Filipinos love the US

Amina Rasul

Posted on May 02, 2014

ACCORDING to the Pew Research Center, Filipinos have the most favorable perception of the United States (Global Attitudes Survey). In 2002, 90% of Filipinos surveyed said that they had a favorable attitude towards the US. In 2013, this dropped slightly to 85% but still registered as the highest among countries surveyed. In comparison, Americans themselves only ranked third at 81%.

At any rate, we are in step with the positive global attitudes toward America. According to the Pew Research, "In 28 of 38 nations, half or more of those surveyed express a favorable opinion of the US." However, perceptions towards the US are negative in most predominantly Muslim nations and in China. Understandable, I suppose.

The deterioration of the situation in many Muslim countries after the war on terror and the horrific conditions of the refugees from Afghanistan to Syria have all been laid at the doorstep of the United States government.

As for China, the positive attitude of the world, which was a result of China’s liberalization policies, have deteriorated. According to Pew Research, there has been a significant reversal of opinions towards China in much of Europe, the United States, as well as parts of the Middle East. This downtrend is attributed by Pew Research to the world’s unease about China as a commercial competitor, European frustration with Chinese unilateralism in foreign affairs, American concern about the US trade deficit with China and Beijing’s holding of American debt, as well as frustration with Chinese unilateralism in international affairs.

How do we Filipinos see China? Only 48% of Filipinos surveyed had a favorable attitude, as compared to our neighbors Indonesia (70%) and Malaysia (81%). Again, understandable with the problems we have been having with the Chinese government after their unwarranted reaction over the slaying of Chinese tourists in Luneta and their aggression over the Spratlys. (It didn’t help that our popular President PNoy has compared China with Hitler.)

What has shaped the Filipino psyche that we would actually have a better impression of the United States government compared to the attitude of its own citizens? Is it media? Advertising? Our education system, which has been shaped by the American system? Centuries of colonialization, first by Spain then the United States, which have made us docile? I don’t know.

At any rate, such a positive response to our former colonial master must have been heartwarming for US President Barack Obama who finally visited the Philippines on April 29 and signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the US and the Philippines. Obama was even serenaded by three influential Cabinet members during the State Dinner at Malacañang. I viewed the rendition of Marvin Gaye’s "What’s Going On" by Secretaries Butch Abad, Rene Almendras and Babes Singson. Very entertaining, with much audience participation. Were Obama and Susan Rice actually singing with the fearless trio? This must have been a first for any official state dinner. Whatever the awesome trio lacked in terms of vocals they made up in enthusiasm. (But please don’t give up your day jobs, sirs!)

Our government officials clearly wish the US’ alliance with the Philippines to become a strong cog in the American geopolitical ship as it pivots towards Asia. After all, the Philippines has picked up the cudgels for the US in its David vs Goliath confrontation with China. None of our ASEAN neighbors, who are in similar dispute with China over the Spratlys, have.

Unfortunately, the "pivot to Asia" strategy has been widely criticized. Some Obama critics say that he has missed important opportunities to gain support in Asia through his silence over China’s increasingly strong-arm foreign policy in broadening its territorial claims.

One such opportunity was when China seized the disputed Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012. This despite the American commitment to defend us under the 1951 mutual defense treaty, reaffirmed in 2011, when the "Manila Declaration" was signed by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario. The 1951 pact called on both countries to support each other if either were to be attacked by an external party.

Remember the standoff? Spotting Chinese fishing boats around the shoal, PNoy ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Navy to investigate, sending Philippine Navy flagship, BRP Gregorio Del Pilar. The Yuzheng 310, armed with machine guns and cannons, protected the Chinese poachers. Have you seen our Navy flagship? If only a slingshot could work against cannons and machine guns. And so the Chinese government issued strong statements condemning the Philippines aggression even as we were defending our own waters.

The deafening silence of the US likely encouraged China to move more aggressively.

Obama’s critics opine that his administration is unwilling to disrupt its relationship with China, which has become central to US interests. They point out that the Obama administration chose to turn a blind’s eye to its commitment to defend an ally.

With the signing of the EDCA, will the Philippines again be a "favored son"?

Analysts who have commented on the EDCA are of two minds. One group believe that it will, given the American government’s immediate response to help us when Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda devastated Visayan provinces and the effectiveness of the training given our military under the Balikatan Program. The other group disagrees. A recent editorial cartoon (PDI, April 30) captured their position on the EDCA, with the descriptive caption that the US may, or may not, come to our defense.

The US alliance with the Philippines is the oldest of its five treaty alliances in Asia. However, after the Cory Aquino government kicked out the American bases, that alliance cooled off until 2001, when the Philippines became the first country in Asia to support the US in its war on terror. This support actually created problems for our government’s peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as Mindanao became host to hundreds (some say thousands) of American soldiers, purportedly stationed to train Philippine soldiers against terrorism.

I feel that it is the cultural and humanitarian ties between the two countries that have sustained the positivity of our peoples.

We adore American movie stars and pop stars. We are glued to American Idol and The Voice. When disaster strikes, the Americans are always the first to come to our aid. In Mindanao, for instance. After the 2008 fighting which left 800,000 refugees, USAID was there. After Typhoons Sendong and Pablo, USAID was there.

I guess that largely explains why we Filipinos have such a positive attitude towards the US.

As for security and mutual defense, I will go and find my slingshot.