IN shaping its foreign policy the Philippines is primarily moved by three considerations: first, national security; second, economic stability; and third, political and cultural relations with the free world. These considerations are equal to each other in importance and they receive varied attention only because of the difference in urgency and in the time, effort and financing required for their implementation.

Expressed in more detail, these three considerations provide the objectives and the methods of our policy: first, the strengthening of our national security by suppressing subversion from within and building strength against attacks from without through participation in collective security arrangements with other free nations; second, the utilization of the machinery of our foreign relations for the promotion of our foreign trade and economic coöperation in order to strengthen our domestic economy and to contribute our share to the economic development of a free world; and third, the development of our political and cultural relations with countries of the free world with particular emphasis on our relations with our Asian neighbors through our membership in the United Nations and by participation in regional conferences, such as the Manila Conference of 1954 (SEATO) and the Asian-African Conference in Bandung (1955).

In the pursuit of our objectives and in the choice of our methods our government finds itself closely associated with the United States of America. It is an association immediately dictated by our community of objectives, the most urgent of which is the defense of our freedom against Communist aggression. But our policy of close relations with the United States is not a mere artificial creation of government policy-makers and it is not dictated exclusively by the accident of common purposes. It is the product of experience in serving the national interest. More than that, it is a basic plank in the platform of the Nacionalista Party, the same political organization that under Quezon and Osmeña successfully led our country toward independence from America. And still more than that, it is in the will and the hearts of the Filipino people.

Our freedom is the fruit of the efforts, the sacrifices and the blood of our people. We won it by rising against Spain, by persuading America and by resisting the Japanese. That is why our people love our freedom so much. I disagree with those who declare that we were "given" our freedom, as if it were a gift and not a right.

But if our freedom is our own, it would be hard to deny that the character of our people and our Republic bears the indelible marks of our past association with other peoples. Our basic Malay traits have absorbed many of the qualities of the Chinese of the Ming invasion and of the quiet beauty of the cultures swept to our shores by the tides of several Southeast Asian empires. The culture of our people received its most permanent and most universal mark when Spain brought us the Catholic faith. And the architects of our independence so fashioned our political institutions that they are almost identical to those of the United States. If they did so, it was not only because they found the ready-made examples of the successful American experiment a convenient pattern for our future course, but also because our people would not have it otherwise. Their reasons for this are interesting.

Philippine-American relations began with a war--a war between Filipinos and Americans. The occupation of our country by American forces was never quite satisfactorily explained at the time. But looking at it from the historian's point of view, it is interesting to trace the development of these relations which started with the fact of conflict, bloodshed and the conquest of one people by the other. After 40 years, a very short period in the context of a nation's history, Philippine and American blood was shed again on Philippine soil, but this time on the same side and under the same command. Many books have been written to explain this phenomenon in international relations. There are indeed many possible explanations, but I am particularly partial to the one which begins by stating that America in all her greatness is not an infallible interpreter and implementer of international morality. Her leaders may have in some instances of history erred in their judgment from that point of view. But in every case the original spirit of America, the one conceived in the minds of the founding fathers and nurtured by the blood of the "minute men" and General Washington's soldiers, has always prevailed. And so, soon after the initial violence and fumbling at the turn of the century, our people began to feel this spirit. Frustrated in our efforts to achieve independence by violence, we found available to us the more effective and less painful method of constitutional process which America, inexorably impelled by her own spirit and tradition, was forced to extend to our shores.

The American régime was not by any means a "perfect" government. There is no substitute for complete self-government. Furthermore, although political autonomy was extended to a degree unprecedented in colonial annals, although health and education were improved to an extent which might not have been within reach of a weak independent nation, no serious effort was made to lift the population up from its ancient agricultural economy. But the hand of America was relatively light. And so invigorating were the basic freedoms she guaranteed to the individual Filipino that when the Japanese invaders landed on our shores, the Filipinos, even though complete independence had not come, resisted as if their actual sovereign, the American people, were merely their allies in the struggle for their freedom. While in some countries of Asia the Japanese were being received either indifferently or as liberators, the Filipinos resisted as though complete national liberty was theirs.

That is the explanation for the Philippine-American story. The spirit of America asserted itself at the right time and at the right place. And all the charges real or imagined against American civil and military officials in peace and in war could easily be forgotten as that spirit asserted itself. To understand Philippine foreign policy, it is necessary to know these antecedents of Philippine-American relations. I can easily see how other Asian peoples, not fully informed of our story, will find it strange that we have not reacted towards our former masters the way they have to theirs.

