July 2015

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Ramon Magsaysay

Ramon Magsaysay

Back in the 1950s when the Philippines’ political structure was patterned after the United States’ “two-party system,” to be in politics one had to be a member of one of the two dominant parties: the Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party. And when one became unhappy or disgruntled with his party, he’d bolt his party and move to the other party.

That’s what happened when the popular Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) under then President Elpidio Quirino did a somersault into the opposition Nacionalista Party (NP) and got the party’s nomination to run against his former boss in the next election. Winning by a landslide, Magsaysay took over the presidency on December 30, 1953.

But the untimely death of Magsaysay in a plane crush on March 17, 1957 left a power vacuum. Magsaysay’s shoes were hard to fill and his successor, Vice President Carlos P. Garcia, simply lacked his vision and passion. With the presidential election less than 10 months away, presidential wannabes scrambled for the opposition LP’s nomination.

Manuel Manahan

Manuel Manahan

Raul Manglapus

Raul Manglapus

It was then that a “Third Force” was born. Manuel Manahan and Raul Manglapus, who were key members of Magsaysay’s administration, founded the Progressive Party of the Philippines (PPP), which was billed as a “reformist” party.

Manahan ran as the PPP’s presidential candidate and Vicente Araneta as his running mate. The party also fielded a complete slate of senatorial candidates, which included Manglapus.

Manahan adopted a campaign similar to that of Magsaysay. Even his slogan – “Manahan is my man” – was patterned after “Magsaysay is my guy.” But the two-party system prevailed. Manahan ranked third in a three-way contest and Garcia was elected. All the PPP candidates lost.

In the 1959 mid-term election, PPP allied with disgruntled members of the NP and LP to form a new “Third Force,” the Grand Alliance (GA). This was the first time that a political multi-party electoral alliance was formed. The GA fielded a six-man senatorial slate consisting of three PPP members, two LP members, and one NP member. None of them won. The experiment was a total failure.

In the 1961 presidential election, the PPP joined forces with the LP for the purpose of preventing the re-election of Garcia. They fielded Vice President Diosdado Macapagal (LP) as the standard bearer and Emanuel Pelaez (PPP) as his running mate. Manahan and Manglapus were included in the LP’s senatorial slate as guest candidates. The three Progressives won.

In the 1965 presidential election, the Progressives separated themselves from the LP. They claimed that they were dissatisfied with the Macapagal administration. It was at this time that the PPP was renamed as the “Party for Philippine Progress.” It fielded Manglapus as its standard bearer and Manahan as his running mate. It also fielded a four-man senatorial slate. All of them lost. It was a rout.

In 1969, the PPP quietly disbanded. Thus ended the era of a “Third Force.”

Ferdinand E. Marcos

Ferdinand E. Marcos

For the next 17 years, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos — who was elected President in 1965 and re-elected in 1969 — extended his stay in power by declaring martial law in 1972. In 1986, Marcos was toppled from power in a “people power” revolution led by his Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos. A revolutionary government was formed and Cory Aquino was installed as president.

New era

Cory Aquino and son Benigno III

Cory Aquino and son Benigno III

In 1987, a new Constitution was adopted and thus began a new political and electoral era. The two-party system was discarded and replaced with a multi-party system. It created an environment where no single political party could gain power by itself. That’s when “coalitions” became the vehicles to winning elections. It’s a different ballgame.

Today, the dominant majority party is the Liberal Party and the dominant minority party is the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). There are four other major parties: Nacionalista Party (NP), National People’s Coalition (NPC), National Unity Party, and Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas). In addition, there are more than 100 regional, local, and others including the “party-lists” who represented the marginalized sectors in Congress.

During the last presidential election in 2010, the LP coalition included two independent candidates in its 12-person senatorial slate. The rest were Liberals. The LP presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III won but his running mate Manuel “Mar” Roxas II lost to Jejomar “Jojo” Binay of the PDP-Laban. In the Senate, three LP members and one guest candidate (an independent) won.

With the 2016 presidential election just nine months away, the presidential race has only one declared candidate to date, Binay. He was topping the popularity polls until last June when Sen. Grace Poe overtook him. Poe, who has yet to declare her candidacy, is now the front-runner in the polls.

