Pia came home late from work, checking the mailbox before entering the house. In it she found some bills and a large manila envelope from her mother. Pia unlocked her door, took off her coat, dropped everything she was carrying on her sofa, and then went to the kitchen to put a kettle on the burner for tea.
She walked back to her sitting room and sat down to open her mail. In the manila envelope her mother had sent was a newspaper issue of the previous week. Her mother had circled a small headline on the left side of the front page. It read: Trading executive killed in a car accident. Pia read the article in dismay. Danny had been going too fast along a country road and had driven off it, falling into a ravine. He left behind a wife and son.
Pia dropped the newspaper on her lap. She stared out through her sitting room window. Without conscious attention, she noticed how the trees in her neighbour’s garden stood staunch and bare against the season’s winter chill. They stood there, with their chins held high, defenceless but resolute, in the face of winds coming from Siberia. They stood there, watching mutely, as life went on around them.
Pia picked up the papers again and read the other 1979 news headlines: Marcos signs the U.S. military bases agreement, guaranteeing the U.S. “unhampered military operations.” Graft and corruption is exposed in the Public Highway Ministry, where investigation uncovered “ghost” employees, fictitious contractors, payroll padding, and bribe-taking. American president pledges US $500 million over the next five years in military assistance and security support against insurgency. Philippine population is 46.3 million, of which 43% are under 15 years old. External debt is now US $9 billion and Philippine credit rating is poor. About 56% of all Filipino families reported incomes below the poverty line, 80% of which live in the rural area. Seventy percent of Filipino children are under-nourished. Widespread famine in Negros where 75,000 children are so malnourished, many of them are going blind and suffering brain damage. Sugar workers in Negros receive less than 80 cents a day, one-third of 1940 wages. The head of the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission issues construction permit for Westinghouse to build a nuclear power plant in Bataan. Bataan is an area known for tidal waves, located 8 kilometres from Mt. Natib, a dormant volcano, and 40 kilometres from three geological fault lines. The Marcos and Romualdez families own that area of Bataan. The floating casino and several buildings go up in smoke–the Light-a-Fire Movement claim responsibility. Hospital bed capacity in Manila is one for every 270 people, and one for every 1,076 outside Manila. The second worldwide oil shock causes further economic deterioration….
Pia tossed the newspaper onto her sitting room table, and stared out the window at those stoic trees, silent witnesses to what man was capable of doing.
Pia remembered hearing from old timers in the provincial town of Ferdinand Marcos that he was the illegitimate son of a Chinese fellow and his domestic. He lived with his impoverished mother, who later on married a local politician.
Marcos studied Law and passed the Bar exams with excellent marks. He possessed a mechanical memory–a quirk of the brain. It was knowledge without comprehension. It was an abnormality also common among the autistic–a deceptive semblance of intelligence. He struck his gullible professors with awe by reciting the Constitution backwards. Unfortunately, that did not make one a proponent of the law. Neither are exemplary scholastic marks the only criteria for good leadership, nor is it a measure of integrity. He was found guilty of murdering his stepfather’s political rival by shooting him while he brushed his teeth; and in a country where something fishy is not only common in fish stalls, he was later acquitted.
Marcos had a devious and unprincipled character and a personality disorder that developed into greed for money and lust for power. He decided to enter politics, and in order to sway voters to his side, Marcos falsified his war exploits, claiming feats of valour that remarkably resembled that of another. It was said that he was into scrap-metal collecting during the War. But he declared he was a one-man army and that he was the most decorated hero of World War II. The Americans awarded him his claimed medals, even though they had no record of his deserving them–making a mockery of those who did.
Credulous simpletons, holding the majority of the popular vote, propelled Marcos into Congress, believing the following election campaign platform: I am rich because I got my war benefits from the Americans; if you want yours, vote for me. And once his foot was in the door, he remained inside to accumulate wealth beyond moderate reason, if one can consider some ounce of legitimacy to wealth accrued from political power. The word ‘rapacious’ fails to describe how much he had amassed and by what means. In Congress, he began by extorting “commissions” in return for approving or granting import licenses, foreign exchange credits, and government permits.
