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Restitution needed for U.S.-Philippine history


A recent memorial Mass offered in Washington for the late Raul Manglapus, long-time opponent of President Marcos in the Philippines, brought back multiple memories of how the United States has treated the gentle people of that country, which from 1898 to 1946 was the “colony” of the United States.

I became acquainted with Manglapus during his 13 years of exile in the black days of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, a man Manglapus failed to defeat in a bid for the presidency. My most vivid memory of Raul is of participating in a rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House when Marcos was being feted by President Reagan. Raul Manglapus introduced me at the rally as a friend of the Filipino people. I encouraged the 75 friends of the Philippines, mostly exiles, to persevere in their quest for a return to democracy and human rights in their beloved motherland. I recalled my affection for the Ateneo, the prestigious Jesuit university in Manila that many of them had attended, including Manglapus.

The ouster of Marcos in 1986 came sometime after I had participated in a human rights mission to the Philippines. Four colleagues and I saw the corruption and the cruelty that had been endemic in the years when Marcos, popularly elected, turned his country into a nation scorned and distrusted by the whole world.

But the ferment of human rights and the murder of Benigo Aquino, popularly attributed to the Marcos regime, led to what Cardinal Jaime Sin called the “parliament of the streets.”

The demise of Marcos made it possible for his nemesis, Raul Manglapus, to return and work for the objectives of the Movement for a Free Philippines, which he had established in America during the days of the dictatorship. One of Raul’s most successful efforts was the removal of the United States from its long-held Clark Air Force Base and the Subic Bay Naval Base. Finally the United States, after 100 years of the usurpation of vast tracts of land in the Philippines was forced to yield the land to its owners.

Americans do not like to be reminded of what it did to its first “colony,” “possession” or “protectorate.” We were taught in grade school to rejoice that Admiral George Dewey on May 1, 1898, sunk the Spanish fleet in the Bay of Manila and seized the islands that Spain had exploited for over 300 years.

Did the United States ever apologize to the people of the Philippines for what America did to them during the years of occupation? Why was the United States so careless in intelligence that it allowed its own colony to be invaded by the Japanese? Should the United States take some blame for not training the people of the Philippines to develop their resources so that it could now have an abundant economy like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea?

Will the people of the Philippines someday demand restitution and reparations from the United States and from U.S. corporations? Successful lawsuits against Marcos because of the torture inflicted by his government are proceeding through American courts. Will there be other claims against Marcos by 4 million refugees who are working as maids all around the world because jobs, decency and freedom were denied to them in the Philippines?

The arrest and detention of Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, in London; the claims for property taken from the Jewish victims of the Holocaust; and the pleas for restitution by victims in South Africa, Argentina and El Salvador have brought a deepening sense that when governments cheat people of their rights or their property the international community should require them to give restitution.

The United States was probably not the worst of all the colonial powers. But it impeded the normal development of the people whose country it seized. In the name of fighting communism the United States helped Marcos to remain as a dictator.

These thoughts were not in the minds of the 200 friends of Raul Manglapus who joined his daughter to celebrate a Mass in Washington. They shared the deep gratitude that the people of the Philippines feel toward Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the American forces that liberated their country from the savagery of the Japanese military.

But the next generation of Filipinos, like the oncoming generation in every previously occupied nation, may well reevaluate what the colonial powers did to them over a period of some 200 to 300 years.

Remembrance of injustice sometimes turns into grief and guilt in the conscience of those who perpetrated it. Will the United States begin to recall what it did and failed to do in the Philippines after it seized that beautiful country of 7,100 islands in 1898?

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999