Hindipendence: Is the Philippines Really Free from the U.S. War Machine?

Every year on June 12th, many Filipinos worldwide celebrate Philippine Independence Day and the freedom wrested from Spanish colonizers in 1898. Other Filipinos like us, however, claim instead that we have “Hindipendence” (“hindi” means “no” in Tagalog) – challenging the idea that the Philippines is really free. As we reflect on the upcoming Philippine Independence Day celebration, it is difficult to discern true Philippine sovereignty when the reality is that the Philippines is a semi-colony, with the country still ruled by and dependent on the power and capital of the United States.

In 1898, immediately after gaining independence via an armed revolution, the Philippines was sold to the U.S., resulting in a new western power taking the reins from Spain. The cost of the U.S. war of colonial conquest in the 1900s was the significant loss of life, destruction of land, hyper-militarization, and the institution of a surveillance state. In 1946, the Philippines was granted nominal independence, but only after a million Filipinos had been killed while supporting the U.S. during WWII. Subsequently, under a neocolonial relationship, the U.S. continued its plunder the Philippines for its minerals, land for cash crop exports, and cheap labor—precious resources that are still exploited by the U.S. today.

The past and present exploitation of the Philippines is partly because every Filipino president ultimately becomes a puppet of the U.S empire. Even today, President Biden embraces current dictator President Bongbong Marcos Jr. —despite a $353 million contempt order against the Marcos family for their extensive human rights violations and for stealing billions of dollars from the Filipino people during Marcos Sr.’s 14-year martial law rule. The U.S. protects Filipino fascist puppet dictators to profit from cheap Philippine labor and resources exported to the U.S. through institutional policies like the Labor Export Policy, a legacy of Marcos Sr.

The pseudo-sovereignty of the Philippines continues to manifest itself most jarringly through increased U.S. militarization of the Philippines—much like the mobilization of Filipino land and people in support of the U.S. during WWII—and the U.S.-PH military trainings that equip the Armed Forces of the Philippines with the weapons and tactics to repress and kill the Filipino people. The U.S. Senate just recently introduced the Philippine Enhanced Resilience Act (PERA) to send an additional $2.5 billion of “military aid” over the next five years to the Philippines. This U.S. military funding has perpetuated a human rights crisis in the Philippines—with 30,000 killed during Duterte’s Drug War, at least 342 killed under Marcos Jr., red-tagging, surveillance of activists labeled as terrorists, political imprisonment, and torture. All these human rights abuses are funded by U.S. taxpayers.

This militarization allows for increased land grabbing, suppression of dissent, and protection of U.S. profit on Philippine soil. The U.S.’s attempt to expand NATO to Ukraine provoked Russia into war. The U.S. and its allies build up their military presence in the Pacific, provoking China to build up its military. As global tensions rise, the U.S. and its allies are again gearing up to engage in a large-scale inter-imperialist war. The Philippines, strategically located in proximity to the South China/West Philippine Sea, is viewed as a key stronghold for the U.S.

Unequal military agreements between the U.S. and the Philippines continue to prime the Philippines as a battleground in U.S.-led war. Four new military bases have been established across the Palawan, Isabela, and Cagayan regions under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) established between President Aquino and President Obama. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) continues to disallow the Philippines from punishing any crimes committed by U.S. military personnel. The VFA obstructed justice in the murder case of Jennifer Laude, a Filipina transwoman killed by a U.S. Marine stationed in the Philippines.

The Rim of the Pacific military exercises will be held from June 26 to August 2, involving both the U.S. and U.S.-funded Filipino militaries. RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, with 26 participant countries, held every two years in the waters around and on Hawaiʻi. Described as the “Super Bowl” of the military, RIMPAC is hosted by the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet, headquartered in San Diego.

At RIMPAC, militaries will test dangerous and overly-expensive technology funded by taxpayer money, show off its firepower to intimidate rival states (a dangerous step towards direct military confrontation), and instill imperialist propaganda that justifies its existence through nationalistic and militaristic rhetoric in the communities in which they take place. RIMPAC has caused a massive upticks in environmental destruction and sexual violence against working class and Native women wherever their 25,000 sailors are stationed.

RIMPAC will continue to allow the U.S. to strengthen its militaristic and imperialist grip on countries like the Philippines. Despite being nowhere near the Pacific, Israel’s participation this year will serve as an endorsement of the continued genocide in Palestine.

As taxpayers in the U.S., Filipino Americans will not tolerate the blatant priming of their home country to be a battleground for a U.S.-led war, where thousands of Filipinos will be caught in the middle, threatened with violence and death. Why should the U.S. spend billions of dollars to fund for-profit war, when we could be funding American children with education, allocating money towards housing, or creating affordable healthcare systems, or investing in more American jobs? We need real solutions that address the true needs of Filipinos, both in the U.S. and in the Philippines. RIMPAC and the continued U.S. militarization of the country will not address these needs.

You can join the Cancel RIMPAC campaign by filling out this form. Join the International Women’s Alliance, BAYAN USA, and Resist US-Led War Movement in our campaign for a national convergence in San Diego against the 2024 RIMPAC exercises.

Join us to protest the launching of RIMPAC in San Diego on June 29 and 30.

After all, what better way to celebrate true Philippine sovereignty, and sovereignty of all oppressed nations, than to protest U.S. militarization that directly threatens our sovereignty? We know the true power lies within the people—not the U.S. war machine.

Peace, Solidarity, Self-Determination!

Fight for Lives, Livelihood and Sovereignty!

Resist War and Militarization!

Malaya Movement Seattle is a grassroots organization that is a chapter of Malaya Movement USA. Malaya, which means “free” in Tagalog, fights for a Philippines that is pro- human rights, pro-sovereignty, and pro-democracy, and is staunchly anti-fascist, anti-dictatorship.