By Ferdinand A. Pasion, C.P.A.
GEOGRAPHY’S ROLE IN BIRTHING U.S. IMPERIALISM
Many of today’s observers of global current events have been studying the validity of what is written in at least two books, among others, that Robert Downs said “changed the world” – one is “The Geographical Pivot of History,” also known as “The Heartland Theory” published in 1904 by Halford John Mackinder, an Englishman, and the other is “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783” published in 1890 by Alfred Thayer Mahan, an American. Both of these books influenced modern political and economic decision-makers like Theodore Roosevelt, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley, into implementing unpopular ideas like making America an imperialist country by invading, occupying and colonizing the then already independent but strategically-located Philippine Republic.
According to Mahan as narrated by Robert Downs, Britain (and by deduction of Theodore Roosevelt, potentially the Philippines) is in “a central position with ports near major trade routes and strong bases for operations against potential enemies which is a great strategic asset.” Britain, it must remembered, has control of the English Channel and North Sea trade routes and this enabled it to gain supremacy. The Philippines, on the other hand, has the potential to control the Malacca Strait, the South China Sea, the Balabac Strait between Palawan and Sabah, Mindoro Strait between Mindoro and Palawan, the Verde Island Passage between Luzon and Mindoro, the Sulu Sea which is between Sabah and the Sulu Archipelago, the Luzon Strait between the islands of Taiwan and Luzon, the western Pacific Ocean, the San Bernardino Strait and the Surigao Strait.
Indeed, the six elements identified by Mahan as necessary for a nation to achieve power at sea are all possessed or potentially to be possessed by the Philippines, namely: (1) geographical position; (2) physical conformation (including natural production and climate); (3) extent of territory; (4) number of population; (5) character of the people; and (6) character of the government. America does not possess all these elements but the Philippines has or has the potential to have all these elements, thus, Theodore Roosevelt has been led to believe, by the “weapon” – that is – the book of Mahan, that America must acquire the Philippines.
The vital importance of coal re-fuelling stations and, more importantly, sources of oil are at least two immediate reasons why the American Navy needed to acquire the Philippines. If the sovereignty of America is extended to the Philippines, American ships will have permanent coal re-fuelling stations from the northernmost to the southernmost parts of the Philippine Islands. Also not to be forgotten is the fact that, at the beginning of the 20th century, oil has began to be seen as the next efficient and more effective fuel source for naval fleets and that this liquid mineral is plentiful in a part of the Philippines called Sabah which was then being leased by the British from the Sultan of Sulu who happen to be a Philippine national – Sulu being a part of the Philippine Archipelago which was then a territory of the Kingdom of Spain.
The mysterious sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana’s harbor on February 15, 1898, convinced the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, that the Spanish forces were to blame. He was “sure” that the bombing was no accident and that Maine was a victim of “dirty treachery.” On the afternoon of February 25, Secretary of the Navy John Long left his office early and thus placed Roosevelt in charge. Roosevelt began to issue fleet orders as fast as the telegrapher could handle them. A general alert was sent to all ships, stations and fleet commanders throughout the world–ordering them to have their ships fueled and ready to leave port immediately.
But the most important thing to be remembered is that even prior to the USS Maine incident, Commodore George Dewey had already sailed with his flagship, the cruiser Olympia, to Hong Kong! And the rest of Dewey’s squadron was already at Nagasaki, Japan! It is as if all things were already put in place and that the Spanish-American War was already predicted with accuracy by a clairvoyant! Roosevelt, after the Maine was destroyed, telegraphed Dewey: Order your squadron, except the Monocacy, to join you at Hong Kong. In event of declaration of war against Spain, your duty will be to see that Spanish ships do not leave the Asiatic coast, and then begin offensive operations in the Philippine Islands. This pre-deployment or pre-positioning and rapid arrival of the American fleet in Subic and Manila Bays left the Spanish fleet surprised when the American naval ships began bombing them even before the Spaniards in the Philippines received the cable that war has started between America and Spain. Indeed, the Maine was the victim of a “dirty treachery” but by whom?
Thus in 1898, by way of war, first against the Spaniards and then against the Filipinos, America colonized the Philippines and acquired all the six elements of greatness, identified by Mahan, that America did not all possess before its “Philippine project.”
Years later, a Filipino by the name of Ferdinand E. Marcos, after reading the book of Mahan, likewise got convinced that the Philippines can be “great again” if it will have, at least, a strong merchant marine fleet. Thus, when he became President, Marcos ordered the establishment of the Bataan Shipyard and Engineering Corporation (Baseco) and the Philippine Shipyard and Engineering Corporation (Philseco), which were state enterprises, in order for the Philippines to acquire the capability to build ships and oil tankers that can transport oil from “non-traditional sources,” like Iran and China (which was then still exporting oil), to the Philippines. Marcos also tried to re-take Sabah, which according to many legal scholars rightfully belongs to the Philippines, not just to correct a legal and moral injustice but also to project Philippine sea power further out, and nearer to, the Strait of Malacca, through which most oil imports of the Philippines passes through.
The election of a businessman, Donald Trump, to the Oval Office will bring to fore the importance, once again, of geography in politics and economics as entrepreneurs are known to be more keen on establishing new markets and in more efficiently connecting different areas of the world for trade and commerce. Trump indeed has the business acumen of the Chinese. It is expected that he will re-negotiate trade agreements with China to seek a “better deal” for the American government and corporations but, at the same time, Trump is expected to look for other business opportunities in other parts of the world, heretofore not given much attention by his recent predecessors, like Africa and a take a “second look” at South America. Indeed, the businessman in him will drive him to seek ways and means to, first bring back money and capital to the U.S., and then, after a few years, look on how to expand the opportunities for this U.S. money and capital in different parts of the world.
