The Volcano, Filipino Nationalism, and Tomorrow

Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, and made negotiations for the retention of Clark AB moot.

Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, and made negotiations for the retention of Clark AB moot.

Filipino President Duterte is wildly popular in one place, and wildly unpopular in another. The first is in his native country, where he has waged an unflinching war against drugs and crime — a war that has often rejected legal and human rights restraints, and that considers a dead dope dealer as big a check in the W column as one in handcuffs. The second is in the hearts and minds of the transnational elite, including the journalists and diplomats of just about the entire world, and especially with the elites’ Supreme Personality of Godhead, President Barack Obama. As a result, a number of bridges between the once inseparable allies have been set alight, and Duterte is cozying up to American rivals in the region, even appearing willing to cede Filipino claims to sovereignty (which the Philippines lack the ability to defend, anyway) in the contested Spratly Islands, which are now partly occupied by China.

Today, the crater lake of the resting volcano is a tourist stop, and these 1991 billows of ash turned out to be great fertilizer.

Today, the crater lake of the resting volcano is a tourist stop, and these 1991 billows of ash turned out to be great fertilizer — after, unfortunately, killing most everything green that was in their way.

The US military and the Filipino military, which was created in the American image, have always been closer than the societies in general. It will be a measure of President-Elect Trump’s ability to make deals, whether he is able to restore any of the former closeness between the two historic partners. Because, while Duterte and Obama have driven their nations apart from one another, the schism goes back decades, and is bigger than a couple of cults of personality. This page tells some of the diplomatic history of the US withdrawal from Clark Airfield (which was accelerated by the unexpected eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991) and Subic Bay, a departure which threw 140,000 skilled Filipino dock and aircraft-maintenance workers, and at least 20,000 skilled prostitutes, out of work.

The bases were closed, at Filipino demand, and the question became — would there be some sort of alliance and / or access agreement? At  that page, the then-ambassador remembers:

The reason I urged the Filipinos to keep our defense relationship active – this was in 1992 or early ‘93 – was that I felt that they were going to find the Chinese putting pressure on them as Beijing pressed its claims for the Spratly Islands and other areas in the South China Sea, some of which the Filipinos claimed….

The Chinese asserted their presence in this contested area in the South China Sea because of a growing nationalism, which led them to want to reinforce their territorial claims. But I also think they did it as a way of making everybody aware that the Americans were not around anymore, and that the Philippines and the other ASEAN countries would have to deal with China on their own.

I had urged Secretary Baker to take a fairly active position in response to Chinese efforts to put pressure on the Philippines and others who were our friends or allies in the region on the issue of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

I made the argument that even if we weren’t a direct claimant to these territories ourselves, if we were not seen as supporting the interests of key allies like the Philippines, then other allies in the region who are much more important to our interests – especially Japan, which had its own territorial dispute in the East China Sea with China, and Korea – would begin to have doubts about our staying power and our value as a defense partner….

Read The Whole Thing™ (and the several other diplomatic reminisces there).

Much or the damage to US interests in the Pacific Rim has been done by two administrations that saw the “little brown guys” of the region’s many proud nations as so many infantile savages to be lectured and hectored into our superior way of doing things. This policy was not a success in 1977-80 and was even less successful in 2009-2016.

This World Airways DC-10 was destroyed by Pinatubo. More photos of the eruption here at NOAA.

This World Airways DC-10 was destroyed by Pinatubo. More photos of the eruption here at NOAA.

Back in 1991-1992, the US wanted to stay, and many Filipinos wanted the US to stay. But a combination of political weakness on both sides of the negotiation, political posturing, and political opportunism, led to a different outcome.

Right now, US-Filipino relations are in a state as ruined as Clark Air Base was in 1992. If we want to repair that damage, we need to start by listening to Duterte, and not drumming on how deplorable he and his voters are. It’s their country, they get to run it. We ought to be telling them why we should, and how we can, help them, and be honest about how that will help us.

11 thoughts on “The Volcano, Filipino Nationalism, and Tomorrow

  1. Max Popenker

    “we need to start by listening to Duterte, and not drumming on how deplorable he and his voters are. It’s their country, they get to run it. We ought to be telling them why we should, and how we can, help them, and be honest about how that will help us.”

    here are the words of a wise man
    Now, why same policy shouldn’t be applied to other countries as well?

