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Philippine-American Relations: Why We See Other Nationalities the Way We Do?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte tells Obama to 'go to hell'
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte tells Obama to 'go to hell'  (AFP Photo/Manman Dejeto)

ith Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte making it crystal clear where he stands when it comes to choosing allies. Duterte has chosen to cozy up to the Chinese and the Russians while stretching his country’s long-standing ties with the United States to the breaking point.

During his recent visit to China, Duterte intimated that going forward it would be China, Russia and the Philippines against the world. After telling U.S. President Barack Obama to “go to Hell,” he then said “I will breakup with America. I would rather go to Russia and to China.” Duterte later indicated he also wanted American troops out of the Philippines as soon as possible.

So where does this recent turn of event, leave the tens of millions of Filipinos who grew up knowing America as their friend? Filipinos who speak, read, write, and even think in American English? Filipinos who identified with American pop culture greats from Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Nat King Cole, Elvis, Muhammad Ali, all the way to Beyonce and Taylor Swift? Will they readily drop their American-bias for Chinese pop culture?

We think it is highly unlikely, even far-fetched, that Filipinos will gravitate towards China, regardless of how much Duterte and his followers want them to. Just look at Hong Kong. It has been over twenty years since Hong Kong became part of China, but it still retains much of its British Heritage.

In fact, if one steps back and tries to analyze the reasons behind Duterte’s split with America, one quickly realizes that Pinoys, not Americans are to blame. Like Duterte, many Filipinos see themselves as “little brown brothers” to Americans. They view themselves as inferior, and believe Americans are taking advantage of them. And again like Duterte, they lash back against this perceived inequity and blame the Americans for it instead of blaming themselves.

Admittedly, Americans can be heavy-handed at times. Even the British, who were once their colonial masters, find them to be overbearing on occasion.  But the difference is that Britons see themselves as standing on equal footing with Americans.

Even the Japanese who were once America’s reviled enemy and battled Filipinos and Americans during World War II, are now America’s closest ally in Asia. Again, the difference is the Japanese do not see themselves as “little brown brothers” to the Americans. Their navy stands shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. Navy as they go on joint patrols in the South China Sea.

As Jose Rizal once said, “there are no tyrants where there are no slaves.” And for as long as Filipinos continue to see themselves as inferior, they will perceive Americans as superior—whether true or not. And they will continue to lash out against perceived injustices instead of sitting down with their American counterparts and ironing out their differences as equals.

Maybe that day will come after the Dutertes of this world have passed on and a new generation of Filipinos is born. Self-assured in their abilities, these Filipinos will see themselves as co-equal to all nationalities. They won’t see themselves as “little brown brothers” to anyone. Maybe at that point we as a nation will have truly “arrived.” Published 10/29/2016

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