The Americans endorsed Marcos as “the man of the hour.” In exchange for their political support, Marcos offered them not only the country’s natural resources for the continued taking, but also undisturbed intimidation in Asia with their military bases. Like many before him, the U.S. seeks out those who can do its bidding: Quezon takes credit for the Tydings-McDuffie Act that allowed the nation’s political and economic policies to be determined by the Americans. Roxas wrote the Military Bases agreement, and secured preferential treatment for American businesses through the Bell Trade Act. Quirino won the most corrupt and bloody elections in history aided by Americans, and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus on the CIA’s urging in order to imprison “subversives.” And Magsaysay won the presidency by a landslide through American propaganda and CIA assistance.
Then someone, covertly or by proxy, masterminded a series of bombings in Manila. Blaming the terrorism on communists, it gave Marcos the excuse to curtail the civil liberties of the people. Marcos then turned the city of Manila into a paradise for the scum of the earth with prostitution, drugs, arms trafficking, and organised crime. Marcos plundered the country, weakening it irretrievably. His spectacular accumulation of wealth depended heavily on political power.
For safeguarding America’s interests in the country, Washington gave Marcos over $100 million when he declared Martial Law. In total, America’s policy of full support of the dictatorship resulted in America’s giving $2.5 billion and $5.5 billion through major multilateral institutions. The CIA financed the so-called anti-insurgency warfare with $10 million, and they trained a cadre of Filipinos in the art of slow death by sadistic torture. To discourage further dissent, their bodies were returned to their families or displayed in public. The killing of grumbling farmers, making less than one dollar a day, was America’s definition of stemming subversive activities. When news of torture and similar violations of human rights was leaked to the press, the U.S. State Department magnanimously issued a statement: It is not the policy of the Marcos government to violate human rights.
The Filipino economic elite, arrogant and condescending in attitude, profited so much from American business ties that they became contemptuous and brutal with their impoverished countrymen. They employed private armies of these sadistic killers, murdering anyone encroaching on their wealth with notions of land reform and change in government. This slaughter went pitifully unchecked. The international community, waylaid by American misinformation, was unaware of the Filipinos’ desperation or chose to be ignorant of their plight. They only know that the Philippines is a cluster of beautiful islands–but it is a little nook in the Pacific Ocean, where man exploits man in the most ignoble manner.
Pia stood up to prepare tea, the kettle had been whistling for some time. She had come home late that evening because she had some extra paperwork to do. She was going on a business trip the following day. She had dinner, a bowl of noodle soup on her desk. Mr. Lortan was sending her on an exploratory mission to a nation of enormous economic potential, a nation of a great civilisation and culture. Pia was going to China.
While she waited for her tea to steep in the pot, Pia took out a suitcase and started to pack. As she gathered her clothes to fold them, she thought about Confucius and doing business with the Chinese. No one can succeed in business with the Chinese without first knowing about that country’s history, its people, its politics, and its languages. One has to think Chinese to do business with the Chinese, and it is not that simple. They are a disciplined race and their thinking is shaped by their basic guide to morality and good government, a set of teachings called Analects by a Chinese philosopher named Confucius. One of his precepts emphasises that rulers must govern according to high moral standards. Another one is that a well-ordered society has its foundation in the family. And still another is that a ruler serves the interests of his subjects, and if he does not, the citizens have “the divine right to rebellion” and must overthrow him.
Pia had read that in spite of the traditional Confucian outlook–that the political function of the people is to obey their ruler–towards the end of the 19th century, the idea that every citizen should participate consciously to make China progressive was raised. The Chinese reformers decided that in order to acquire the strength they needed, they would have to learn from the Europeans. They also decided that traditional patterns of thought must change in order to emphasise the role of the individual.
The one who pioneered the introduction of Western ideas was Yen Fu, and the reformers idealised it in 1898. One factor that sets China apart from Asia is the importance they give to politics as an integral part of their life. They sent their students to Europe for their education, and the intelligentsia debated on what aspects of the West they could adapt to China’s needs. Their civilisation preserved their sense of pride in their culture, but the political dimension of their existence was also paramount.
When a government has to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots, then the ideals of socialism are commendable as they provide inherent stability to a country in an uncertain economic situation. Capitalism only works well under certain conditions, and where there is political instability, the first to suffer are the poor.
