The traffic congestion was maddening. Pia switched on her car radio. It was playing a guitar piece that reminded her of Raoul and how she appreciated his musical talents. After classes, she would go to Delaney Hall to listen to Raoul on his guitar. But there was one time Pia went one night and found an unusual number of people milling around the Hall lobby. There was an air of tension and she recalled feeling it.
“What’s happening?” Pia inquired of one of the people there.
“What do you mean?” the girl asked warily. “Who are you and what college are you from?”
Pia sensed an uncommon mistrust. “I’m meeting a classmate from the college of Economics here this evening.”
“If you don’t see him around this lobby, then he must be at conference in the back room. We have to be careful. There are government spies among the students on campus.” Then bending forward, she whispered, “There’s going to be a student demonstration tomorrow, and this meeting to organise it is running a little late.”
“What are they demonstrating about?” Pia whispered back.
The girl looked at Pia in shock. “You should keep yourself aware of what is going on in our country! Act to correct anomalies when you see them! Indifference is a trait common among the ignorant! Be involved in our nation’s future!”
The girl left Pia spluttering her excuses. She decided to look for Raoul instead of just standing there. She made her way through the rear hallway. There were two male students guarding the passage, and they let her through when she mentioned her friend’s name. Pia noticed, though, that they appeared not to know who he was or pretended not to know, or didn’t want to know.
She carefully opened a door and peeked into one of the rooms where she discerned a murmur of voices. Pia found it odd that they had not turned on the lights—probably so that they could not identify each other, or so as not to arouse suspicion if there were outsiders looking in. She overheard someone designating who were to print the manifestos and organise their distribution, and where student leaders should be stationed and with what groups. They apparently wanted an orderly demonstration. Pia quietly closed the door. She tiptoed through the dark hallway and headed back for the lobby.
With the traffic as it was, Pia decided to make a detour through a residential area which would bring her back to the main avenue further down. Fewer cars were on this road as it was forbidden to public transport vehicles. A longer route, but faster than on the main thoroughfare.
Pia remembered surveying the scene of cautious conviviality in the Hall lobby that evening. Groups of students were standing here and there. Some were sitting at the few sofas that were available. There was a bar table to the right of the door entrance with bar stools, and the students sitting there were reading schoolbooks or writing, undisturbed by the hum of chatter around them. She spotted the girl she had just talked to, conversing with two other male students. Sitting on a sofa around a coffee table, Pia decided to join them. She introduced herself and they moved to make room for her to sit down.
“We were talking about how the Americans came to the Philippines,” the girl said, “and why they decided to stay.”
“That was during the Spanish-American War in 1898,” Pia remarked.
“Yes, it was” one of the male students said. “The Americans came to seek our help to defeat the Spanish, but when they saw the abundant natural resources here, they abused the situation of the Spanish losing the war, by ‘purchasing’ our country from them as war booty. This imperialistic attitude continues even now—a habit long abandoned by what has become a more civilised world.”
“So Aguinaldo,” the girl said, “after getting rid of the Spanish conquistadors, now had the Americans to deal with. Because he compromised America’s interests, they jailed him and called him a criminal–he who assisted them in their war.”
Pia stepped on the brakes and tooted the horn. A car had swerved in her lane without warning. She looked in the mirror to see if the car behind her had ample distance to brake as well. She switched off the radio and went on second gear.
“The United States,” the other male student declared, “is a country that is only two hundred and twenty-five years old. They have no traditional civilisation. Who are the real Americans? They are the Indians. Slaughtered by these cowboys, they are now a minority population in their own country. Less than one percent is all that remains of the Native American population. Who are the Other Americans? They are all immigrants–that country is populated exclusively by immigrants. They came to that land, in search of a better life. And a majority of these white immigrants were commoners, who did not pass through the fine sieve of Europe’s traditional societies.”
“But these people,” Pia countered, “who came as pioneers to America, may have failed to find their place in the traditional societies of their countries, but it is precisely this that has made them a nation of innovative people, adaptable to contemporary conditions. They were not fettered by tradition and social class structures as the society back in their country of origin were.”
“So these uncivilised Americans went all-out to exploit the Philippines,” the girl continued. “An emissary was sent to prepare a catalogue of natural resources of the country. They dictated economic policies detrimental to our national economy. With the Laurel-Langley agreement, the Americans were granted economic rights in the exploitation of Philippine natural resources. They imposed one-sided treaties that made the country the dumping ground for American products.”
