Nov 25, 2013
Two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, the estimated death count stood at over 5,000 and the number of those left homeless at four million.
Just like after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the media has talked about how unpredictable natural catastrophes are and about the misfortune of the people affected. However, even though a typhoon is a natural phenomenon at the root of the disaster, this is no explanation for how widespread the destruction was in the Philippines. Winds of the same strength did not have the same effect on Japan, a country whose accumulated wealth has for a long time allowed the construction of buildings capable of resisting earthquakes and storms.
It’s not an accident that aid like tents, food and medicine is getting to the refugees so slowly. If some remote villages still haven’t received aid, it’s not simply because the Philippines is made up of 7,000 islands, of which 150 are inhabited. First of all, it’s due to the fact that for any country organized by imperialism, the priority of the budget is never public services; the priority is the maintenance of repressive forces capable of containing social explosions.
People continue to die due to a lack of infrastructure and emergency services. The destruction from the typhoon is vastly magnified by the poverty of these islands. And this poverty is a direct result of U.S. imperialism.
Today, the average Filipino worker makes under $300 a month; many make much less. Many of these workers produce sugar, ships or electronics, or work in call centers – mostly for U.S.-owned companies. A small layer of rich Filipinos benefits, but most people on the islands barely scrape by. The poverty is so great that about 10 percent of the total population, or almost 10 million Filipinos, work outside the country on ships, as nurses, or even in the U.S. military. The country relies heavily on the money these workers send home. So U.S. corporations exploit Filipino workers in their own country, and exploit them further when poverty forces them to look for jobs elsewhere.
This exploitation of the Philippines by the United States has been going on for more than 100 years. In 1898, the U.S. took the Philippine Islands from Spain and turned them into a colony. The U.S. then fought a brutal four-year war to crush the Filipino independence movement. Two hundred thousand Filipinos lost their lives in the fight against the U.S.
After winning the war, U.S. companies set up plantations to grow sugar and other crops for export, in the process destroying much of the Filipinos’ subsistence economy. In 1935, the U.S. agreed it would grant the islands independence 12 years later. But first, the U.S. built up a Filipino military that was entirely beholden to the U.S., one that would protect the interests of U.S. corporations even after the Philippines became an independent country.
The U.S. established military bases throughout the country. It also played on divisions in the country, supporting the Catholic North against the Muslim South, even granting Catholics land in the South if they would move there as “settlers” and help fight the insurgency against U.S. rule.
After World War II, during which the Philippines were occupied by Japan, the U.S. granted the country formal independence, but retained military bases throughout the islands. It also kept the Filipino economy entirely dependent on the U.S. The Philippines remained an under-developed country, dominated by the same corporations that dominate the U.S. economy.
The U.S. also made sure the Philippines stayed dependent politically. Communists had led the Filipino resistance to Japanese occupation during World War II, and those who fought the Japanese didn’t want to submit to the return of U.S. domination. In the early 1950s, the U.S. built up a new Philippine Army as an anti-communist force, helping it defeat the new insurgency, using napalm attacks, among other things.
From that point forward, the Philippines has been ruled by a succession of corrupt presidents and dictators. The real power in the country, the military, has remained deeply linked to the U.S. military, always ready to set a limit to any policy that might challenge U.S. domination of these islands.
For more than 100 years now, U.S. imperialism has kept the Philippines under its thumb, keeping the islands poor, propping up one corrupt government after another, and playing on divisions between Catholics and Muslims. The unbelievable destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan has been made much worse by the destruction the United States continues to inflict on this country.