Musical chairs

Grace Poe, Mar Roxas, and Chiz Escudero

Grace Poe, Mar Roxas, and Chiz Escudero

Meanwhile, President Aquino had invited Poe and Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero to meetings to discuss the possibility of a Roxas-Poe ticket under the LP banner. But Poe insisted that if she were going to run for president, Escudero would be her running mate. That means that a Poe-Roxas tandem is not going to happen. And besides, what would happen to Escudero who is Poe’s close political ally? With all her pronouncements that she prefers Escudero for her running mate, she’s not going to abandon him now. And Aquino wouldn’t abandon Roxas either as his preferred LP standard bearer. And for that reason, a Poe-Roxas tandem under the LP banner is not going to happen.

While the pairing of the presidential and vice presidential candidates is still in a fluid state, a Poe-Escudero tandem has been gaining traction lately. Lately, the duo has been going around various places in the country in what seems like “testing the water” forays.

The problem with a Poe-Escudero tandem is that both Grace and Chiz are independents and thus far have not shown any indication that they would affiliate with a major party. Of the five dominant parties, the LP and Binay’s UNA are out. That leaves them with the NP, NPC or Lakas to choose from.

Interestingly, it was reported recently that former senator Manny Villar, the NP’s presidential candidate in 2010, and Danding Cojuangco, the founder of NPC, have indicated that they would support Poe as their respective party’s presidential candidate. However, they left Escudero out because their party would prefer to field its own candidate for vice president.

Battle Royale

Battle Royale: Mar Roxas, Jejomar Binay, and Grace Poe

Battle Royale: Mar Roxas, Jejomar Binay, and Grace Poe

And that would leave Poe and Escudero with one option; that is, form a “Third Force.” If they’re going to do it, they have to go on the fast track and form a party or coalition soon. Yes, it’s déjà vu all over again. It seems like they could borrow a page from Manahan’s game book… and improve it to win.

With Binay way ahead in the game – he’s been in “campaign mode” since the day he was installed vice president in 2010 – and Roxas as the LP’s candidate, Grace and Chiz would be politically and financially handicapped. And if they don’t have a well-organized campaign and a huge campaign war chest, they wouldn’t stand a chance of winning. Many predict that in a three-way “Battle Royale,” Roxas would take votes away from Poe and Binay would win.

But politics is the art of the possible. Grace’s popularity could turn the tables on Binay and Roxas. Like the popular Magsaysay who beat the odds in 1953, Grace could do the same in 2016; which begs the question: Can a third force win in Philippine presidential elections?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Subic-BayNo sooner had the Philippine military announced the reopening of the Subic Bay base than the leftist politicians started screaming and denouncing the United States for violating the country’s sovereignty. But for a country who doesn’t have the means to defend her sovereignty, the politicians’ concerns –and fears — seem to emanate from their myopic view that the U.S. is the enemy. But what they forget to realize is that the Philippines – their beloved Inang Bayan — would have lost her sovereignty long time ago if not for her alliance with Uncle Sam.

And what they failed to remember is that ever since the Philippine Senate rejected the renewal of the U.S. bases agreement in 1991 and closed all the American bases the following year, the country was left with nothing to defend her sovereignty. It didn’t take long for China to start nibbling at the Philippines’ territory.

Mischief-Reef-Chinese-facility.6In my article, “What price sovereignty” (January 20, 2014), I wrote: “Two years after the U.S. bases were closed in 1992, China seized the Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in the middle of the night. And the Philippine Armed Forces couldn’t do anything to take it back.

“As an afterthought to the Senate’s folly of booting out the Americans from Philippine soil, which left the Philippines at the mercy of a foreign country who’d use force to nibble at our territory, the U.S. and the Philippines signed a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, the VFA states that US forces in the Philippines have to follow Philippine law and have to adhere to behavior that is consistent with Philippine law. The Senate ratified it on May 27, 1999, which makes one wonder how the senators who voted to remove the U.S. bases in 1991 voted this time around? But once again the nationalists went up in arms claiming that VFA violates the Philippine constitution.

“But the nationalists backed off when China took possession of Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in August 2012. China then roped off the narrow and only opening to the shoal’s lagoon; thus, preventing Filipino fishermen from getting in.”