      1. Max Popenker

        but of cause, and you know that already
        BTW, Russians in general have some optimism betting on Trump; Killary was only popular among local libprogs, who are in minority here

  2. LCPL Martinez USMC

    @Hognose,

    I did a couple of deployments to the Philippines and got to know the South more than the North and it’s a cluster. It was pretty common to get our stuff stolen from our Filipino “colleagues”, and we just turned a blind eye. I know there’s supposed to be this cultural connection and that basically, that’s the hinge of all this relationship, but

    from my experience it’s best to just cut Philippines off (or further minimize our exposure to that country), and focus on Thailand and Vietnam instead, also Indonesia. Well Thailand’s obvious. but I think our return of investment is better spent in Vietnam and Indonesia.

    You just can’t deal with a nation that’s so thoroughly klepto , it’s so pervasive, that it’ll affect all our dealings in the Philippines. We can play the threesome game with China and the Philippines, but honestly the Philippines will cause us drama… and any threesome with too much drama is no good for anyone.

    So we should be seeing other nations in that neighborhood (anyone’s been to SE Asia you don’t stick to one girl, if you get my drift, LOL!).

    1. Boat Guy

      You’d be hard-pressed to find a country in that neighorhood that isn’t “klepto”. Danang would be the only place in that part of the world that would rival Subic/Clark; might be worth a look- and a conversation with the folks who live tyhere.
      The “Diplomatic Reminisces” were well worth the time.

  3. Loren

    I’ve been to the areas mentioned for various extended visits.
    The southern Philippines have a serious problem with Muslims. Perhaps Duterte can fix them up once he’s done with the drug dealers. Seems Trump and Duterte have already talked. This making the liberal media jump up and down and stamp their feet. Gotta love it.
    I doubt we can do much with Indonesia unless it involves graft and bribes.
    It seems pretty certain that Trump will have to pull China’s horns one way or the other. Should be exciting.
    I’ll be there tomorrow so I’m going to ask around. Maybe I should wear my red Make America Great Again hat to get the conversation started? I’m bringing a few along for friends.

    1. William O. B'Livion

      > Maybe I should wear my red Make America Great Again hat to get the conversation started?

      Isn’t that called “Hunting over bait.”?

  4. coneandmakeit

    as someone who actually is n the Philippines, I find the world press view myopic and ill informed.

    first of all unlike the majority of Duterte fanboy, I have actually been to Davao. recently too. it’s ok but feels like California with its omnipresent police presence waiting to nail you for a violation. it is nothing special to write home about. it looks like a American style nuisance abatement team went to work.

    frankly Duterte for all his senile drunken rants (yes he is a drunk and slurs his speech) for all his nonsense, does more to emulate America than previous politicians.

    Duterte has no staying power. he is 71 years old. He has major medical issues and is unlikely to survive his full term.

    Duterte also has deep ties to the US. Many of his family members are American, and many of his financial supporters are Filipino American.

    Regarding the US involvement. you really think those clown shoes retards on Roxas Blvd have anyone’s back? The US embassy has been a joke ever since I first went to the place and best avoided like a STD.

    Other items not mentioned is the US supplying defective military equipment to the Philippines military of which resulted several troops were killed in firefights. Privately certain. American advisor here have confirmed that the American gov has been engaged in a low level campaign to monkey wrench things in the Philippines military. never mind that the AFP doesn’t need that added headache after dealing with the corrupt generals.

    The Philippines needs to man up, and not depend on uncle sugar daddy. The USGOV needs to worry about the USA not Africa or Asia.

    The balikbayan exercises should be cancelled also. waste of time and money. only thing that happens is Filipinos steal. I know a guy who shows up selling on social media every year with everything from stolen fighter jet helmets, to pallets of MRE, to night vision gear.

    The Philippines military on the other hand is completely different than it was only 10 years ago. My first time on one of their bases, it looked worse than the slum outside of the base.

    last visit was a few weeks ago to attend a funeral. it looked pretty much the same as any US base I been on and the surrounding slum have been replaced with a uber modern business and entertainment zone.

  5. coneandmakeit

    I might add that a American style deployment to the Philippines is never going to give you a full picture of the area. it is like riding a bicycle with training wheels. You never actually learn the ground situation. Hell 99% of the Americans at the embassy don’t even know what the major basketball teams here, much less anything really important.

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