So what are the conditions required enabling capitalism to work? Social and economic stability supported by a prosperous middle class. A Capitalist Government cannot work satisfactorily when a social gap exists between the rich and the poor, and the nobility and commoners. Nor can it function satisfactorily where no homogeneity exists in the populace in terms of religion and language, because politics will divide the people along these differences. In the matter of education, a level of literacy is necessary to enable the people to vote wisely and be politically aware of the issues that they have the power to determine in the interest of their country. Where these criteria do not exist, capitalism cannot work.
What may be feasible for the West may not necessarily work for the East. If we have an Eastern form of democracy, why impose a Western definition? These are two sides to the same coin.
Pia finished packing and went back to her sitting room. While sipping her tea, she considered that for her reconnaissance trip she would first find out whether a good working relationship could be established with the contacts the company had made. She would have to check if they were familiar with the government laws relating to overseas business, since less than one percent of the Chinese can do business with foreigners. With a population of 1.3 billion consumers, less than one percent is still quite a lot, but probably not enough to meet international demands on this huge Chinese market. Then she would have to find the best location in a city with a good infrastructure. She would also have to ensure that Mr. Lortan possessed the necessary majority of equity in order to have the right to any final decisions. A business partnership is set up with the government, not the private sector. Chinese financial contribution in the joint venture is in the form of tangible assets, land and building facilities. China’s economy grows at a rate of over 10% a year, an ideal prospect for investment. Pia knew she would have to find out in China anything else it was essential to know. The Chinese are basically closed to the world, and they will not tell you who they are, nor what is China.
It was Saturday and Pia left for Beijing that morning. She decided to leave on a weekend so that she could explore this great city with its rich historical and cultural heritage. She arrived at this former Yanjing to find modern Beijing. The capital is huge. She took a cab to the hotel and noticed many Chinese on bicycles. She dropped off her luggage and left soon after to visit some monuments.
The first monument Pia went to see was the Nationalities Cultural Palace. This large mosaic-tiled structure is dedicated to honour the contributions of the 55 Chinese cultural minorities. Then proceeding to Tian’anmen Square, she walked from the Chang’an Avenue, passing the Great Hall of the People, the seat of government of China. This Hall has over 50 meeting rooms, with each room honouring a particular cultural minority, province, and municipality. On the other side is the Museum of Chinese History. An obelisk lies between the two buildings, a monument to the heroes of the Chinese Revolution. In front of the obelisk on the other side of the avenue is the massive Gate of Heavenly Peace, the Tian’anmen. There is a Chinese inscription on a plaque to the left of the Gate that reads, “Long Live the Unity of the Peoples of the World.”
She had done quite a bit of walking about, and as it was getting late, Pia returned to the hotel. She studied the bus and train schedules and made arrangements with the hotel travel office to visit the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City the next day. Thousands of Chinese tourists from all over China visit this huge Imperial Palace of the ancient Chinese Emperors. It is believed that the Chinese of old sent terracotta soldiers with their Emperor, to accompany him in the other life. Pia found it fascinating the way civilisations have come to rationalise the mystery of their existence in beliefs of the now and thereafter. And what if Spanish friars had come to China, to destroy their culture systematically, and deprive her of her patrimonial identity….
Together with some hotel guests, Pia arrived at a section of the Great Wall at Badaling. She was astounded. The Great Wall is a remarkable accomplishment of defence. She walked along a span of it and marvelled at the parapets, the beacon towers, and the landscape along both sides. The Wall’s form followed the contours of the countryside’s undulating hills. Pia walked slowly, oblivious to the picture-taking tourists and the cackling of Chinese languages around her.
Pia turned round suddenly. She knew no one in Beijing. “Eric!” she exclaimed, as she recognised the tall spectacled man behind her. “How wonderful to see you here! What an extraordinary coincidence! What brings you to China?”
“I’m here on holiday. What about you?”
“I’m here on business, but I’m a tourist today. You haven’t changed! Isn’t this city amazing?”
Eric took Pia’s elbow and they sat down on a protruding ledge. The warm sunshine cast wonderful yellow and crimson hues on the autumnal landscape in front of them. Doctors, Pia knew, are never good at small talk.