Artificial islands

Chinese-construction-on-Chigua-ReefAnd once again, the Philippines lost another piece of her territory, which begs the question: When will China stop grabbing Philippine territory? Not anytime soon. Right now, China started reclaiming reefs in the Spratly archipelago and there’s not much the Philippines can do to stop it.

To date, China has reclaimed seven reefs: Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Kennan (Chigua), Mabini (Johnson South), Burgos (Gaven) and Calderon (Cuarteron). In at least two of them, she is building runways and deep harbors that can be used to launch fighter jets, bombers, and missiles and provide berthing for her warships. And from these militarized artificial islands, she can then project power all the way to the Second Island Chain. No region in the Philippines would be spared from the threat of Chinese incursion. With an air force without warplanes and a navy without warships (well, she has two refurbished lightly-armed former U.S. cutters), how can the Philippines defend her territories?

“Code of silence”

Vice President Binay and Chinese ambassador to the Philippines.

Vice President Binay and Chinese ambassador to the Philippines.

But what is really strange is that these vocal nationalist and leftist politicians have seemingly adopted a certain “code of silence” when the question of Chinese aggression comes to fore. Many believe that these politicians wouldn’t criticize China because a lot of them receive huge campaign contributions from Chinese-Filipino taipans. As an old adage goes: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. I am not saying that these Chinese-Filipino taipans are disloyal to the Philippines. It’s because a lot of them have businesses in China. Simply put, no taipan in his right mind would put his business in jeopardy by contributing to politicians who are critical of China.

Subic Bay

Subic Bay Naval Base

Subic Bay Naval Base

Reopening the strategically located Subic Bay base as a Philippine military base — not American — couldn’t be closer to strengthening the country’s defense capability. However, that will take a long time and it requires tens of billions of dollars, which the government doesn’t have.

What’s on the plate right now is an order for 12 South Korean-made fighter jets, two of which will be delivered in December. The two refurbished cutters that the country already has will be home-ported at Subic. Together with the fighter jets, they will form the bulwark of the country’s defense against foreign intrusion or invasion. But is it enough to stop China? Hell, no!

Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough-Shoal-aerial-view.2
It has been anticipated that China would turn Scarborough Shoal – which is only about 125 miles from the main island of Luzon — into an artificial island constructed with a runway and deep harbor. What would the Philippines do about it? Are a squadron of fighter planes and two refurbished Korean War vintage cutters enough to stop the land reclamation? Not if China deploys her fleet of destroyers, submarines, and cruise missiles to protect the project from “Philippine invasion.” Remember, China has now claimed undisputed sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal.

In the end, China will militarize Scarborough Shoal just like she did with the seven reefs in the Spratlys. And that’s when a direct threat to Philippine sovereignty and security becomes imminent.

Just imagine China claiming a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal, and declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over 90% of the South China Sea bounded by an arbitrary imaginary line that China calls “nine-dash line,” which runs parallel to the 12-mile territorial boundary of the Philippines from the northern edge of Luzon down to the southern tip of Palawan. What that means is that Filipino fishermen can no longer fish beyond the 12-mile territorial zone. The Chinese Coast Guard would intercept anybody who attempts to go beyond that.

Hard choice

Aquino-and-Obama-presscon-4-28-14In my article, “Sovereignty or security?” (April 13, 2015), I wrote: “On April 28, 2014, the U.S. and the Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The purpose of EDCA is to strengthen the U.S.-Philippines security relationship by allowing the U.S. to station troops and operations on Philippine territory. But the agreement clearly states that the U.S. is not allowed to establish a permanent base and also stipulates that the U.S. is not allowed to store or position any nuclear weapons on Philippine territory. That’s like tying Uncle Sam’s hands behind his back and yet expect him to defend his little brown brothers who have no means of defending their beloved Motherland.

“At the end of the day, something has to give. The Philippines has to choose between sovereignty and security. She cannot have it both ways.”

Indeed, the reopening of the Subic Bay base is the best thing that has happened since the departure of U.S. forces in 1992. And once again, with the rotational deployment of U.S. military assets and personnel to the Philippines, Filipinos and Americans will fight foreign intruders — shoulder to shoulder — just like they did in World War II.

