The Manila Times - The not so invisible hand of Uncle Sam

9 August 2018

By Sass Rogando Sasot | The Manila Times

“I DON’T know how much money has been given for this election but the CIA always keeps a wary eye on Philippine elections,” the late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago (MDS) said during the 2016 national elections. The great MDS wasn’t some conspiracy theorist loony; she was just stating a fact.

One of the most noteworthy narratives on how the CIA, or the Central Intelligence Agency, meddles in our elections is from the book, Portrait of a Cold Warrior, a memoir by James Burkholder Smith, a CIA operative based in the Philippines in the 1950s.

Smith narrated how the CIA made sure that Sen. Claro M. Recto lost in the 1957 elections. Recto fiercely advocated for an independent foreign policy. “Like a small dog, we go tagging along behind Uncle Sam wherever he goes in Asia, barking here and there at the communists, with our little, almost inaudible, bark,” Recto said in “Our Mendicant Foreign Policy,” his 1951 commencement speech at the University of the Philippines. The United States didn’t like it.

In his 2000 lecture at the University of the Philippines-Manila on the CIA’s covert operations in the Philippines, professor Roland Simbulan said that “General Ralph B. Lovett, then the CIA station chief in Manila and the US ambassador, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, had discussed a plan to assassinate Recto using a vial of poison. A few years later, Recto was to die mysteriously of heart attack (though he had no known heart ailment) in Rome after an appointment with two Caucasians in business suits.”

Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy view is no different from Recto’s. He’s the first Philippine president to openly advocate a neutral foreign policy. In my interview with him in Milan last year, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano succinctly explained to me Duterte’s foreign policy: “Friends of everyone, enemies of none.” Of course, that won’t be acceptable to Uncle Sam who believes that you’re either with them or against them.

The Philippines being neutral won’t be acceptable to the United States as they consider us part of their defensive perimeter, which according to former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson in a 1951 speech, runs from the Aleutian Islands to the Ryukyu Islands of Japan down to the Philippines. As part of the defense dam of the United States, its enemies must also be our enemies. Thus, a neutral Philippine foreign policy would be unacceptable to the United States.

So how does the United States ensure that the Philippines remains part of its defensive perimeter? By making sure the leaders that get elected wouldn’t be inimical to US interests. As MDS said: The “CIA always keeps a wary eye on Philippine elections.”

In the age of the “Pivot to Asia” foreign policy turn of the United States, meant to contain China’s re-emergence as our region’s traditional center of power, we can already sense how they are doing this.

According to a 2013 report by Rappler (“PPCRC gets foreign funding, violates election law?), The Asia Foundation (TAF) “had actively pushed for the computerization of Philippine elections” and gave P5.7 million to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), a local poll monitoring group.

Rappler insinuated that by receiving a donation from TAF, the PPCRV may have violated the Comelec rule that they “shall not be under the influence whatsoever of any foreign government corporation or entity and shall not solicit or receive, directly or indirectly, any contribution or aid of whatever form or nature from any foreign government, corporation or entity.”

What Rappler didn’t indicate in its report is that TAF is a CIA-created NGO meant to promote US interests in Asia.

In a declassified June 22, 1966 memorandum, the CIA said that TAF was a “Central Intelligence Agency proprietary, established in 1954 to undertake cultural and educational activities on behalf of the United States government in ways not open to official US agencies.” The memorandum continues: “TAF contributes substantially to US national interests in Asia.”

Why is a CIA-created NGO actively pushing for the computerization of elections in the Philippines? What does that have to do with US interests?

Another curious thing I discovered is the $23 million grant fund of USAID called the Philippine-American Fund (PhilamFund). Implemented from 2013 until 2018, PhilamFund is managed by the Gerry Roxas Foundation (GRF).

Judy Roxas serves as president of GRF while Vicky Garchitorena heads PhilamFund. Judy is the Liberal Party’s 2016 presidential candidate Mar Roxas’ mother, while Vicky is a stalwart of the Liberal Party.

Why did USAID make the family foundation of a politician whose intention to run for president was already known since 2010, the manager of PhilamFund? Why is a ranking official of the Liberal Party its head? Is it in the US interest to support the Liberal Party?