MAPHILINDO, looking back

Malaya, Philippines, Indonesia–MAPHILINDO– was formed in Manila by virtue of an eponymous declaration signed in 1963 by Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman of the Federation of Malaya, Pres. Diosdado Macapagal of the Republic of the Philippines and Pres. Sukarno of the Republic of Indonesia.

MAPHILINDO was not a political whim, it had worthy precursors– the Asia Relations Conference (New Delhi 1947); the Baguio Conference (1950) convened by Pres. Elpidio Quirino where India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia attended; the secretive Bogor Conference (1954) that designed the Africa-Asia Conference in Bandung, Indonesia (1955); the Association of South Asia (ASA) and the worldwide Non-Aligned Movement of 120 nations (1961).

Pres. Quirino’s opening message at the Baguio Conference was charged with meaning: “Until the recent past most of us could not chart our own course and had to depend on alien guidance…We could not develop on our own initiative, we could not determine our growth as separate nations. Now that we are masters of our own destiny, we must endeavor to pursue our growth and development with our national genius…We can complement one another, relying on our common historic origin, traditional sympathy and geographical propinquity to better promote our national interests by frank mutual consultations…” That message struck a nationalistic chord with a congressman from Pampanga, Diosdado P. Macapagal, who later configured MAPHILINDO when he was elected president in 1961.

At the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC), a hub of foreign correspondents, Pres. Diosdado Macapagal, barely 18 months in office, expounded on his domestic and foreign policies. The former was embodied in the Agricultural Land Reform Code that abolished share tenancy, an oppressive system that had shackled farmers for centuries. MAPHILINDO was the core of his foreign policy. He called them the “two historic milestones” of his government. He thanked the USA for setting aside US$28 million of the War Damage Fund for his land reform program, he said: “While giving us political tutelage in democracy leading to our independence in 1946, America continues to strengthen our democracy by providing economic assistance…” Soon after, Pres. Macapagal junked the 1946 Independence “granted” by the Americans and correctly restored 12 June 1898 as Philippine Independence Day. Politicians like Pres. Macapagal were “decolonizing” our mentality.

As for MAPHILINDO, it aimed to remove artificial barriers built by colonial empires to divide people of the Malay race. Pres Macapagal explained: “We are related by race and culture so we must cooperate in building a better society for our children…From a fragmented history we look forward to a reunion of brothers after a prolonged and tragic dispersal. MAPHILINDO is the rebirth of a region which an aggressive and adventurous colonialism had long considered as its exclusive preserve, but which today is reemerging as the home of free peoples determined to recover and safeguard their patrimony and develop a haven of peace, abundance and security.” MAPHILINDO was not racist nor exclusive, it was open to all nationals of the 3 member states, regardless of race, color and religion. Envisioned as a nucleus of an expanding association of nations in this part of the world, it was also a shield against the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and similar groupings. However, MAPHILINDO had no intention of discarding old friends and allies, instead, it wanted to share the responsibility of keeping peace and security, of promoting well-being in this part of the world.

He told the MOPC correspondents: “Recent and current developments in Southeast Asia prove beyond doubt that the most modern military equipment and advanced military know-how will yield maximum results in the struggle against communist subversion, only if that struggle enjoys the loyal and dedicated support of the masses of people…”Was that misconstrued as a veiled threat?

In conclusion, Pres. Macapagal said MAPHILINDO must capitalize on the “natural and unavoidable” realities of geography and politics and if we seize these opportunities, “ …we can mark the beginning of a new golden age. That was the dream of Jose Rizal, Manuel L. Quezon, Claro Recto and Wenceslao Vinzons.”

I wonder if the Holy Week, the passion and death of Jesus Christ, have anything to do with these nostalgic ruminations. For some strange reason, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) ratified by the Senate last February, triggered misgivings in this fearful soul. Will RCEP bring about a new economic world order advantageous for the former de-colonizers in MAPHILINDO?