The reopening of the Subic Bay base is just a start, but it certainly is one hell of a start.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Jojo-Binay-worried-faceWith less than a year to the 2016 presidential elections, the presidential musical chairs game has started in earnest. And there are several games going all at once by groups called political parties or “coalitions.”

To start with, these political parties are not ideological parties like what you’d see in the United States and other countries. The Philippines’ political parties are just vehicles — like the country’s unique colorful jeepneys — where politicians can take a ride hoping that it would bring them to their destinations. However, if the jeepney they’re riding in is too slow or is caught in a traffic jam, they can always transfer to another jeepney.

Having said that, let’s take a look at what’s going on with the various presidential musical chairs games. Of course the biggest game is in President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III’s Liberal Party (LP). There are many ambitious participants but only one will be anointed. What would happen to those who would be eliminated? In Philippine politics, there are no gracious losers, only sore losers.

Right now, the LP has only Mar Roxas vying for the party’s presidential nomination, the process of which is for P-Noy to “anoint” who the nominee will be. But Roxas, whom P-Noy had appointed as Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to give him more “public exposure,” lacks the popular support for a presidential run. Recent surveys show him running behind three or four other potential contenders. With an anemic showing that doesn’t seem to improve his chances of winning, P-Noy was hesitant to throw his support behind Roxas, who had given way to P-Noy in the 2010 presidential election and settled to be P-Noy’s running mate.

P-Noy’s dilemma

Grace-Poe-and-Roxas-EscuderoHowever, Roxas lost the vice presidency to Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, who, in the final weeks of the 2010 elections, overtook Roxas in the vice presidential derby. As it turned out, a hitherto secret organization known as “Noy-Bi” was credited for Binay’s surge in the campaign. It’s interesting to note that “Noy-Bi” was not a LP-sanctioned campaign organization. However, it was organized by relatives, friends, and allies who believed that Binay was a true Aquino supporter whose link to the Aquino family goes back to the People Power days of the late president Cory Aquino.

What the LP sanctioned was the “Noy-Mar” campaign committee, which consisted mainly of LP old hands and stalwarts. And this was supposedly the organization that pushed hard to get Roxas elected. But the resources the Noy-Bi had were far too much than what the Noy-Mar organization had. With a campaign chest brimming with contributions from the Aquino and Cojuangco families and their rich allies, Roxas lost to Binay.

In the upcoming 2016 elections, we’d probably see Binay pitted against Roxas again, but this time their contest would move up to the presidential level. However, that would only happen if P-Noy would stick to his promise to support Roxas’ presidential run in 2016. But the problem is Roxas has a ghost of a chance of beating Binay.

Game changer

SWS-survey-June -2015The sudden rise of neophyte Sen. Grace Poe in recent SWS and Pulse of Asia surveys was a game changer. No longer is Binay seen as the unbeatable presidential candidate, the surge in Poe’s poll numbers has toppled Binay from his lofty pedestal, which he had distinctly occupied ever since he won the vice-presidency in 2010.

Seeing Poe’s presidential potential, P-Noy invited her and Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero to Malacanang to talk about a “united ticket” that would include Roxas since Grace and Chiz aren’t LP members but Independents. But their bond was so tight that Grace has made it known that if she decided to run for president next year, she’d want Chiz to be her running mate. Chiz said that he’d support Grace in any decision she makes.

What P-Noy has in mind is to have Roxas team up with either Grace or Chiz as his running mate, which means that one of them would be sacrificed for the good of the LP coalition. The problem with this arrangement is what would be the role of the person who is sacrificed? But before we answer that question, we should first ask if Grace or Chiz were willing to run for vice president under an LP “united ticket”?

Although Grace hadn’t decided yet whether she’s going to run for president or not, she had taken herself out of the vice-presidential race next year, saying that if she’s going to run for a higher office, it might as well be the presidency.

In the case of Chiz, who has been high on the surveys for vice president, it’s not known if he was willing to be somebody’s running mate other than Grace. Needless to say, he has to make his decision whether to run for president, which is unlikely, or vice president. He could run as Binay’s running mate since the two have good relationship in the past. In 2010, Chiz was one of the leaders of the “Noy-Bi” group, a fact that could dampen any attempt to pair him up as Roxas’ running mate.