“I must say,” Pia said, after getting over her initial reaction of surprise, “that contrary to what you hear and read in the American media, China does not look at all threatening to me.”
“The Chinese government,” Eric replied, “pursues a policy of peace. Their society, more than any other, knows the limits of freedom and the responsibilities that come with freedom. You are free to smoke, but not in my face. You are free to eat, but not from my plate. You are free to be happy, but not at my expense. You have to know what you can and cannot do with freedom. Freedom does not mean that you can do anything you want.
“The Chinese have suffered under colonialism and imperialist exploitation. Their government exerts monumental efforts to extricate their people from poverty and give them a sense of dignity. Their military strategy, similar to that of the European Front and certain Asian nations, is a policy of self-defence as regards the United States.”
Pia, who was absentmindedly gazing at the scenery in front of her, turned to look at her friend from school. “What are you implying?” she asked.
Eric picked up a pebble at his feet and threw it over the wall towards the West. “The United States’ assault against the ideology of communism is an attack against the efforts of a people that wish to transform their nation’s political and economic infrastructure in order to overcome poverty in ways that will not complement the American economy. America’s military machinery is either used as a deterrent or as actual force.
“When Truman signed the Act creating the Central Intelligence Agency, its mandate was to contain Soviet aggression. During the entire history of the CIA, the only two occasions that Russia had ever breached that line was when Breshnev ordered the invasion of Prague, and the Americans were nowhere when that happened. The other was when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, and the CIA bungled the way they helped that country regain their freedom, making worse enemies for Americans instead. How intelligent is their intelligence network when they could not forestall, prevent, or settle by diplomatic means these incursions?
“So we ask: What was the real but secret mandate of the Central Intelligence Agency? Then we see: that the CIA conducted proxy wars to destabilise governments; that they interfered in the internal affairs of nations; and that they plotted to assassinate foreign leaders whose political thinking was not to America’s advantage. So we conclude: The Central Intelligence Agency was not intended to contain the Soviet threat, but rather to protect America’s exploitation of the natural resources of other countries through terrorist acts. These commercial exploitations are euphemistically referred to as “national interests.” Protection of national interests is a paramount objective in that government’s foreign policy.
“In their effort to reduce the world into an American-dominated economic system, anything outside of that must be destroyed. Communism, whose political ideology is State-control of their resources for their own socio-economic development, does not serve the American national agenda. America’s crusade has reduced much of East Asia and the rest of the world to an American-dominated economic system.
“The Americans think that they can do anything they want, and say anything they want. Through sanctions, embargoes, boycotts, and covert operations, and through the IMF and the World Bank, the Americans will strongly endorse the suspension of aid or block multinational loans in countries where they need to safeguard their own national interests. The American definition of democracy is that which is pro-American in orientation. If you are not pro-American, then you are not democratic. American behaviour is akin to a spoiled child who gets what he wants, and whines if he doesn’t. They settle differences and disagreements not with reason, but either with deleterious financial backlash or a gun, and sometimes both.
“Protection of American national interests supersedes and determines all their decisions concerning international diplomacy and relations. American diplomacy demands compliance with an American agenda. So the Americans want to prevent independent economic development by Third World countries because they are heavily dependent on the natural resources of these nations. To maintain their military power, the Americans use the argument that a threat of war exists. While the international community thinks of peace, there is one that is at war–an economic battle supported by military might.”
“But does no one see the Americans for what they really are?”
“The United Nations Organization is hindered and restricted in their work as an impartial and international body merely by being located in the United States. The guest must show deference to the host. The Americans are quick to criticise the Secretary-General because they will support only those they can control. They are capable of maligning anyone or anything that threatens their national interests. There are those in the international community who see the Americans for what they really are, but they are political monkeys who prefer to say nothing.
“André Malraux once expressed the idea that the headquarters of the United Nations should be transferred to Geneva from New York. The Americans have considerably weakened its status as an effective negotiator in international politics. With one hand, the American warden holds tightly onto the tethered organization, and with the other, they create conflicts in “undemocratic” countries and support “democratic” dictatorships around the world, while exhibiting a propagandist façade of magnanimity.
