What justified planting rumors that an asuang lived on a neighboring hill where the Huks were based? It was an American tactic, and it worked. Called psychological warfare, it was another psywar operation, calculated to play on Filipino superstitions, all for the sake of human liberty. It became the daily business of the Civil Affairs Office.
The attitudes of the Americans in the embassy office often shocked their native counterparts. These attitudes were transparent and stemmed from questions raised about Filipino competence. The Americans assumed that if left alone the Philippines would soon fall apart. Without their help, anarchy and misrule seemed certain, and it would be worse than when Spain ruled.
By 1950, everyone was aware of the debt that was owed Americans. Since they liberated them from the Japanese and then granted them their independence, then why not grant Americans a special status? Weren’t the two countries fighting a common enemy?
It was the job of the Civil Affairs Office to make sure Filipinos believed, contrary to fact, that the Huks let the Japanese invaders run all over them. Back in the States, few people had heard of the People’s Army Against Japan, HUK the Tagalog acronym, while those who had (influenced perhaps by the New York Times) called the Hukbalahap a Communist rebellion. Besides helping a former colony through a crisis, stopping communism seemed to justify the psywar. Concentrating on making the countryside safe for democracy helped the Americans justify what they did.
The Huks came close to victory in 1950, but by the end of the decade they would be largely contained. To think the Maoist model would work in the Luzon countryside showed how little the men who led the movement knew about politics. Was it because the Maoist worldview was beyond the peasants’ comprehension? Why should they be upset over U.S. imperialism? What about the high cost of living…. the high prices, the high transportation rates, the high tuition fees and the high cost of books….graft and corruption, government overspending and election fraud…. poverty, unemployment, exploitation of tenants, and the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer? How did these things effect them? And why did it seem as if change was impossible? Did any of this justify the unrest or any of the meddling? In face of an obvious Communist threat, the Americans had to make sure their brown brothers didn’t lose what they just gained. But, as a piece of real estate, did the Yankees really need or want the Philippines?
It was from the American bases that the Americans launched air and sea strikes against Korea and China, Vietnam and Indonesia. Speaking of real estate, who really owned most of it? U.S corporations dominated strategic sectors of the economy: petroleum, chemicals, tires and rubber, mining, drugs, soap and cosmetics, banking, insurance, and the list continued on and on. Yet the real enemies of the Huks were not outsiders but local exploiters: the Lopezes, the Roxas, the Aranetas, the Akyalas, the large landowners: the sugar millionaires, the Filipino Bourgeoisie. The Huks, however, would never meditate with these wealthy families on behalf of their tenants.
But would the world’s greatest defender of democracy, the undisputed leader of the Free World, let Central Luzon fall to bandits who were no more than stooges of the international Communist conspiracy? They needed to be opposed, as all such groups should’ve been?
There were many ways to test your willpower. It depended on where you preferred to eat, what tempted you so much, that if you deliberately tried to stop before you were full you’d afterwards regret it. Just the opposite, there were other places, which because of hysteria over flies and water, while probably safe, appeared to have been less than appetizing. Throughout the Philippines, there were Americans who felt so far away from home that they hated everything about living there and spent all of their time focused on unpleasantness. J ack would never have been one of those people. Instead he loved the food and spent a great deal of time exploring Filipino restaurants.
Some of the best restaurants in Manila were Chinese; and among them the Fukkin House, specializing in Fukkinese dishes, was one of the best. Into it, without planning to, Jack stumbled and found himself welcomed by the owner. By then, a beautiful girl of eighteen graced his company. A daughter of a progressive professor, she didn’t appear particularly awkward or uncomfortable with being called a little whore for being without a chaperon with an American. Mere accident brought Jack to her family’s home, something in any case that was too ludicrous to explain.
Jack felt pleased with his host’s hospitality, over how friendly his dark-haired, bright-eyed friend was, of Dr. Ramos’ acceptance and his wife Cecelia’s open arms, etc., as real and probably as sincere as he’d ever know. They appeared to love Americans, along with the promises of independence and the possibilities of prosperity. They listened with hope to every promise, promises that were elusive, while looking for justice and a vision that gave everyone a fair share of the harvest. Never suspected of being disloyal to Elpidio Quirino, who became president after Roxa’s death in 1948, Dr. Ramos could be very disloyal to the president. Jack knew the professor enjoyed listening to Russian and Chinese music but hadn’t given much significance to it beyond that. The American also didn’t know then that the professor had to be careful because Manila police detectives throughout the city were on the lookout for communist sympathizers.
Intensity and pride punctuated the professor’s words. He regarded himself an educated peasant patriot and talked to Jack about the peasant movement. He spoke of how large landowners treated their tenants as slaves and that the majority wanted to become owners of the land they cultivated.
Glad to have someone to show him around Manila, Jack tried not to act as a tourist. On the other hand, he toured the city as planned by Anna and her father, which took him from the Quiapo Market to inside the walls and ramparts of Intramuros and Fort Santiago. What happened in the old city in 1945 was still evident. Where thousands were trapped and the Americans bombed and the Japanese refused to surrender, three centuries of Spanish history was destroyed in a few days. You may recall Rizal’s short stay in Fort Santiago and his execution in the Luneta.
The Americans had also encouraged the center of the city to shift away from Intramuros and transformed the moat around the walled city into an eighteen-hole golf course. They tried to turn Manila into an American city. But Jack only saw evidence of this transformation and didn’t know much about the history. He didn’t know that recognition of particular facts had become a political act.
Suppose it all hadn’t gone well, with Jack’s introduction to the opulent world of the Manila Hotel. It so happened that his host belonged to that elite club, which included membership for him and his family to the Manila Yacht Club. Afternoon receptions at the U.S. Embassy had become almost passé. Why Dr. Ramos would want to be identified with largely a white crowd confused Jack and seemed hypocritical. Before Independence only Americans could belong to the Yacht Club; and as of yet, those doors were only beginning to open for Filipinos. By playing rich men’s games such as horseracing, sailing and tennis, the wealthy often copied the elitism of their former colonial masters. These people were in the minority; but that didn’t seem to matter to Dr. Ramos.
The Ramos family rented Jack a room just large enough for a bed, books and a desk. This space was all he needed and was important to him. It gave him a place to study, because since he met Dr. Ramos he discovered an exceptional appetite for learning. Whether Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Nietzche, or Shakespeare, he chose books randomly, books in English he found in bookstalls. Very recent this appetite seemed as if it came out of nowhere. While doing things and going places, he asked questions. ” What are those islands over there?” Corregidor and Caballo Islands were examples of places he asked about.