Binay-nooseIf Chiz accepts an offer to team up with Binay, they might have the right chemistry to run a good campaign. With Binay having all money to spend in the campaign and Chiz tapping the Filipino taipans’ bottomless money pits, they could be a formidable team. However, with Binay’s corruption and plunder cases hanging over his head and the strong resentment against China right now, a Binay-Chiz tandem might not be the way to go. But Chiz has the flexibility to team up with anybody because he, like Grace, is an Independent. In the case of Binay, nobody is willing to run as his running mate. Has the stigma of corruption finally found its mark on Binay?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

TPP-MAP.3By the stroke of the presidential pen, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law the most important legislation of his presidency. Once again he demonstrated his adroit political acumen in an arena full of traps where one false move could dislodge the linchpin of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Obama and the supporters of TPP believe that it is the key to the success of the “Asian Pivot,” which began as a plan to rebalance 60% of American air and naval forces to the Asia-Pacific Region by 2020. Now, the scope of the Asian Pivot is expanding to include a complex trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations, whose annual gross domestic product (GDP) of almost $28 trillion represents 40% of global (GDP) and a third of world trade. The 12 partners are the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, and Chile.

What he signed into law is the “full authority” to negotiate the final version of the TPP, which some people were saying is just a couple of weeks away. Once the TPP is in final form, the 12 partner nations would then get their respective parliaments or governing bodies to ratify TPP. In the case of the U.S., the Congress will ratify TPP on an up-and-down vote, no debates or amendments introduced. That’s possible only because of what Obama had signed into law: the Trade Promotion Authority and the Trade Preferences Extension Act, which includes Trade Adjustment Assistance.

Odd bedfellows

Barack-Obama-and-McConnell-BoehnerBut what is really strange about this legislative action that gave Obama the power to negotiate trade deals that cannot be amended or filibustered by Congress, was that the Republicans supported him. And for the first time in his presidency, Democrats abandoned Obama and dealt him a political embarrassment that could have defined his presidency as a “total failure.” Indeed, the Republicans would have had voted with the Democrats just to get even with Obama because of the Obamacare victory for Obama. That would have been the political thing to do: that is, deal him the defeat that they have been trying to do since he ascended to the presidency.

For the Republicans, they wouldn’t kill TPP just so they can bury Obama politically. TPP’s ideological value is so high among Republicans that they would sleep with the enemy to keep it alive. To the chagrin of Democrats — who would rather deal Obama his political death than give the Republicans an ideological victory — Obama must be brimming with joy.

“Dead on arrival”

TPP-traitorsOdd as it might seem, had the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, TPP would have been considered “dead on arrival,” which makes one wonder: Why is TPP so important to the Republicans that they had to embrace the liberal Obama?

In a recent report in The New York Times, it says: “ Opponents in the United States see the pact as mostly a giveaway to business, encouraging further export of manufacturing jobs to low-wage nations while limiting competition and encouraging higher prices for pharmaceuticals and other high-value products by spreading American standards for patent protections to other countries. A provision allowing multinational corporations to challenge regulations and court rulings before special tribunals is drawing intense opposition.”

But Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, had nothing but praise for TPP. “This is a very important day for our country,” he said. “America is back in the trade business.”

But almost all the Democrats, their allies in the labor unions, environmental groups, and liberal activists who fought the bill (traditional allies of Obama), bitterly disagreed.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the ultra-liberal independent from Vermont who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said: “It is a great day for the big money interests, not a great day for working families.”

And in a sarcastic retort, Sen. John Conryn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said: “Occasionally, even the leader of the Democratic Party, the president of the United States, gets things right.”

Compromise

TPP-MAP.4Obama got all what he wanted and gave little to the Democrats. It was a lopsided compromise. But political reality dictates that if you didn’t have the vote, any concession is welcome. In the end, the opposition collapsed.

Let’s take a glimpse at the rules Obama signed and how they will help ensure American workers can benefit from the most progressive trade deal in history:

1. Lock in the strongest labor protections in history that include: (a) A minimum wage; (b) A ban on forced labor; and (c) Worker safety protection.