The Obama Administration’s pivot to Asia will become real under the Trump Administration but this pivot is expected to be more on trade and commerce rather than a pure military pivot. Trump, the businessman that he is, will just use the Pentagon card for business ends for, after all, the business of America is business. This is therefore not expected to bring war in Asia but may even bring America and China closer together, under a “better deal for America” which Trump has been trumpeting about. If the negotiations for this “better deal for America” succeeds with the cooperation of China, the much-awaited railway link between China and America via Siberia will finally become true.
Europe will undergo an economic stagnation, if it is not now already there, but this will bring to power politicians who will be more pragmatic and economically-oriented than military-oriented. Angela Merkel and her ilk in other countries of Europe will necessarily become a thing of the past just like the dinosaurs and a new détente between Western Europe and Russia will materialize. From out of the ashes of the European Union, a new E.U. will come out which will be composed of lesser countries, probably just ten.
The dizzying speed by which breath-taking economic changes will take place will bring about faster and more transparent ways of money transfers through so-called e-cash like bit coins and its variants. The world will necessarily be more inter-connected by rail, plane and ship transport to enable, for example, persons from the Philippines to order and receive goods from South Africa, via the internet and parcel services, and vice-versa.
The recent election of foreign affairs maverick Rodrigo Duterte to power in the Philippines will enable the Philippines to be connected to Eurasia and Africa through the so-called “Maritime Silk Road.” If Vietnam, China, the Philippines and Russia will keep their act together, they will be the new economic and military super-alliance, not only of the Far East but of the entire world. Goods and services can be more efficiently produced and transported from the Philippines to Vietnam, thence on to China and Russia, Western Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The only obstacle to this would-be economic power house alliance is the cost of production that now is prohibitive – most especially in the Philippines due to the near-absolute control by its oligarchs on many inefficient monopolies and oligopolies. If the Philippines will be able to lower the price of all the factors of production, including, but not limited to, electricity, water, toll fees, transport costs, internet connection, etc., the Philippines together with Vietnam can be the new industrial production base of the world while China and Russia will be moving towards “higher-end” robotic manufacturing and more service-oriented economies.
The territorial disputes in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea or East Vietnam Sea, will give way to necessity for necessity is the mother not only of inventions but of political, economic and diplomatic “contraptions” as well. Later on, Indonesia will be necessitated to join this super-polinomic “contraption” of Russia, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
For all this to come true is not a question of how but when. For all this to come true, Pres. Duterte must summon all his power and strength to do a Theodore Roosevelt and demolish the inefficiencies in his country’s economy brought about by antequated giant monopolies and oligopolies controlled by a few Jurassic “pseudo-business” families whose “acumen” for business is equal only to the favors given to them by the government through deals absent of any level playing field for the genuine entrepreneurs. Duterte must act fast using the country’s anti-monopoly-oligopoly, pro-labor and socialist Constitution of 1987 in order to bring about a genuine globally-competitive Philippines. He should not wait for any constitutional amendment which will only take precious time because there is a revolution of rising expectations on him, and the people of the Philippines and its nearby neighbors are waiting for faster results considering that he controls both houses of the legislature of the country with a “super-majority” wherein even those in the “minority” are his ardent supporters.
Duterte must be reminded that China does not allow any private ownership of land by its citizens nor – more so – by foreigners. China does not also encourage 100% foreign ownership of corporations but encourages joint ventures between foreign corporations and local Chinese state enterprises with technology transfer. The proto- or pre-internet age mantra of 100% foreign ownership of everything first before foreign investments can be attracted to come in has already been proven to be a hoax and rapid reforms no longer necessitate any Constitutional amendment which will only waste much time.
RUSSIA-CHINA SURVIVAL AND THE PHILIPPINES
The security of Russia and China lies in the Philippines not allowing any foreign troops and facilities in its land and seas. The current Constitution of the Philippines already says so. However, many legal thinkers believe that the Philippine Supreme Court “amended” the Constitution through a mere decision mandating that the Constitutional prohibition on foreign troops and facilities on Philippine soil and waters is hereby repealed. Therefore, Duterte rather than seeking any Constitutional amendment, should just endeavor to make the Supreme Court reverse its ruling and declare that foreign military troops and facilities shall not be allowed unless there is a new “post-1991” treaty which must be recognized as such by both contracting states, in this case, the Philippines and the U.S. Of course, this will make it much more difficult for the U.S. to legally station troops and facilities on Philippine territory.
THE NEW GALLEON TRADE
The strategic location of the Philippines has made it a center of trade and commerce between the Americas and China even from the time of the so-called Galleon Trade from China to Acapulco via the Philippines. The Philippines must maximize, to the fullest, its Asian and Latin American heritage and bring about a new China-Philippines-Latin America cultural and trade “contraption.” Historical realities must be brought to the fore and the Philippines can first achieve this through an annual China-Philippines-Latin America Film and Music Festival (the Philippines being known for its artistic people), which will bring to Manila all the famous music and film stars of China, the Philippines and Latin America. They will all be there not just to perform but also to be given awards similar to the Oscars and Gramophone or Grammy Awards, which may be even called as the “Asiamerica Galleon Awards.” This will pave the way for more heavy traffic of goods and services on both shores of the Pacific.
THE FUTURE IS INEVITABLE AND NOT IMPOSSIBLE
Indeed the future is bright for all possibilities. There is now nothing impossible under the geographical polinomics of the globe. All that is needed is ideas, and individuals not afraid to come up with new “impossible” ideas. The new norm is – the impossible is possible!