“The United States of America is a young nation. They lack a sense of direction in the arena of international politics. They do not understand the responsibilities that come with freedom and the limits of freedom. Freedom does not mean that you are free to trample on another country’s dignity and infringe on people’s human rights. They unabashedly have abused their power.
“They attribute so little importance to history because they have no civilisation to speak of. They are, after all, a nation of immigrants with no indigenous culture of their own. They still have a lot to learn from the old and great civilisations of the world. That this one young upstart determines the world order… What is America’s interpretation of human rights? The work of the Central Intelligence Agency has created enemies around the world for all Americans. Nations, who have been victims of American abuse and patronising ways, have adopted an anti-American posture that will prevail for a long time.
“The United Nations must impose that they reduce their military arsenal significantly and allow peace to reign. If the Americans are wise, they will agree. The Americans, supposedly in charge of maintaining peace, make $12 billion annually on arms sales. They are the world’s largest exporters of arms and munitions, fuelling the arms race around the world. It is to their financial advantage that instability reigns. Surely, there must be other means of maintaining peace.
“No, the world cannot be led by American supremacy. The American president is elected by popularity—a popularity that can be bought, and therefore, those not necessarily with the capabilities can run for office. A majority swayed by political rhetoric and charisma elects this American president. This one vulnerable man may have a perception that could be humanly wrong, and whose presidential dispositions are at the mercy of wealthy political lobbies. This head of a superpower, the chief of its army, has the capability to wipe out all of mankind. That obviously needs control. That seriously needs to be under check. Power is so easily abused.
“It is not the tiny third-world countries trying to come to grips with their economies, aspiring for reforms, and maintaining a defensive stance against those capable of taking advantage of them–but that country with the largest military power–that is the threat to world peace. The defensive behaviour of those other countries with weapons of mass destruction is a threat to no one else but the Americans. No amount of western propaganda can change that. America’s manipulation of world opinion is criminal.”
“But isn’t the United States,” Pia asked, “the policeman of the world?”
“That appears to be a self-appointed designation. If the conflict does not threaten American commercial exploits, they will not initiate diplomatic discussions. If no one approaches his dish of national interests, the policing bulldog remains in its kennel. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, western commercial interests in the region were threatened. But they have not involved themselves in the plight of some Balkan states and some African nations, belatedly if at all, because they have no commercial activities in those parts of the world. Citizens of some countries unknowingly assist in America’s “meal-dish-protection” policy by paying a national “Gulf war tax.”
“The United States cannot be designated by the international community as the guardian of world peace. Détente is the responsibility of the United Nations, not the Americans. The peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations costs money, and the Americans have the largest outstanding dues owed to them, about $1.6 billion. America’s military budget can be put to better use. So not paying this assures the Americans of the Organisation’s weakness and the United States’ strength. But the United Nations must be decisive when it comes to collective security. They should have learnt this from the devastating results of a lack of leadership at the League of Nations.”
“But why,” Pia demanded, “has the international community allowed this abuse of power to continue?”
“Is it better to be the right hand of a wolf?” Eric replied with a question. “There are some First-World countries who seem to think so. They also think that there are other cats to whip or fish to fry. No one has publicly condemned the actions of the United States, and the United Nations seems only able to slap its wrist. Where were the outrage and condemnations when the Americans violated the human rights of the people of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Guatemala, Chile, and the Philippines? Their crimes against humanity remain unpunished. If the United Nations appears incapable of controlling the behaviour of the United States, then who can? One day, this playground troublemaker will step on the toes of someone capable of challenging him. Resentment can reach a peak, and the Americans are magnets for terrorism. Conflict with the U.S. may include those countries with American military bases. An Arab leader considers any country servicing American military forces, a party to war. Remember, America’s war with Spain gravitated to where the Spanish fleet was located in Asia.
“Many conflicts incited by the Americans have been disguised as missionary work. Their superficial puritanical zeal has also been transferred to their own domestic politics, this zeal so outmoded and so ingrained in their psyche. There is no such person as a puritan and to uphold this is a practice in hypocrisy. The Americans do not know what the important issues are, what matters, and what does not.
