January 05, 2005
A Brief History Of The Philippines
DAY 438: December 30 is Rizal Day in the Philippines, a national holiday celebrating the death of Filipino revolutionary Jose Rizal, who, like Cuban rebel Che Guevarra, got his start in medicine. An optometrist-turned-national hero, Rizal led the rebellion against Spanish rule with his controversial eye-opening books like Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) crying for Filipino independence. For his insurrection he was sentenced to death and thus became a martyr of the Filipino patriots who continued the fight against the Spanish.
The Philippines, which were named after King Philip of Spain, has come a long way since the days of Jose Rizal. It being Rizal Day 2004, our goal in the beginning of the morning was to try and finish up the sites in the Baguio area and then head to Rizal Park back in Manila to catch the tail end of festivities if time allowed. However, with so much history in the Philippines, we barely had enough time to cover it all.
"LOOK, THE FAMILY NAME IS EVERYWHERE," my uncle pointed out when we drove through the nearby city of La Trinidad, a city whose name still carried the Spanish legacy that Rizal spoke against. "Trinidad" is of course Spanish for "Trinity," which is of course the name of Carrie Anne Moss' character in The Matrix trilogy; people can make fun of me for saying I'm named after a girl, but I'd like to point out that Trinity is a girl that kicks ass.
La Trinidad is not famous for anything Matrix-related; it is famous for its strawberry fields, which was what we went to see just after sunrise. Gardeners walked back and forth through the rows of strawberries and other vegetables, while vendors on the side sold their latest picks and their derivative products. From there we went back to Baguio to see the holy Lourdes' Grotto, the view from Mines View Park, and the presidential summer mansion where ABS-CBN and GMA news vans were gearing up for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's end-of-year statements. We drove the scenic mountain roads and ended up at Camp John Hay, a former U.S. military based-turned-country club that my uncle raved about.
"So who is John Hay?" I asked him.
"I don't know. You ask questions," he told me as we parked in the lot of the Mile Hi Center, a strip mall in the Camp John Hay complex.
"Sino ba John Hay?" I asked at the first store we entered, a sporting goods store.
"John Hay," the guy answered. "John Hay Milton."
"Sino John Hay Milton?" JayPee asked. He didn't know either.
The guy shrugged his shoulders and asked a co-worker if he knew. I thought it was the beginning of a wild goose chase, but the cashier pulled out a history book that they sold, which answered my questions. John Hay Milton was the U.S. Secretary of State at the time the Philippines became a United States colony after the Spanish-American War. It was for him that the military base was named after, despite the fact that he had never set foot in the Philippines at all. John Hay Milton was an important guy nonetheless, for it was he who was in charge of foreign relations at a time when the US stopped living the shadows of its English roots and was becoming a superpower on its own.
Most of this history I learned on the historical nature trail just outside the Bell Amphitheater and the Bell House (with its kitschy totem pole of significant Americans in the Philippines), both named after Major General Franklin Bell, commanding officer of the Philippine department of the U.S. military. Although the United States granted the Philippines pseudo-independence in 1946, it wasn't until much later that the U.S. pulled troops out of Camp John Hay. In 1991, the U.S. handed the base over to the Philippine Ministry of Tourism, who transformed it into a getaway place for Filipinos, foreign ex-pats and tourists alike.
The Bell House, at the center of the "Historical Core," was big and worthy for a big American general, even with the lack of the original furniture because the Americans took it back. The resident house guard/guide was a happy old Filipino man named Reynaldo, who led me and my notepad around the house, from the living room to the master bedroom. A former Philippine marine, Reynaldo had served as a military escort for the Marcos family from 1970 to 1978, but resigned after nine years of service for the reason he told me, because he realized how corrupt his leader was and wanted to get out.
"So have you seen all of Imelda's shoes?" I asked Reynaldo.
"No," he said laughing.
Marcos' dictatorship ended in 1986 when, as the conspiracy theory goes, he had his rival, Senator Benigno Aquino shot in the back as he disembarked from an airplane upon his return of a nine-year period in exile for his insolence. It was this murder that set the stage in motion for major political reform; the people and the National Assembly saw behind the 1986 elections that Marcos also tried to rig, and declared Marcos' opponent the winner, one Corazon Aquino, widow of the murdered senator. From then on, the Philippine government started its way towards a more democratic nation.
U.S. President George W. Bush, in his "War on Terror," had deployed U.S. troops to the Philippines to fight the terrorist threat, but the Philippine government strongly opposed it, under grounds that it would just be history repeating itself -- US troops using the Philippines again for their own military strategy. The Philippines vowed they could handle their own problems with their own army, and upon a visit to the General Gregorio H. Del Pilar Philippine Military Academy on the way home, I saw that it was quite possible. The military academy was the Filipino version of West Point, a training ground for soldiers, and a tourist attraction for me, with its tanks, monuments, planes (picture above), a tree house, and flag at half-mast for the victims of the Asian Tsunami.
DETAILS AND TRAILER COMING SOON...
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