AFP Chief Catapang as America’s ‘little brother’
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Gregorio Pio Catapang was named after two of the most courageous generals in Philippine history, according to his Wikipedia page.
Gregorio del Pilar and Pio del Pilar, heroes in the fight against Spanish and American colonial rule, probably want their names back, as they turn in their graves after their namesake painted himself as a Philippine military commander clueless about his own country’s history.
At the closing ceremony of the Balikatan U-S.-Philippine military exercises, Catapang thanked the United States and hailed the country that once referred to Filipinos as “Little Brown Brothers” as his “big brother.”
What in the world was he thinking? And his timing was terrible.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the unofficial end of the Philippine-American War.
“Unofficial” because the war, which erupted in 1899 after the U.S. stabbed the Filipino revolutionary forces in the back by declaring that the archipelago was American property, was officially declared over by Washington in 1902.
But not really.
The Filipinos kept on fighting, kept on defying American colonial rule, kept on waging a guerrilla war that ended only in 1915.
The two Filipino heroes Catapang was named after were among the most the valiant warriors in that struggle.
Gregorio del Pilar was 24 when he was killed in battle at the Battle of Tirad Pass. Pio del Pilar led many battles against the Americans before he was finally captured and exiled to Guam with fellow revolutionaries, such as Apolinario Mabini and Artemio Ricarte.
About 200,000 Filipinos died in the Philippine-American War, although some historians say the death toll probably reached a million.
Most Americans (and many Filipinos) don’t even know that such a war happened. In fact, for many years, that chapter in American history was referred to in U.S. history books as “the Filipino insurrection against the United States.”
As a San Francisco-based historian once told me, “What’s in a name by Shakespeare is dead wrong in politics. Insurrection implies insurrection against legitimate authority. As far as the Americans were concerned, it was legitimate. As far as the Filipinos were concerned, it was a war to assert their nationalist rights against a colonial power.”
Now, this isn’t just about forgotten history.
In his closing remarks, Catapang also said, as reported in INQUIRER.net, “There’s no other country that can help us in addressing these global concerns. No other country we can think about but the United States.”
Clearly, one of the concerns he’s talking about is the conflict with China. But by calling the U.S. his “big brother,” Catapang did Beijing a huge a favor. The AFP chief helped Beijing in its effort to paint the Philippines as nothing more than an American stooge.
And Catapang just reinforced the view that the Philippine government’s strategy in dealing with Beijing is based on a flawed premise: That Catapang’s “big brother” will join the fight and maybe even do the fighting for the Filipinos.
Unless China does something really stupid and overplays its hand, that’ll never happen. The U.S. will never get involved. Yes, tensions have risen between the U.S. and China over the conflict in Southeast Asia and over trade and economic issues. But the economies of the two countries are so intertwined that neither side would want to go to war over a territorial dispute involving the Philippines.
A concession from Beijing on issues related to trade or intellectual property could prompt Washington to conveniently sidestep or even ignore a territorial dispute involving a minor ally.
Even if that ally looks up to it as a big brother.
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