“They spout peaceful co-existence and human values, when they are as superficial as their rules on human rights. Their virtual monopoly of the media and their expert use of propaganda, muzzle the voices of truth and justice. This country of gun-wielding citizens and racist bigots, this nation which allows anyone—a wrestler, an actor, a tailor–in the name of freedom, to run for public office based on popularity and not on a civil service qualification, is a tragedy for all mankind. No, we cannot have any one country dominate the world.
“American treachery and deception are pervasive and perfidious. One wonders whether social and political unrest in a country is American-activated or a genuine voice of the people clamouring for political and economic reforms. One wonders how the youth of their nation have acquired the appalling pop culture of the Americans. And one wonders why American-defined and imposed politics and American-defined and imposed capitalism disregards the welfare of the masses, when a government’s raison d’être is essentially socialist in precept. No, the community of nations must not allow this abuse of power to continue.”
The tour leader approached them and informed Pia that they would shortly be leaving for the Forbidden City. Pia replied that she understood and would be coming along.
“Do the Americans know that behind their government’s façade of magnanimity that they, through their foreign policy and the work of the CIA, are the threat to world peace?”
“Can you see the wart on your own nose?” Eric asked. “You need a mirror to see that. In the absence of one, a sympathetic person might point it out to you.
“The Americans helped Europe and Asia in the last War, and we are immensely grateful for that. But the post-War American governments have been doing a very poor job of filling the shoes of their grandfathers. It’s like a spoiled brat squandering his inheritance. What little goodwill remains is now inadequate to reverse the tides of antipathy and disesteem. It is not easy to see your nose when your head is too big.”
“Power has been misused for so long now, Eric,” Pia noted. “Do you think the international community will finally consider doing something about this in the immediate future?”
“No, it will be up to mature Americans to let go the tethers. Hindsight judgment is the easiest, and when all is said and done, foresight would have been the more worthy option. Let’s look at this from an “if-then” scenario: If I had learnt to swim before the boat capsized, then I would be alive today. If I had worn a sheath, then I would not be suffering from AIDS. If only you were tolerant of political ideas and cultures different from your own, then your sons and grandsons would not have to go to war to keep the peace. If the Americans are perceptive, then they will consent to the transfer of the United Nations, and with it, the responsibility of peacekeeping and impartial détente.
“One is always wiser after the event, but there are some mistakes that are impossible to correct. Prevention, as all doctors will tell you, is better than cure, and that is another significant role that the United Nations should play–that of guiding the communities of the world about choosing their leaders. Many autocratic and ruthless rulers were mostly financially underprivileged, with little or no education, and who brook no dissent. I am not saying that leaders should not be poor, but family and educational upbringing are important factors in gauging character. Where each nation attends to its own affairs, the international community suffers when one country has made a serious error of judgment and has voted into office a dysfunctional person who abuses his mandate. Other countries, through the United Nations, end up either trying to keep the peace or fighting someone else’s domestic war. Some end up with immigrants at their doorsteps.
“The United Nations, therefore, has the right to claim an imposition of a guideline of what a country’s leadership should be. Those vying for the post as their nation’s leader must conform to these criteria. Again, in order for this controversial idea to be acceptable to all nations, the United Nations’ headquarters must move to a neutral country in Europe. Likewise, the defence capabilities of all countries should be under United Nations supervision. This Organisation should also set up a system of controls to assist and ensure that these leaders have a continuing sense of community.”
They stood up and started to walk back. The pictures were taken and the loud expressions of admiration spoken. Now there was only silence along the Wall. Pia turned around to behold the sinuous effect of the rippling hills on this Chinese wall of defence of long ago.
“Society needs rules to live by, and freedom carries with it certain limits and principles,” Eric concluded. “There are good and bad in the humanity of any society, so it is pointless to generalise. Not all Americans are bad.”
“What are your plans, Eric?”
“Well, I’ve decided to return to Manila and teach at the University. I have learnt a lot overseas. I will join one of our medical institutions and contribute what I know. I would like to build hospital facilities in the rural areas where the poor have no access to medical assistance. I love my country. I have never forgotten her.
“As for my immediate plans, I’m leaving for Guilin this afternoon.”
“Where is that?
“It is a panoramic area on the Lijiang River.”
“Let’s keep in touch!” Pia said as she joined her tour, and Eric said likewise.