Can the People Be Free Under Imperialism?

June 12 marks the celebration of Independence Day, known as Araw ng Kalayaan or “Day of Freedom” in the Philippines. The day commemorates the Philippines’ 1898 independence from Spain, the holiday invites us to ask the question, is the Philippines truly free? What is the meaning of “freedom” in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial state? Can a people truly be free under the boot of US imperialism?

Proclamation of Philippine Independence Historical Markers at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite (photo c/o Ralff Nestor Nacor)

Despite the armed struggle that led to General Emilio Aguinaldo’s 1898 proclamation of an independent state, the Philippines was promptly sold by Spain to the United States for $20 million. 

The Philippines was only officially a US colony until 1946 but, despite its official independence, its people continued to suffer under successive regimes serving as puppets for US interests, up to the current US-backed Marcos regime. The handoff from one colonial power to another is not a cause for celebration but rather represents a pattern of imperialist domination that must be put to an end in the Philippines.

The US is not alone in its colonial exploitation of the Philippines, Canada benefits greatly from the extraction of raw materials through mining, and extracting the labour of the Filipino people through forced migration and the Labour Export Policy. Canada also recently participated as an observer in the Balikatan war games, where the US stationed more weapons and forces to conduct military manoeuvres in the South China Sea. The US and the Philippines claim this is for the benefit and defence of the Filipino people. Still, we know that historically imperialist countries only seek to expand their military presence and power.

A Canadian-owned open-pit mine in the Philippines slices through Mount Canatuan, a sacred mountain of the Indigenous Subanen people (photo c/o Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace / The Canadian Press)

US imperialism is preparing for war against China, using the Philippines’ strategic position to surround and threaten China. With 17 new US military bases constructed in the Philippines and an increase in US military presence in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, Marcos is permitting the Philippines to be used as a pawn in America’s imperialist war games.

Philippine and U.S. military and government representatives participate in the Balikatan 2024 opening ceremony in Manila in April 2024 (image from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines itself acts alongside its occupying powers, exploits the Filipino masses, and suppresses movements for full independence. Canada is following suit, having signed a memorandum of understanding regarding defence cooperation with the Philippines in January of this year with plans of developing a visiting forces agreement of their own. 

Philippines and Canada sign a defence cooperation agreement in Quezon City on January 19, 2024, paving the way for Canadian Imperialist control in the region (image from Philippine Department of National Defence)

Canada-Philippines Solidarity Organization asserts that true freedom, and real, genuine democracy is a cause worth fighting for, and a cause that we must take up in earnest. 126 years after bogus ‘independence’ was first proclaimed, the struggle carries on for genuine independence and sovereignty, which will only be realized by throwing off the yoke of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism.

Independence cannot be granted by a state, but can only be struggled for and seized by a people.

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