In Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives, Cynthia Enloe defines militarization as “the step-by-step process by which something becomes controlled by, dependent on, or derives value from the military or militaristic criteria.” It is an insidious process, one rooted in accepting that the world is a dangerous place and that having enemies is a given. People who want to be “protected” seek out “protectors.”
Enloe’s writings make me think of my first paid writing assignment, a feature on military abuses in a tiny mountain village in Quezon province. It was 1990. A group of soldiers descended on this sitio—really nothing more than ten one-room plywood houses around a clearing—and opened fire.
A young mother narrated how a bullet whizzed by her head and tore through a can of powdered milk before burying itself in a wall. One grandmother showed us bullets still embedded in the wooden bars of empty chicken coops.
“No more eggs,” said the grandmother, shaking her head. “They sundalos took all the hens.”
Back then, I did wonder at the lack of outrage among the general population on such military abuses. After all, this was not an isolated case, a rogue military platoon gone wild. Rather, terrorizing suspected insurgents and sympathizers were completely in line with the Low Intensity Conflict strategies the insurgents employed by the Aquino government, with the full backing of the United States. I thought that many Filipinos ignored militarization because areas where abuses happened were geographically isolated. And it was easy to dismiss a population labeled as the enemy.
So when the Philippine Senate voted to end the US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement in 1991, I joined the celebrations. I was happy that the US troop withdrawal would usher the end of militarization in the countryside.
Also, they’re baaaaaaaack
From Focus on the Global South, this map illustrates the presence of US military troops in the Philippines today. In their At the Door of All the East: The Philippines in United States Military Strategy, the organization shows the insidious ways in which the US “is transforming its presence in the Philippines in a way that seeks to heighten its capacity for intervention within the country and in the region.
Karol Ilagan at the PCIJ has an excellent summary of this report’s highlights, as well as further discussions on how both the US and Philippine governments are using the war against terror as justification for the heavy military presence.
There is much to be concerned about this issue, but right now, I am struck by the lone comment left on Ilagan’s entry:
american forces are the best counterweight against mainland china. we cannot defend our country from encroachment from the mainland (spratleys trouble)and we need the americans to tell the chinese to back off, unless of course we want china to consider the philippines as one of her observation posts like hongkong. or if they are in mindanao, they are our best hope against the influence of muslim extremist of the al qaeda type, unless of course we would like to convert ourselves from roman catholics to muslim fanatics.
To me, that comment mirrors the reaction of many Filipinos and Filipino Americans to the Subic Rape Case. The Filipina victim was widely vilified for bringing charges against her attackers, four US Marines. Why did she get into the van with the soldiers? And the feminist groups that are supporting her, did they want the US troops to leave? ‘Cause what would happen to us then?
I would dismiss all these comments, except these are sentiments echoed even by people who I love and respect. And they are perfect illustrations of Enloe’s writings about militarization.
The world is a dangerous place? Check. Because we naturally have enemies. Like China. And the Muslim extremists of the Al Qaeda type. The protector and protectee? That’s covered too, since Filipinos need to be protected from potential religious conversion and other allied threats. Protected by American forces. And when a rape happens, well, too bad.
And it’s symptomatic of what bothers me about militarization today. Back in 1990, I really thought most people were not aware. But today, it’s easy enough to know about the suffering militarization engenders, such as:
- harassment and bombings in villages like Pananuman, in Tubo, Abra and other farming villages
- the displacement of indigenous Lumad families
- the abduction and murder of grassroots labor leaders
It’s no longer ignorance that is keeping people from getting angry, but an acceptance that militarization is necessary and desirable, even as it will have very real and very painful consequences.
It is understood, of course, that those consequences will be shouldered by already vulnerable groups, such as the urban poor, the indigenous populations, and low-income women.