Immediately after independence in 1946 our foreign and defense policies were caught in the international and internal spider webs of the Communist revolution. Internally, the Hukbalahap movement, which had started as a resistance organization during the Japanese Occupation, became the military arm of the Communist Party in the Philippines and began an intensive campaign of murder, pillage and robbery aimed at the weakening and eventual overthrow of the Republic. In 1949, this campaign bore ugly fruit in the murder of Mrs. Manuel Quezon, widow of our late great president, and some members of her family. Meanwhile international Communism was ringing down the Iron Curtain and threatening everywhere to subvert and topple governments that were caught unawares or were not strong enough to resist its subversion. It was immediately evident that the young Philippine Republic could not hope to last long unaided in the face of these external and internal developments.

In 1947 the Philippines, then under the administration of President Roxas and the Liberal Party, entered into a series of agreements with the United States designed to provide adequate external and internal security for our Republic. In agreeing to United States bases on Philippine territory, the Philippines was thinking not only of her security but also of contributing her own humble share to the defense of the free world.

As the Communist advance progressed in Asia, it became further evident that while bilateral treaties served their purpose it was necessary to supplement them with multilateral arrangements based on the principle of collective security in order to strengthen further the chain of resistance among free countries on a regional basis. In Asia this took the form of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty which resulted in the establishment of SEATO. Our policy of active preparation against external attack and internal subversion places us among those countries of the free world which believe in uniting with free nations, Asian or non-Asian, for the sake of achieving strength against aggression.

There are democratic countries in Asia, with whom we maintain the friendliest relations, who pursue a different approach to the present problems of international politics. We respect their opinions and we fully realize that there could be forces of history, population and internal politics at work in those countries which might differ from those of our own and might dictate the formulation and pursuit of policies different from our own.

Impelled by these forces, these countries prefer to view the present world tension as the result of competition between two power blocs--one headed by the United States of America and the other by the Soviet Union. Haunted by the spectre of old Western imperialism that once roamed their lands, these countries now choose to stand aside lest, it is alleged, they lose their independence and return to their old rôle of pawns in the struggle for world power.

We take a different view of the situation. We are perfectly aware that history is full of examples of struggles among dominant Powers that have brought disaster to smaller nations which allowed themselves to be dragged into such conflicts. But two things set our outlook apart from that of some of our neighbors.

First, we do not view Communism as just another world force to be satiated with territory and gold. We have learned from our own Communist Hukbalahap revolution that Communism is not just some distorted nationalist ambition, like Hitler's, to be satisfied with land or riches, but an unremitting universal campaign to rule the earth, to eradicate individual liberty, to destroy God and the souls of men.

The United States Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Walter S. Robertson, recently quoted the words of the Communists themselves proving that their goals have not changed and that their program is only temporarily delayed. He quoted the statement of Mr. Khrushchev on September 17, 1955: "But if anyone believes that our smiles involve abandoment of the teaching of Marx, Engels and Lenin he deceives himself poorly. Those who wait for that must wait until a shrimp learns to whistle." Mr. Robertson then went on to quote the teachings of Lenin which Mr. Khrushchev so vigorously endorses.

"We are living," Lenin wrote, "not merely in a state but in a system of states, and the existence of the Soviet Republic side by side with imperialist states for a long time is unthinkable. One or the other must triumph in the end. And before that end supervenes, a series of frightful collisions between the Soviet Republic and the bourgeois states will be inevitable."

Mr. Robertson noted that Lenin depicted the Communist Party as a man ascending a steep, unexplored mountain who reaches an obstacle barring forward progress. "The man then," said Lenin, "must turn back, descend, seek another path, longer perhaps, but one which will enable him to reach the summit."

Lenin's summit, said Mr. Robertson, was clearly defined. "First, we will take Eastern Europe," Lenin wrote, "then the masses of Asia, and then we'll surround America, that last citadel of capitalism. We won't have to attack; it will fall into our lap like an overripe fruit."

Second, our people frankly cannot bring themselves to view the forces now resisting Communism as a mere power bloc bent on perpetuating the imperialism of the West. To begin, with, there are many countries now actively opposing Communist pressures which have never been colonial countries, and many which were victims of Western colonialism themselves. Then there is the fact that the Communist conspiracy is international and is being waged perhaps with most vigor within those very countries whose governments subscribe to the view that the Soviet Union will respect their neutrality. Furthermore, we acknowledge the reality which the Communists would like us to forget--that in Asia Western colonialism is on its way out while Communist imperialism is on the march. Finally, our people simply cannot see the United States as the vicious head of the imperialists that Communist and others would paint it to be. Our people's experience under and with the United States prevents them in conscience from subscribing to such a view.