2. Lock in the strongest environment protections in history that will: (a) Protect our oceans; (b) Combat illegal wildlife trafficking; and (c) Combat illegal logging.

3. Open up the fastest-growing markets to Made-in-America goods and services.

4. Make every word of the TPP deal publicly available to the American people for the first time ever.

5. Provide support and training help for U.S. workers adversely affected by globalization and trade.

6. Extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act for ten years to: (a) Expand private sector investment in Africa; (b) Instill good governance and human rights politics; and (c) Provide economic benefits to Sub-Saharan Africa.

7. Help U.S. manufacturers level the playing field by enforcing laws that ensure countries like China to trade fairly.

“One Belt, One Road”

"One Belt, One Road"

“One Belt, One Road”

With TPP clearly on the road to success, one wonders: Would China join TPP later? Yes, many believe that China would join TPP if it would benefit her. Is TPP all about containing China? Not so, says the U.S. Although China hasn’t been invited to join TPP, the U.S. said that she wouldn’t block China from joining the trade pact.

But TPP is farthest from China’s President Xi Jinping’s mind. High on his agenda is the “New Silk Road Initiative,” also known as “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR). OBOR has two main components, the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB) and the oceangoing “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR). The strategy underlines China’s push to take a bigger role in global affairs, and its need to export China’s production capacity in areas of overproduction such as steel manufacturing. It was unveiled by Xi in September and October 2013 in announcements revealing the SREB and MSR, respectively. (Source: Wikipedia)

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after a toast at a lunch banquet in the Great Hall of the People in BeijingWhen Obama and Xi meet in Washington, DC in September during his first state visit to the U.S., the TPP and OBOR would probably be on top of their agenda. As the world’s top two economic powers, a collaboration between the U.S. and China through the TPP would create the biggest trade partnership in history, which begs the question: Would such collaboration bring peace to the South China Sea?

At the end of the day, Obama’s new trade route could be the new road to peaceful co-existence.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Lapu-Lapu, the "First Filipino"

Lapu-Lapu, the “First Filipino”

Ten years ago I wrote an article at a time when there was a move to partition the Philippines into five independent nations based on ethnic or religious differences. Some Filipinos are of the belief that because of our differences, we are incompatible with one another. They believe that we are better off as separate nations and separate people.

The move to create a Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao, carved out of several predominantly Muslim provinces, is gaining traction and would soon be a reality once the Philippine Congress passes the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would be the framework for an autonomous region for Muslim Filipinos.

Which begs the question: Is partitioning the Philippines into separate “nations” the right thing to do?

One People, One Nation
August 26, 2005

The Philippines during the Ice Age.

The Philippines during the Ice Age.

Long before the Spaniards came in the 16th century, the Philippines was already a thriving trading post strategically located at the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. Thus asserted Dr. William Henry Scott, a Professorial Lecturer in History at the University of the Philippines, who completed his doctoral dissertation in 1968 entitled “Prehistoric Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History.”

Using anthropology, archaeology, geology, history, linguistics, paleography and paleontology, Dr. Scott was able to put together, in his own words, “a critical summary of what is actually known about the Filipino people before the beginning of Spanish records in 1521 from a consideration of the sources produced before that time.” Indeed, it was a challenging endeavor to piece together the evidence he gathered to provide an answer to the question: “Who are we?”

In the beginning, at the height of the Ice Age, the Philippines was connected to Borneo that was then an integral part of the vast Asiatic land mass. Palawan — where the fossils of a 24,000-year old homo sapiens were discovered in the Tabon Caves — was a peninsula attached to the northern tip of Borneo. South of Palawan and to the immediate east of Borneo, the Sulu group of islands was sandwiched between Borneo and Basilan faintly separated by shallow straits. And from Basilan to the northern tip of Luzon was a contiguous mass of land. And hedged between this land mass and the Palawan peninsula was an island consisting of present-day Cebu, Panay, Negros and Masbate.

