Frontline World

PHILIPPINES - Islands Under Siege, June 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Islands Under Siege"

On the Front Lines in Mindanao

Rebellions, Wars and Insurgencies in the Philippines

Population, Government, Economy

Muslim Rebels, U.S. Presence, Politics




A Conflicted Land: Rebellions, Wars and Insurgencies in the Philippines
1898-1933: America’s Colony 1934-1964: War and Independence 1965-1986: The Marcos Years 1987-2003: Reform and Rebellion

Introduction: Behind the Headlines

After September 11, the Bush administration responded forcefully to help the Philippines combat its homegrown "terrorists" -- the Muslim separatists who have turned the island of Mindanao into a battleground and have pledged to fight Americans. This is hardly the first time the Philippine government has confronted a rebel group within its own borders. Nor is it the first time the United States has become deeply involved in a bloody conflict in the nation. Follow the trail backward to understand how these two countries have become linked in a violent fight against insurgencies -- again.

Filipino poet Maria Fatima Lim once described her homeland as a nation of people shouting at each other. With more than 84.5 million people speaking more than 100 languages, the Philippines is anything but quiet. Its people are spread across a vast archipelago of 7,100 islands and live in environments that range from jungle villages to overcrowded, media-saturated cities. Filipino culture is a swirl of Roman Catholicism (with Muslim and tribal minorities), American pop culture, hyperactive commerce and seemingly unquenchable peasant rebellions.

Holding together such a sprawling, contradictory society has never been easy. The United States knows this as well as anyone. At the end of the 19th century, it claimed the Philippines as a colony and fought a guerilla war against Filipino rebels. The ensuing history of the Philippines -- its shaky democracy, its armed insurrections and its ongoing economic troubles -- has been marked by a recurring U.S. military presence and political influence. As a new century begins, the United States is still deeply involved in the Philippines -- and the stakes are higher than ever.

NEXT - 1898-1933: America's Colony

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Dave Gilson is a journalist in Berkeley, California.

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