Elites and ‘red tagging’

The phrase “red tagging,” which sends a chill up my spine, did not exist when Antonio S. Araneta (my husband) was writing his undergrad thesis in 1959, titled “Elites and Economic Development in Underdeveloped Countries.” Way back then, he called red-tagging a “weapon” or an “accusation” by “certain American groups that protected their vested interests by slyly imputing as communist-oriented any movement that criticized the exploitative maneuvers of American monopolistic capitalism.” Tonypet (his nickname) said those interest groups did not bother to find out nor care if such movements were beneficial to our county, like the Filipino first policy of President Carlos Garcia. He quoted a US World Report article dated Feb. 27, 1959: “Communists in the Philippines are making a comeback…ultra nationalists are pressing their Filipino-First movement…wealthy Filipinos are encouraging the Filipino-Firsters and the communists to attack the United States and the United States businessman.”

One of the “wealthy Filipinos” was Dr. Salvador Araneta, Tonypet’s favorite uncle, who under two different administrations was Secretary of Economic Coordination and Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Don Salvador was strongly opposed to Parity Rights. However, he was reported to have said that there were American officials sent to Manila who had the Philippines’ best interest at heart, like Dr. Rolland R. Renne of Montana University who publicly advocated the industrialization of the Philippines; “…a country with more abundant natural resources than Japan, would in time be more industrialized than Japan.” Don Salvador said that Dr. Renne told him in confidence how he was “bawled out for this statement as soon as he reported to his superiors in Washington.”

Tonypet concluded that American vested interests, especially those that profited from the extraction of natural resources and the free trade of processed and consumer goods, constantly blocked the road to industrialization. Any action that mildly contravened American interests was automatically considered pro-communist; the USA “bombarded the easily beguiled masses of the country, in particular, and the world masses, in general, with this fallacious American logic.”

Be that as it may, Tonypet was aware of a glaring contradiction – though the elites have contributed (and could continue) to economic development, they are at the same time the “greatest deterring effect” in underdeveloped countries like ours. He quoted two authors to elucidate: First, Douglas F. Dowd who said, “The structure of ownership and control, dominated as it is by a native ruling clique and a handful of foreigners stands as an imposing obstacle to economic development…” because they prefer to invest in real estate, money lending, speculative trade and the like which are less risky and have faster returns than industrial investments. The second was Bruno Lasker, author of Human Bondage in Southeast Asia, who expounded that when the USA took possession of the Philippines, the cacique class was allowed “to lord it over the political arena, it was all the more natural to conform the privileged position of this class and to permit its dominance not only in legislation but also in the economic system, where it was bound to perpetuate its privileges at the expense of the common tao.”

Tonypet concluded: “Though American vested interests prevail in the Philippines, this fact does not necessarily mean that all these Americans are living here. The usual case is that American interests have Filipinos working for them as agents who subscribe to their vested interests.”

He pushed the argument a step further by saying that the primary purpose of the US military bases is to protect American vested interests rather than to protect us Filipinos. In another part of the world, Tonypet argued, the US installed a base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for the same purpose.

How baffling that Tonypet never showed me his “Elites” thesis in 1964, the year we met, when the chemistry was strong, or when we got married in September 1965. He did give me the original manuscript of his Oxford University doctoral thesis, which for some strange reason he never published; it is a history of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the old one which is no longer illegal, unlike the New Communist Party. Tonypet was red-tagged, just the same, and spent nine months in a maximum security prison in what was then Fort Bonifacio (now Bonifacio Global City). He waited until April 2016 to give me a faded copy of the “Elites” when both our feet were planted in a different time period. Now that I have plowed through it and written two articles about it, I think I know why he had kept it hidden in a forgotten file. The thesis appears to hew to the author’s lived experience, the contradictions that continue to haunt nationalistic Filipino elites.