For the first time, the Philippines Navy will be participating in the Rim of the Pacific Exercises (RIMPAC) this July-August in Pearl Harbor. As two Filipinas who were born and raised in Hawaii, we see this moment as a crystallization of centuries of unresolved military trauma.
There are many responses to this situation, but any desire to imagine the Philippines participating in peace, not war, requires a deep confrontation of the hurts caused by our long experience with militarism.
Filipinos have experienced military violence since imperial nations have attempted to take over and control our homelands for almost 500 years. Since 1521, Spain used militarism and religion to control the Filipino people so it could use the lands as outposts for the Manila-Acapulco trade routes.
At the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. bought the Philippines from Spain for $20 million. They imposed brutal military violence and resource extraction against whole communities, and ideological pacification through education, religion and media.
During World War II, Japanese occupiers mass-murdered village men, and then rounded up the women and children to be raped, many to death, through the comfort women system.
These imperial conquerors sought to impose foreign government structures in the Philippines, appointing political leaders who would maintain their interests. The modern government became corrupt, pushing many Filipinos from their homelands to survive abroad in places like Hawaii.
Since the military has become a major political institution in Philippine society, many Filipinos have been recruited to serve, or are repressed by its brutal violence. This violent discipline turned the Philippine nation-state into a node within the network of military bases that spread across Oceania.
The Republic’s Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) receives aid and joint training with the U.S. through policies like the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which strengthens military forces but gives immunity to foreign and domestic soldiers for sexual abuse and murder of civilians.
Many Filipino veterans were recruited to help the Americans during World War II, however, many are still waiting to receive recognition and benefits for their service. Today, the modern Philippine nation-state aspires to destructive and unsustainable global economic standards, extracting resources and exporting natural and human resources for international markets.
Moreover, the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific Rebalance Policy justifies the militarization of the Philippines and the whole Pacific region, including Guam, American Samoa and Hawaii. RIMPAC will facilitate this military growth and expansion through bringing together the militaries of nations around the world, to practice their naval war techniques in Hawaiian waters. The Philippines Navy is among those 26 nations represented in RIMPAC in 2018.
Don Coyhis of the Mohican Nation, and founder of the White Bison Inc., says that a people cannot liberate themselves from their colonial past if they do not heal their intergenerational trauma. The complicity of the postcolonial Philippines State in RIMPAC is a byproduct of unresolved colonial history, in which the Filipino people are trapped under a political system that mimics former colonizers’ imposed developmental values and priorities.
Even as a native born political leader, President Duterte established Martial law in Mindanao in May 2017, urging violence against Lumad, Moros of Mindanao, and Indigenous Peoples, so the lands are cleared for resource extraction and urbanization. Yet, the very people he attacks, such as the Lumad Schools like Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, have been practicing sustainable models of living that could very well teach the Philippines how to depart from this colonial illusion.
While we state this, we witness Duterte supporters from the Philippines who tell us in the diaspora that we do not understand the necessity of his actions; we did not grow up in poverty or with the threat of death in the streets.
Being born and raised as Filipina settlers in Hawaii, we’ve had to critically reflect on the narratives passed down to us from our ethnic communities who escaped their homeland. But we feel a hypocrisy when the Philippines, once a victim of empires, is now part of RIMPAC efforts, participating in the destruction of land, ocean and Indigenous culture here in Hawaii.
To explain the root of this problem, we’ve recounted how the Philippines’ government was imposed and passed down inter-generationally, treating the environment and its diverse peoples as if they are disposable, or always available to take from, without consequences.
To choose a different future, we are learning from the Indigenous peoples in our homeland and in our diaspora of Hawaii. Kanaka Maoli reclaim their will to protect their love for the land during the Mauna a Wakea movement against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
We learned the principle of Kapu Aloha — even in moments of hostile polarization with state opponents that seek to evict them, they build the emotional strength to rise above retaliation against those who harm, and they refuse to submit to oppression. Instead, they are steadfast in unfolding a position of love and forgiveness in the face of the perpetrators by seeing their humanity, and with patience, understand how they came to be that way.
As Filipinas, we do not welcome the Philippines Navy participation in Hawaii’s RIMPAC 2018. Our history shows that we’ve been harmed by militarization. Why should we follow the footsteps of our oppressors? It is time to stand steadfast to protect our islands and to decolonize.
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