Austronesian roots

Archaeological digs yielded stone tools that were dated — using Carbon-14 dating technology — 40,000 years old, and Chinese porcelain that were dated as early as 1,850 B.C. These archaeological discoveries proved that homo sapiens was already in the Philippines long before the migration of Malays and Indonesians to the Philippines. Other proof of habitation were the discoveries of 30,000 years old stone flake tools in Palawan; 11,000 years old stone flake tools in Samar; 10,000 years old stone flake tools including jade in Cagayan; 5,000 years old flake tools, mortars and grinders in Isabela; 2,900 years old stone and shell flake tools in Davao; and 2,100 years old polished stone tools and burial jars in Sorsogon.

What is very interesting in Dr. Scott’s study was his extensive analysis of the languages of the Philippines. According to him, “the family stock from which all Philippine languages are descended is called Austronesian (i.e., southern islands) or, more popularly, Malayo-Polynesian.”

Language tree

Philippine Language Tree

Philippine Language Tree

As a result of his linguistics and paleography analyses, Dr. Scott developed a Philippine language tree, similar to a family tree. It turned out that all of the Philippine languages came from the same root language branching out into three major groups. For instance, Tagalog, Waray, Bicol, Masbate, Aklanon, and Hiligaynon sprouted from the same branch; while Tausug, Mamanwa, Butuanon, Cebuano, Mandaya, and Mansaka came from another branch. However, the two branches were the offshoots of a bigger branch. In terms of familial relationships, Tagalog and Waray would be siblings; and likewise with Cebuano and Butuanon. Tagalog and Cebuano would then be cousins.

When the Spaniards “discovered” and colonized the Philippines in 1521, the Philippine languages were preserved only because the Spaniards — either by design or by neglect — failed to teach the Spanish language to the Filipinos. However, several thousands of Spanish borrowed words were incorporated, through casual usage, into the Filipino languages. Nevertheless, the Filipino languages are not considered “Hispanic” or “Hispanized” languages.

Today, the Philippines is the only former colony of Spain whose first language is not Spanish. I am glad it turned out that way because it would have been a pity to lose the beautiful languages of the Filipino people. After all, the Filipinos are not an Hispanic people but a distinct and unique group of people with a common beginning and ancestral language.

Nationhood

Present day regionalism, or provincialism, is mainly caused by a “presumption” that Filipinos are different peoples with different cultures and languages. There is a tendency for Filipinos to distrust each other due to these perceived differences. There is now some talk of partitioning the Philippines into several nations based on “regional ethnic differences.” The proponents of “partition” claim that Filipinos are different from one another… that they are incompatible with one another… that they are better off as separate nations. Well, Dr. Scott proved them wrong.

I believe that there must be a reason why the Philippines is clustered together into a beautiful archipelago, known as the “Pearl of the Orient.” I believe that there was a grand design by The Almighty to populate the Philippines with people of common origin and similar characteristics. I also believe that the Spanish colonization, however harsh, was an act of providence, the purpose of which was to unify the Filipino people and prepare them for nationhood — a price they had to pay in order to amalgamate them into a nation. The arrival of the Americans laid out the groundwork for the architecture of a future nation — a self-governing Commonwealth period, infrastructure, road building, establishment of a Civil Code, and institutionalizing a public education system which in a span of less than 50 years produced one of the most — if not the most — literate peoples in the Orient.

Philippine Independence Day, July 4, 1916.

Philippine Independence Day, July 4, 1916.

By July 4, 1946, the Philippines was ready for nationhood. Filipino leaders trained during the Commonwealth era took over the stewardship of a new nation: Manuel Roxas, Sergio Osmena, Elpidio Quirino, Camilo Osias, Quentin Parades, Jose Laurel, Claro M. Recto, Carlos P. Romulo and other great leaders of superior intellect, ability… and vision.

Today, the Philippines is undergoing a tumultuous political turmoil. Agents for partitioning the country are demanding for a referendum to partition the Philippines into five independent nations — albeit arbitrarily defined boundaries — that would relegate the Filipinos to perpetual third-rate status and stigma.

It took almost half of a millennium to bring the Filipino people together. And now, forces with a dubious agenda threaten its very survival as a nation. The Philippine republic faces a challenge to dismantle its national foundation. However, I believe that the republic will survive the assault because, at the end of the day, Filipinos are what they are — one people, one nation.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)