Driving along Gil Puyat Avenue a.k.a. Buendia Avenue, I came across a small group of leftist protesters opposed to increased Australian military assistance to the Philippines. One of the protest banners had the title of this blog post.
This is an instance of wry irony and humour. There is nothing so antithetical to the Australian ethos as imperialism. Australia was once a colony of Britain and was part of the Empire and was not The Empire. The Brits from the Bondi tourists to the occasional visitor, Her Majesty are still the object of colonial angst. Australians were among the first to die in England's wars. Australia is much as a victim of imperialism as any other colony. The key difference with other colonies is that Terra Australis was colonised by whites (even if it was of the convict kind) and England defined the land as Terra Nullius even if there were people living there for over 40K years!
When Britain cast off its colonies in the South Pacific, Australia naturally as a independent nation with a British heritage took over. Australia's hand-me-down colonies included Papua New Guinea. The Aussies began preparing this new nation for independence but while the Americans encountered in the Philippines a nation with a constitutional system of government in 1898, Australians had encountered collection of stone age societies and form this into a nation state. The Australian record in Papua New Guinea is mixed and the nation is perilously close to becoming a failed state. So when General Jerry Singirok was accused of mounting a coup as a result of the Sandline affair, Canberra was alarmed.
The former British-Australian colonies just north of Cairns and Darwin were now considered an arc of instability. Australia had no choice but to intervene. But under past prime ministers, much of the intervention had been through diplomacy and the Australian Defence Forces were in their barracks in Townsville and Darwin.
Under Prime Minister John Howard military policy became more muscular. Johnny Howard showed muscle when Australian troops intervened when East Timor fell into chaos after its vote of independence in 1999. Howard's intervention was supported by many Aussies and the ADF proved to be a stabilising presence. But Islamic fundamentalist terrorists demolished the World Trade Center in New York on 11 Sept 2001. The following year Australian tourists in Bali were bombed. The war on terror came to Australia.
While Australians have realized that their island-continent nation has to defend itself, almost every Aussie I had spoken to don't relish the idea that Australia is US President George W Bush's "deputy sheriff" always ready with a rapid reaction force to deploy in the South Pacific.
Under Howard, the arc of instability has become an archipelago of instability and this includes Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines.
And this is why our Philippine army will receive patrol tinnies to navigate the marshlands of Mindanao. Now readers more attuned to American English may ask what is a tinny. A tinny is an aluminium boat one uses among the billabongs and rivers of the Far North (of Oz that is). For those who are fans of the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, I bet that you have seen him on a tinny in many of his shows.
I myself was on a small tinny on a river near Cooktown some years ago. I saw a lot of logging crocs! Now back in Townsville I remember reading a book in the QBD (Queensland Book Depot) on Flinders Street and I was leafing through one entitled "Crocodile Attack in Australia!" where one big saltie had the bad habit of chomping tinnies.
Our Filipino soldiers shouldn't fear. There are probably no crocs in Mindanao marshes!
So our leftists are protesting over tinnies. But Australia has been providing military assistance to the Philippines since the 1970s. My father's aide de camp was one of the first officers to attend the Australian Defence College in the late 1970s.
The leftists are protesting too the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Canberra. This is a valid point since there was no time in our history where armed forces of many nations are welcomed to conduct military territory on our sovereign territory.
When we were under Spain, Spain while military weak gave the interloping Protestant English and Dutch a bloody nose. Whatever the reason is, be it due to Our Lady of La Naval, Spain did not allow foreign armies in the Philippines until she was defeated.
The Americans too did not. And also the Japanese invaders in 1941. Even the American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur did not allow the Australians and British land forces to drive the invading Japanese from the Philippines. It was an entirely American operation. The Brits and Aussies were left to support the US land forces. They were left to mop up Borneo and Malaya.
Under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, we have Americans and Australians securing the Philippines. I fear that if Japan, Taiwan or China becomes a target of terrorists, these countries will demand a SOFA from Arroyo's government. Guess what our government's position will be?
And that would be the true and litmus test of Leftist nationalism. If the People's Liberation Army were allowed to conduct military exercises here, will they hoot about sovereignty?
I think not. When the Communist Chinese took over some of our Kalayaan Islands and left our air force with buzzing power just to conduct flybys, we did not hear any protests from the leftists at all!