Feb 222013

University of the Philippines President Dr. Francisco Nemenzo Jr. – Balikatan Exercises

Excerpts from his Commencement Address, titled “The World that Awaits the New Graduates” , U.P. Diliman, April 21, 2002


It is sad, very sad indeed that half a century after Recto called attention to this anomaly, subservience and mendicancy continues to govern our foreign policy. We had a chance to pursue an independent path when the Senate terminated the RP-US military bases agreement. But we have squandered that opportunity.

So that no one will doubt my being a Filipino, let me say at the outset that I am no Abu Sayyaf lover. I would like to see these bandits crushed so that peace will hopefully return to Mindanao. But asking a foreign power to help us do this job is an insult to the Filipino soldiers. It is also an abdication of our sovereignty.

Our participation in George W. Bush’s “war on terror” is fraught with danger. The Texan cowboy in the White House, mesmerized by the sudden surge of his popularity, seems bent on carrying the fight beyond the caves of Afghanistan, and thus project America’s military presence all over the world. Since rebel groups with political causes abhorrent to the US are operating in many parts of our country, it is not unlikely that the Bush-fire will become a conflagration.

“But why worry about that?” some might ask. “Those GIs are here only to train”. Let us not forget the Vietnam War. American involvement in that war also started as a training exercise when President Kennedy sent a few hundred troops to teach Ngo Dinh Diem’s men how to kill communists. But he under-estimated the ferocity of Vietcong resistance. When some American soldiers started going home in sealed coffins, a wave of patrioteering swept the United States. The hawks in Washington cried out for vengeance. It was too much for American pride that a swarm of emaciated Vietcongs could inflict so much damage. Responding to popular demand, President Lyndon Johnson escalated American involvement. The training exercise turned into the most vicious war in history, a lesson that should not escape us now.

An understandable outpouring of anger has followed the September 11 attacks. All over the United States, there is a deafening clamor to smoke out Osama bin Laden. True to our tradition of subservience, we volunteered without waiting to be asked, hoping — like a true mendicant –that the US would bankroll the modernization of the AFP. I doubt, however, if the AFP will get more than antiquated weapons. The US is known for magnanimity to former enemies, not for generosity to servile friends.

If you learned anything in Social Science II, Balikatan should remind you of Machiavelli. Wrote that mischievous philosopher of REALPOLITIK: ” A ruler who trusts his people would rely on a militia, the people in arms; but a ruler who is scared of his own people would invite foreign troops.” Foreign intervention may achieve the immediate purpose of crushing an internal revolt but, he warned, it would also reduce the principality into a colony of the stronger ally.

Crushing the bandits in Basilan will not solve the larger problem of ethnicity. Today, the main threat to the survival of nation-states comes not from globalization but from ethnic conflicts within their borders. This is not unique to the Philippines. In many countries, including Northern Ireland and Spain , ethnic conflicts abound.

Before our ethnic problem in Mindanao grows into a full-blown secessionist war, we should consider in sobriety the wisdom of granting genuine autonomy to the Bangsamoro people. This is the proper context for debating the issue of federalism. It is futile to discuss this issue in the abstract, or in the context of the American experience.

I support federalism if the aim is to grant autonomy to areas inhabited by inintegrated and defiant ethnic groups who are used to governing themselves according to their own laws. But I have little sympathy for granting the same to provinces or regions dominated by political dynasties, whose overlords see in federalism the prospect of carving out independent fiefdoms. That is a formula for weakening an already weak nation-state.


The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted.

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