“Then the CIA,” said the first male student, “trained cadres of Filipinos to protect America’s commercial interests, labelling unhappy farmers as subversives and communists. We have not been able to metamorphose as a nation with the Americans supporting the suppression of dissent against the ills of our society. We therefore could not, and even now cannot, manage our own economic development effectively. There are many links in this chain that bind many people to a hand-to-mouth existence.”
“Torture and murder,” the girl said bitterly, “is America’s definition of protection. The CIA recruited locals to do their dirty work for them.”
“My God!” Pia said in surprise. “But why?”
“There is one outstanding reason,” said the second male student. “Let’s say a wolf came uninvited to a traditional dinner party. Everybody would shun him, of course, and most probably kick him out. So he goes home and puts on a star-studded tuxedo, with dollar bills peeping out of his waistcoat pockets. He returns, and some guests loll their tongues like dogs at the sight of the contents of his pockets. He becomes the life of the party, and anything he says is believed, no matter how absurd. He gorges himself on the buffet. But that form of deceit cannot continue for long, as his pockets are soon emptied. So he goes back home and returns with a gun. Wanting to leave the party with their lives, some guests attach themselves to him, thinking it is better to be at the right paw of the wolf than to be his prey. He becomes arrogant because the gun gives him supreme superpower–and he thinks that power gives him permission to do anything he wishes.
“Their military machinery projects this power, making certain that their commercial interests around the world are protected. They are gorging themselves on someone else’s buffet—the natural resources of other countries.
“They show no respect for the sovereignty of other nations, especially those incapable of retaliating. Only if a country has military capabilities do they lay their hands off. Having no authority to force foreign governments to co-operate in sustaining their national interests, they go through international bodies to impose sanctions and embargoes–ways they use to coerce uncooperative governments to conform to their agenda.”
“My God…” Pia exclaimed again in shock. “But what was the CIA really established for then? Wasn’t it their mandate to contain the Soviet menace?”
“What the Americans really saw in communism was an economic system that would not complement their own,” the girl answered. “But the CIA have done a lot that had very little to do with the Soviets. Instead, their work revolved around containing perceived threats to their commercial interests and those of their allies.
“The CIA intervened in Guatemala when the freely-elected President wanted to redistribute land to peasants, thereby threatening an American banana fruit company that owned the largest parcel of land in the country. The CIA rendered the country unstable by creating the illusion of social instability. They operated death squads, snatching individuals in the streets and killing them. They would place bombs in churches and then put communist leaflets in the aftermath. The Americans even poisoned their water supply. They have murdered more than 100,000 of Guatemala’s people.
“The CIA intervened in Chile, when Allende, a social democrat, while retaining a democratic form of government, attempted to restructure Chilean society on socialist lines by nationalising American-owned copper companies, foreign banks and monopolistic enterprises. The CIA-led military coup killed President Allende and installed a military dictatorship under Pinochet.
“When Asia was emerging from colonial rule, Asians believed that their hopes and aspirations for their respective countries could develop along socialist lines. They did not have the necessary ingredients to make a capitalist system work. The Americans intervened to topple the fragile scaffolding. Together with the US military, the CIA ran Operation Phoenix, an assassination project that has killed at least 40,000 Asians.
“CIA covert operations took the form of creating an illusion of mass revolt in order to destabilise governments and wreak havoc with the socio-economic infrastructure. The Americans have made themselves the object of hatred.”
Pia signalled to turn right on Roxas Boulevard. It was nightfall, and the reflected moonlight on the calm waters of Manila Bay illuminated the grey ships birthed there.
“But where’s the outcry of condemnations in the press and by international organisations that keep tabs on such atrocities?” Pia demanded.
“Propaganda,” one male student answered in one word. “The American propaganda machinery tightly controls information fed to the public. Their distortion of the truth is calculated to orient the world’s attitude towards a direction in their favour. They paint themselves as champions of freedom and liberty, these sheep-clothed quadrupeds, and there is so much more to know that the world may never know, owing to America’s manipulation of the news.”
“Do you see how important it is that we have competent leaders in government?” the girl asked. “We are demonstrating tomorrow against the fraudulent election of Ferdinand Marcos. We consider him a puppet of the Americans. We want him to address the plight of the masses.”
“Where will the demonstration be held?” Pia asked.
“In front of Congress,” the girl replied.
“How many students do you think will come?”
“We are co-ordinating with other groups from other universities. We should be about 40,000.”
“Well, one more won’t make a difference then,” Pia answered.
“Each and every one can make a difference.”
Pia parked her car in front of the well-lit restaurant. She looked back at that time in Delaney Hall, a day in January 1970. A series of violent crimes and bombings in Manila marked those early years and then Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. Thousands of professors, journalists, farmers and students were arrested. Thousands more were to die.