resilience of a people refusing to stop fighting for freedom. This is the dream of the Filipino people.

Much of Filipino history was dominated by the occupation of Spain for over 300 years from the 1543 to 1898. Independence from Spain led to the Philippines being ceded to the United States during the Spanish-American War.  One colonial occupier being replaced by another! While the Philippines gained its independence from the United States in 1946, there were many strings attached including our continual military presence and our economic control. This is the nightmare of the Filipino people.

There has always been resistance in the form of community organizing, union organizing and political opposition. Of course, this is part of my attraction to the Philippines. I will be staying in Antipolo, a city 16 miles east of Manila. Antipolo is known as the “Pilgrimage City,” because of its important Catholic sites.  Appropriate for the week of Easter and Passover and the role of religion in slavery and freedom.

My father was stationed in the Philippines during WWII fighting the Japanese. But we did not learn the story of our domination of the Philippines due to its military, strategic significance and its rich resources which we have allowed foreign investors to exploit. These resources include gold, copper, geothermal energy and a cheap labor supply.

Today, the Philippines as a member of the World Bank and a receiver of loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is more under the control of the “economic world order” as opposed to a single country although the United States  still maintains a military presence on the islands. The U.S. and the Philippines are moving forward on an expanded military presence to defend against the rising military power of China.

But, at the end of the day, the people of the Philippines are denied economic and political freedom. IMF loans forced upon the country to pay for its debt increases the price of energy and other basic goods, raises taxes and causes unemployment. The poverty rate in the Philippines is approximately 33%.

Justice and civil rights in our country will always be partially defined by our actions around the world. I look forward to the experience of my adventure in the Philippines.

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