Colonial mentality

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 12:00am

When demonstrators marched on the US embassy in Manila last Friday, it appeared to be just like any other anti-American rally in the world. The difference was, when the protesters reached the embassy, the marchers met an even bigger group that had turned out to support the United States.

Last year, when US troops arrived for military exercises in the southern Philippines, a handful of protesters was swamped by a huge, placard-waving, pro-American crowd.

Many Filipinos are devoted supporters of the US. To them, if America wants to invade Iraq, it should be backed. This loyalty is not based on politics, or even on reason: it goes back to something the country has never been able to shake - its colonial mentality.

Filipinos, in a humorous, deliberate mangling of English, call it 'mental colony'. It means more than patronising American products, movies and music; more than speaking with an American twang.

It is an inability to separate Filipino interests from American ones. For 'mental colonists', it is all or nothing: there is no 'America right or wrong', because to them, America is always right.

Linked to the belief that the US can do no wrong is that anything Filipinos accomplish is second best. One taxi driver told me he wanted American troops in the country 'because our soldiers would never be able to deal with Muslim extremists'.

The roots of this mentality are planted partly in a profound dissatisfaction with how the country's political and economic elites have mismanaged the nation.

Beyond this, the colonial mentality harks back to an actual colonial experience. For almost half a century, the Philippines was a commonwealth of the US and today grandparents recount it to their families as a golden period they call 'pre-war'. In those balmy days, costs were low and standards high.

The experience created a desire among Filipinos to become Americans. More than a million Filipinos live in the US as naturalised citizens, and there is a crush of people applying to join them.

There is almost no Filipino alive who does not have some relative living in the US. For most Filipino doctors and nurses, a career consists of a brisk stroll from medical school to a plane, and then to a waiting job in some US hospital.

In the 1980s, the Philippine Statehood USA Party claimed seven million members. It fell dormant but is now showing signs of renewed life. It believes that 'nationalism to Filipinos themselves will never work, but their best and perhaps only hope is to subsume Filipino nationalism into Filipino-American nationalism, whereby Filipinos become full citizens of the great United States'.

It will probably never be the 52nd state, but the Philippines is still an American 'mental colony'.