I suppose having visited the Philippines twice now I should write down my experiences and observations, after all I live in a nation that subjugates it and humiliates it under a parasitic semi-colonial and semi-feudal status to satiate the vampiric thirst of Yankee imperialism. As a child growing up all I knew about the Philippines was that, unlike it’s neighbors in China or Indonesia, it is the only predominantly Catholic nation in Asia, a direct result of 300 years of Spanish colonization. What I would later come to find out is that the Philippines was also administered by Mexico. The fact that it had been administered by Mexico for quite a long time until Mexico’s own independence in 1821 peaked my interest more than a little bit. I was also intrigued at the alleged similarities. Indeed the first impression I had as I walked the bustling streets of Manila, heard the noises, got a whiff of the air and read the street names(there was even a Pancho Villa Ave.) I was immediately reminded of Mexico. I am sure other Mexicans who visit will be reminded of this as the Philippines shares many striking similarities with Mexico, as well as the rest of the Hispanic world. From cuisine, culture, customs, religion, and even language the similarities between these great nations are apparent. Even more apparent the fact that both the Philippines and Latin America have a shared experience of oppression and subjugation by both Spanish and American imperialism throughout their entire histories. It is as if by fate that the same year Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire in 1521, was also the same year Ferdinand Magellan “discovered” and claimed for the Spanish Crown the islands which would later be known as “Filipinas”, in honor of the Hapsburg King Felipe of Spain.
The inseparable ties formed between these nations from this point on is rarely mentioned in history books, both Filipino and Mexican. For 250 years, from 1565 to 1815, Filipinas was administered through the Virreinato de Nueva España(Mexico) for the Spanish Crown. With the exception of Miguel Legazpi, in the 250 years of administration from Mexico city, all the governor-generals had been born in Mexico. Most of the soldiers, colonists, missionaries, and traders who went to the Philippines had also been born in Mexico. Most of the Mexicans at this time, especially the natives, could not speak Spanish and brought with them their language, and to this day there exist many Nahuatl loan words(as well as Taino) in the Tagalog language. From the Philippines came the mango, which is enjoyed as much as it is in Mexico as it is in the Philippines.
The ties between these two great nations also extend to their shared struggle against colonialism which often inter lapped such as in the case of Andres Novales, a Mexican soldier inspired by the Mexican Independence movement, who led the first major colonial uprising in Asia, although he ultimately failed to gather the populace under the cause for national liberation, he was one of the first revolutionaries to take up the gun against Spanish imperialism. The assistance provided by the revolutionary government of Mexico under Vicente Guerrero should not be forgotten either and neither should the great Isidoro Montes de Oca, and Francisco Mongoy both Filipino military generals during the Mexican War of Independence:
“Some of the Mexican exiles became involved in conspiracies in Manila against the Spanish authorities, notably an insurrection that occurred in June 1824. As a result of the independence movement that was sweeping Mexico, the Mexicans who were residing in Manila and holding important army posts were replaced by Spaniards. This caused an uprising against the Spanish authorities in which the Mexicans have an important role. The uprising was led by Captain Andres Novales…In 1825, there were some attempts to unite the Philippines with Mexico. The conspiracy, led by the brothers Vicente and Miguel Palmero who were both Mexican exiles, was discovered in Manila…The junta[in Mexico-me] passed a secret memorandum offering an alliance of amity and commerce to the Philippines if the latter succeeded in gaining her independence from Spain. “
– Manila Men in the New World: Filipino Migration to Mexico and the Americas by Floro Mercene.
This tradition of revolutionary internationalist spirit also exists to the present day. The National President of the Revolutionary Popular Front of Mexico (a mass organization comprised of workers, peasants, and teachers and synonymous with the pro-Albanian Communist Party of Mexico (Marxist-Leninist)),Florentino Lopez, sits on the international board of the International League of Peoples’ Struggles which is chaired by the infamous Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines. In line with his duties as a revolutionary Communist leader and internationalist Comrade Lopez has represented the FPR in a trip to Manila over one year ago. I was also pleased to have been informed of the close ties that the FPR has to the New Peoples’ Army(NPA), and the support they have from the Mexican comrades internationally.
With the rich historical past of the Philippines already in my mind prior to my first trip, there was no question on where I wanted my first experience of Manila to be. I decided to stay in Intramuros, the old Spanish quarter.
