The Philippines figured prominently in the Korean War and the Cold War because of our strategic location within Asia. If I remember my histories correctly, Clark was used at times as a covert staging ground for US deployments in the region (CIA ops and so forth). Part of the reason why the US was so keen on ensuring that the Philippines maintained military installations. Clark and Subic (for years) were two of the largest military installations in the world. I do believe they were even the largest outside of US territory.
1950-1953 period also covers the rise of the Huk, and the counter-insurgency stuff that was put together by Magsasay as Defense secretary. He is credited with making the Philippine military a professional fighting force, weeding out corruption and the like. He even used to accompany the troops on insurgency moves for photo ops. Anyway, there are rumors, or have been rumors, that he was supported by the CIA; a certain Edward Lansdale. Legend goes he was even the model for Alden Pyle in The Quiet American. Lansdale is a curious figure unto himself, being the architect of the whole “hearts and minds” doctrine in combating communism and dictatorships.
Anyway, back to the Korean War. I wonder how many know that the Korean War is still being fought today. Just last month the North Koreans blew up that South Korean cutter, just the latest in an unending war that really started with the invasion of the peninsula by the Japanese during World War II. In many ways, Asia is still living in a WWII world.
Yep, we were an outpost for CIA operations in the area. And yes I have read about Col. Lansdale and his counter-insurgency tactics. His style was usually to combine local folklore, guerrilla warfare, and co-optation of local elites. I even read somewhere that it was during the counter-insurgency operations against the Huk that the idea of aswangs coming out at night was widely used by the military (under Lansdale’s instruction) to limit the movements of civilians in the rural areas.
Yes sir, I also have read somewhere that he was the model for Alden Pyle in The Quiet American. I have yet to read the book though, but I have seen the film with Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser. And oh, Lansdale is also suspected to have been part of the JFK assassination, after he was seen by military associates as among those within the vicinity of the crime scene disguised as a hobo, immediately after the assassination. Lansdale had an axe to grind with JFK.
Later the Philippines would play a role in the CIA operations in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Lansdale and his Filipino associate Napoleon Valeriano would use their experience with the Huk in the dealing with the Viet Minh. Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base became homes for clandestine operations in Vietnam and neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Laos. I think Professor Roland Simbulan of UP made a good article on this.
Another American who would figure prominently in CIA-sponsored anti-communist counter-insurgency operations in the Philippines was Colonel Nick Rowe. Rowe was a US special forces soldier who became a POW in Vietnam but was able to escape his Vietnamese captors. His experience and techniques would be used as the basis of the new Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape or SERE training of the US military. Rowe would later be detailed to the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) in the Philippines where he was involved in counter-insurgency operations against the CPP-NPA-NDF. He would later be assassinated by a NPA hit squad near the JUSMAG compound in Quezon City.
Yes, the Philippines figured much in CIA operations during the Cold War. And it was easy since the country hosted two of the biggest military bases outside of the Unites States. And they could move about the country without arousing much suspicion being that the local population had gotten used to seeing Americans for over half a century.
But while most of us assume that American presence and clandestine operations in and from the Philippines have ended after the bases were turned over in 1991, we fail to see that the presence of the continuing Americans in Western Mindanao actually constitutes virtual basing. The prosecution of the Global War on Terror in South East Asia is based in the Philippines, particularly in Zamboanga City.
Since January 2002, Western Mindanao has been the base of operations for US special forces units and intelligence personnel operating against the Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, Darul Islam, and other extremist organizations supposedly financed by Al Quaeda. You might be interested in the Focus on the Global South report on this.
When I was still in Mindanao, I interviewed someone from the progressive human rights group Karapatan who told me that there were at least 72 American spies in Mindanao. And these spies were spread from Surigao del Sur in the East to Sulu in the West; from Cagayan de Oro in North to Davao City in the South. And one of these spies, who goes by the name Michael Meiring, literally blew his cover when his hotel room in Davao City exploded. He was masquerading as a treasure hunter and he stored explosives in his room. He was later swiftly whisked out of the local hospital and to the US Embassy in Manila by “FBI” agents.
While the continued presence of the US forces in Western Mindanao may have stirred up some of the nations fiercest nationalists, much of the country remains apathetic. And in the areas themselves, like Zamboanga City, Basilan, and Sulu, the American troops are actually more welcomed and respected than the Philippine soldiers. So much so that one reporter wrote somewhere I can no longer recall, the locals in one town offered tea to the patrolling American soldier and not the Filipino.
I even recall a story made by colleague David Santos of ABS-CBN Zamboanga in 2006 where a local was interviewed and asked of his opinion of the American presence in Basilan. The local answered that he was happy that the Americans were back and he was hopeful that things will change for the better since the Americans were in Basilan again. This bias toward the American and against the Filipino by Muslims can best be understood by reading Samuel Tan’s A Critical Decade.
As a son of Mindanao, I find it difficult at times to think which should come first. While I consider the continued presence of US troops and intelligence assets in the Land of Promise as an affront to the sovereignty of the country, pragmatically, I know that the Armed Forces of the Philippines does not have the technological capability the US troops have. The AFP will never be able to crush the Abu Sayyaf on its own. Added to this, the presence of the AFP in places like Basilan and Sulu will always be met by locals with suspicion and hate, than the presence of the US forces. Where then do we draw the line?