The sad story of the Philippines
- You'll be happy to know, Ogie, that the event you refer to is addressed in Mike Davis' Late Victorian Holocausts; El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World.
I believe I'll type in all he has to say about the Philippines. It's somewhat long, but hopefully it will at least interest you, if no one else.
And I think I'll send it to another group dedicated to that John Bennett guy I mentioned earlier, to illustrate that there are times when you can be as detached as you please, but, unless you have your eyes closed, you're still going to feel the pain.
In the Philippines, the great drought struck hardest at the western Visayas, especially the island of Negros, where the explosive growth of sugar monoculture had displaced traditional food self-sufficiency. The Occidental province of Negros, whose population skyrocketed from 18,805 in 1855 to 308,272 in 1898, came to replicate most of the exploitative and unsustainable characteristics of distant Caribbean sugar colonies. Former Spanish colonial officials and army officers, as well as wealthy mestizo merchants, used their political connections to wrest "through usury, terror, or purchase" vast tracts of land in Occidental's western plains from pioneering Panayan peasants who had first cleared the tropical forests in the 1850s. They were replaced first by immigrant sharecroppers, then by debt-bonded wage laborers.
The widespread fencing of land and the emergence of the haciendas, landlords, and a landless proletariat, further led to rural indebtedness, widespread poverty, seasonal scarcity of food, and increasingly low level of nutrition and seriously adverse health conditions. Inevitably, such conditions led to high mortality rates.
Locust plagues, particularly devastating to rice crops, were the constant companion to the long drought from 1876 to 1878. In the absence of any organized relief effort by corrupt Spanish authorities, the astronomical rise in rice prices in conjunction with low sugar prices and high unemployment condemned large numbers of hacienda day-laborers and poor townspeople to starvation. As in India and Java, many of those who were weakened but not killed by the famine were subsequently picked off by cholera and malaria.
Negro's neighbor island, Panay, the sacred capital of Visayan shamanism (the babaylan), also suffered massive mortality during the drought. Again, starvation was conditioned by recent and abrupt deterioration in economic autonomy and well-being. In the 1850s sinamay textiles sustained a rich trade that made Panay's principle port of Iloilo a "dynamic commercial entrepot, second only to Manila in size and importance." Within twenty years, however, local textile production was destroyed and once-prosperous Panay weavers were indio peons on the sugar plantations of Negros.
In 1855 Iloilo was officially opened to foreign commerce, and the next year the British sent a vice-consul, Nicholas Loney, to the city. He pursued a local mission of substituting cheaper, machine-made British textiles for the locally made ones and encouraging the production of sugar as a profitable return cargo. He was remarkably successful in his mission. Iloilo's textile exports to Manila dwindled from 141,420 piezas in 1863 to 5,100 in 1873.
Thus the ruined weaving villages of Panay, like their sister towns in Negros, had few resources to resist crop failure and price inflation. The records of the Augustinians note the corpses strewn in the streets of San Joaquin in 1877, while "oral tradition among shamans of Panay recount 'three years' of drought and famine that ravaged this town and left people dying of starvation and thirst, as all the rivers and springs had dried up." As in Korea and Vietnam, famine produced a resurgence of folk messianism, in this case in magical rain-making competition with the Spanish friars.
The supernatural impotence of the Spanish priests in face of the drought, together with the inability of officials to contain the cholera epidemic that followed in its wake, inspired the shamans to mount direct challenges to a disintegrating colonial state, converting the whole of the Visayas into a theater of resistance. By the late 1880s, thousands of peasants and aborigines in both Panay and Negros (in a movement strikingly analogous to the millenarian refuges of Joaseiro and Canudos in contemporary northeast Brazil) had withdrawn into autonomous armed communities in the mountains led by prominent babalans like Panay's Clara Tarrosa, "an eighty-year-old woman who claimed to be the 'Virgin Mary'", or Negros's Ponciano Elopre, a transvestite miracle-worker known as Dios Buhawi (the Waterspout God) for his/her skill in rainmaking. Despite brutal retaliations, including massacres and summary executions, Spanish power essentially collapsed in the island interiors, leaving the babaylons and their followers to confront the more ruthless, usurper colonialism of the Americans a decade later.
In the Philippines, drought again brought famine to Negros's infamous sugar plantations in 1896-97, then returned to devastate agriculture on Luzon, Panay and other big islands from 1899 to 1903.
In addition, living standards and public health had been undermined by the ecological chain reaction set in motion by the arrival of the rinderpest virus in the late 1880s. Arguably the single greatest catastrophe in the 19th century Philippines, rinderpest killed off most of the draft animals on Luzon and forced farmers to drastically reduce the extent of cultivation, aggravating malnutrition and debt. Meanwhile, untilled land that returned to scrub or vegetation provided favorable breeding conditions for both locusts and anopheline mosquitos. In lieu of its preferred blood meals [cattle], A. Minimus blaviorstris increased its human-biting rate, setting off seasonal epidemics that made it difficult for the labor force to work even the reduced amount of agricultural acreage. Thus debilitated by malaria and impoverished by the loss of their cattle, Filipinos were then exposed to the microbial campfollowers of the invading Spanish and US armies. The 122,000 American troops, especially, brought a whole stream of diseases including hookworm as well as new lethal strains of malaria, smallpox and venereal disease.