From here I truly got to reflect on the history of my people in the Philippines. I strolled the streets of Intramuros late at night taking in the humid air and picturing myself as a Mexican laborer or soldier walking the cobblestone streets 400 years ago. This old Hispanic colonial charm was something I have experienced only in Mexico, and here I was thousands of miles away in a place my people helped to shape and have been apart of for the last 400 years. I come from a country with a long history of subjugating the Mexican and Chicano people through imperialist war, racial segregation, acts of violence and economic exploitation. In the length of time a Mexican lives in the United States he or she is bound to come under attack sometime in his lifetime with the slurs and insults of “wetback”, “beaner”, “spic”, “illegal alien” among other niceties. Coming to Intramuros erased this reality for a brief moment. To come to the Philippines and to see your history preserved in the food, language and customs of the Filipino people and embraced as an indispensable fabric of their national identity is empowering for a member of a nationally oppressed group. It however was a moment of pride for me which would become forgotten as I left Intramuros.
After spending three days walking and taking in the atmosphere of that which is Intramuros I finally came to grips and begun to see with my own eyes the cruel reality of the Philippines. On the fourth day of my stay in this new land, I had made the decision to transfer hotels and made my way to another historic hotel: The Manila Grand Opera Hotel in Santa Cruz. On the long taxi ride there I saw a great tragedy that sunk my heart at first and quickly filled me with indignant rage. The majority of Filipino children are the sons and daughters of the poor Filipino farmer, worker and unemployed urban poor. I witnessed infant children living under the Light Rail Transit (LRT)without so much as a diaper on splashing around in water which I knew was not safe to drink, much less to play around in. I saw elderly people sleeping on the sidewalk, as traffic whizzed on by. Even in a glitzy hotel in Makati, from my hotel window I could see a family of three across the street, living in a cardboard house surrounded by heaps of garbage on all sides. I have never seen so much poverty and uninhabitable living conditions in all my life, even in my many trips to Mexico both rural and urban. It was here in impoverished Santa Cruz that I met up with a Filipino activist from the Kilusang Mayo Uno(KMU) a mass trade union organization.
At this time I considered myself a pro-Hoxha Leninist, but despite our ideological differences I felt nothing but respect and admiration for this comrade. He briefly informed me of his country’s revolutionary past from the anti-imperialist struggle of the Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan to that of the Hukbalahap(the first Filipino Communists) who had secured victory over the Japanese only to have it stolen from them by the Americans. We also discussed politics in the States, of which I sadly informed him of the lack of any revolutionary party, and the splintering of the left into many micro-sects. After chatting some more my comrade asked me if I would like to take a walk into Chinatown.
He then took me on a quick tour at night on foot to see the sights of Binondo, which is the largest China town in the world. We stopped by Binondo Church(also built by Mexicans) as well as passed over the toxic body of water known as the Pasig River. At a nearby restaurant we stopped for some noodles and much needed rest and continued to discuss more politics. Unlike the United States, which is a relatively free and democratic society even towards dissidents, repression in the Philippines against revolutionaries is brutal. Here in this noodle shop I was told of horrible stories of mutilations, of massacres and forced disappearances against people that this comrade personally knew. One story which truly disgusted me was the case of a young woman, suspected by the military of being an NPA fighter, was tortured by impaling her vagina with a sharp stick according to living witnesses. She was forced to write a confession to save her family from being harmed and was never heard from again. When faced with experiences like these it makes it illogical for anyone to remain neutral. Sooner or later those on the fence must decide to throw their lot with the oppressed or with the oppressor, there is no middle ground.
I saw this comrade one last time at the SM Mall of Asia, the very next day and treated him to some Mexican food and here he gave me some departing gifts: Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage by Jose Lacaba, a collection of articles written in the early days of the revolutionary movement which started by resistance to Philippine involvement in the Vietnam War, Philippine Society and Revolution by Amado Guerrero(the nom de guerre of Joma Sison) and a couple of DVD movies, one of which was the excellent film Ora Pro Nobis, a formerly banned film set during the People Power Revolution. We bid our good byes, and I embraced my good friend for teaching me so much about his country and thanked him for the gifts he gave me. The next morning I left the Philippines back for the States, with a truly greater appreciation for the people who struggle day to day to survive as well as fight for a truly free and democratic Philippines.