I have said that our differences in outlook with some of our neighbors in Asia could be due to the different circumstances that have surrounded our histories and experiences. I want to reiterate that we are aware of these historical and other differences and respect our neighbors' rights to their own approach to international questions, even if we disagree with them. We ask only that our own position be viewed with the same understanding. For example, we ask that our efforts at security through collective defense be fully understood before they are labelled as attempts to create tension, as SEATO was labelled even before its creation.

We do not wonder nor are we particularly grieved when Communist leaders censure our defense arrangements. On the contrary, such censure could be interpreted to mean that they have found our defenses effective and, therefore, we should be rather happy over it. But we do feel it when Communist attacks are indiscriminately echoed by non-Communist sources. The argument that SEATO or any other regional defense pact creates tension strikes me as a variation of the old hasty error of the cart before the horse. Let us say that several small children, minding their own business on some street corner, are approached by the neighborhood bully who starts pushing and otherwise maltreating them one by one. Tired of the bullying, the little children bunch themselves together so that the bully may no longer approach them without meeting an avalanche of little fists. Furthermore, they call upon some of their bigger friends to stand with them in order to discourage the bully. Faced with this situation, the bully stands there growling, complaining that they are ganging up on him. Thus a tension is created. Who is to blame for the tension--the little countries for getting together among themselves and with stronger friends in order to defend themselves against the aggressor? Or is it not obviously the aggressor himself whose attitudes and actions brought on the necessity for the union that now faces him? I ask those who have heretofore looked disapprovingly on our efforts to think this over, in fairness to us and for the sake of justice and freedom.

If Asian nations like ourselves are held suspect for our sincere efforts to maintain our security in this area, it is no wonder that similar efforts by countries outside this area, such as the United States, are regarded with even less sympathy. World freedom is, I believe, gaining strength. The genius and God-given resources of America have made her the main source of strength for that freedom. It is indeed a problem for America to distribute that strength without submitting herself to varied accusations. Until Communism is totally destroyed, Communist propaganda will always be there sniping, making mountains out of molehills, big disputes out of small incidents, crimes out of mistakes. But perhaps we of the free world could best build up our strength and forge our unity not by presuming that every criticism of our actions is a concoction of Communist propagandists, but, on the contrary, by assuming that since our relations are essentially those of fallible human beings, there will always be room for improvement and correction.

If there are those who still suspect American motives, it is perhaps because, influenced by their own history, they cannot bring themselves to credit any Western country with good intentions. Perhaps an increase in information about Philippine-American experience would help them to change this attitude. At every opportunity, we endeavor to tell our neighboring Asians the facts about our past and present relations with the United States. We intend to continue doing so and if possible to extend the knowledge of these relations in the interest of a better understanding of our position and that of America. In so doing we hope to strengthen and further unify the free peoples of Asia and the rest of the world.

But there may be those who, already in possession of the facts about Philippine-American relations, still do not see in them sufficient reason to erase the doubts they hold about the United States. If there be such people--and I see no reason to doubt that there are--then we have here the occasion to practise the theory that in human relations there is always room for improvement and correction. The solution would then be to keep on trying to improve our relations and to correct our mistakes so that those who may still be somewhat doubtful of our relations may finally find in them that long-sought reason to cast aside all doubts about the intentions of the greatest democracy in the world.

Recent events show that America is ready to pursue this course. As this is written, the Philippines and the United States are getting ready to enter into negotiations for the review and implementation of the bases agreement between our two countries. Recently several incidents have occurred between the personnel of the United States military bases here and Filipino civilians which have dramatized the need for the removal of certain points of friction occasioned by the existence of such bases on our soil. The Communist press abroad naturally overplayed the incidents. We have been concerned about them, but we are not unduly alarmed. If a country's military can have differences with its own civilians, it is not surprising that they should sometimes get into trouble with foreign civilians. But the United States, with its readiness to discuss corrective measures and to enter into formal negotiations for the improvement of our bases agreement, with mutual regard for national dignity, has demonstrated its own desire to make out of our relations a pattern for East-West coöperation in the cause of freedom.

Indeed, that should be our joint course--in all humility to admit the possibility of imperfection and with all good will to strive for perfection. Perfection may never be reached. But in striving for it we may yet fashion a model which will attract all free men to that unity without which godliness and liberty could never be fully secure.

Let the original, the true spirit of America always dominate her relations not only with our country but with all free nations. For a free world, which depends so much on the United States for strength, that is the best guarantee for understanding, security and freedom.

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  • RAMON MAGSAYSAY, President of the Republic of the Philippines; member of the Philippine Congress, 1946-50; Secretary of National Defense, 1950-53
  • More By Ramon Magsaysay