The Americans, moreover, exceeded even the cruelest Spanish precedents in manipulating disease and hunger as weapons against an insurgent but weakened population. Beginning with the outbreak of war in February 1899, military authorities closed all the ports. Then, as drought began to turn into famine in 1900, they authorized the systematic destruction of rice stores and livestock in areas that continued to support guerrilla resistance. As historians would later point out, the ensuing campaign prefigured US strategy in Vietnam during the 1960s. As one soldier wrote back home to Michigan: "We burned every house, destroyed every carabao and other animals, all rice and other foods." As a result, agricultural production was so generally crippled during the American war that food-surplus regions hardly existed.
On Samar, Brigadier General Jacob Smith ordered his men to turn the interior into a "howling wildernedd"
It appears that the American war contributed directly and indirectly to the loss of more than a million persons from a base population of about seven million. In comparative terms, this was comparable to mortality during the Irish famine of the 1840s.
One of the most remarkable local rebellions during the Philippines' war for independence coincided with the ravages of drought and hunger on Negros. On the big sugar island anti-imperialism fused with stark class conflict between hacenderos and pumuluyo (the common people). The Negrense elites to protect their interests against hungry and dissatisfied workers and peasants ardently sided first with the Spanish, then with the American colonialists. As arriving US military officials discovered, the protracted drought had made these social tensions volcanic.
When the explosion came, it merged the grievances of unemployed sugar workers and marginalized peasants with those of aboriginal people displaced from their forests by land-hungry haciendas. The largest uprising was led by a Zapata-like plantation worker and babaylan, Dionisio Sigobela, more popularly known as Papa Isio, who conducted gurrilla warfare against the US Army from his base on impenetrable Mt. Kanlaon. The rebellion was not finally defeated until 1908, five years after the revolution had ended in most areas of the archipelago.
The ENSO [El Nino-Southern Oscillation] signature is particularly vivid in Philippine history where it has often been associated with rural unrest and peasant revolution. The International Research Institute for Climate Research data set shows a 95 percent correlation between El Nino events and below-average rainfall, with the most severe droughts in 1941, 1915, 1902-03, 1983 and 1912. The preiod of national revolt and US colonial occupation, 1897-1915, was also the most environmentally turbulent in the last 200 years, with seven significant El Nino droughts as well as severe La Nina-related flooding in 1910.
In the twentieth century the conjugation of periodic drought and volatole sugar prices has produced so much hunger that Negros became known world-wide as the Philippines' Ethiopia. Negros' rich tradition of messianic and class-based resistance movements, however, has ensured that deprivation did not go unchallenged. During the terrible 1982-83 El Nino drought, for example, thousands of unemployed Negrense sugarworkers flocked to the banner of the communist New People's Army. By mid-1985, many of the haciendas and the upland settlements in the south-central towns of Negros were identified as NPA 'red liberated zones'.
Drought and flood disasters have also episodically sharpened agrarian discontent on other islands. The most recent crisis was in the winter of 1997-98 when 90 percent of the Philippines experienced moderate to extreme drought. Nearly a million people suffered the early stages of starvation as the impact of crop failure was magnified by the East Asian financial crisis. The archipelago is also frequently in the direct path of typhoons spawned in abnormal numbers by the warming of the eastern equatorial Pacific. The typhoon rains and tropical storms that battered Luzon and Mindanao during the El Nino summer of 1972 have been described as "the worst natural disaster in Philippines history".
And a similar story can be told for many other parts of the world....
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Friday, June 27, 2003 4:41 AM
Subject: Re: [Sartre] holocausts
And speaking of 'unreported' massacres and massive deaths the Balangiga Massacre in Leyte, Philippines is one of the brutal, I say, moments of American Imperialism in Asia (and occupation in the Philippines) in the early part of the 20th century.
A band of Filipino citizen attacked the Yankees and killed a number of soldiers. In retaliation, Capt. James Smith ordered to turn the entire province of Balangiga "into a howling wilderness". All men from age 10 were killed who can hold a "bolo" (a kind of sword used by Filipinos). And literally, Balangiga was turned into a howling wilderness. The story wes never taught in school and Americans are still viewed in our history as gods who gave us English, democracy, and chocolates. And those who fought their regime (the Americans) including those people from Balangiga were called 'bandido' (bandits).
Well, I assume that Sartre's ideas on consciousness and individual freedom can answer some questions re why we still view the Americans and their motives in the fashion that they taugth us during their occupation the our country.
"Though it was at my heart's bidding that I chose the universe wherein I delight, I have at least the power of finding in it the many meanings I wish to find."-Jean Genet, The Thief's Journal
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