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Reviewed by:
  • Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State
  • Ricardo Trota Jose
Alfred W. McCoy Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009. 659 pages.

This latest book of Alfred McCoy, renowned historian at the University of Wisconsin, is sure to raise eyebrows and spark discussion. The result of years of research and reflection, it is a history of Philippine security institutions—police, the Constabulary, and to some extent the government investigative services—from their roots during the Spanish period, with special focus on the American colonial period and the continuance of major—and disturbing—trends after independence and into the recent past.

McCoy opens his opus with US Pres. George Bush Senior's visit to the Philippines, and his selective memory of the Philippine colonial experience under the United States. He then draws disturbing parallels between the Philippine experience in the early twentieth century and what was currently going on in Iraq. McCoy points out that techniques of control and [End Page 278] subjugation in both countries were similar in many ways, although he is also careful to state that there are many differences. From here he launches into his exploration of the history—particularly the dark underside—of the Philippine government security forces. The relevance of the Philippine experience in the US war on terror is so stark to McCoy that he places his conclusions in the opening chapter of this book, so that hopefully American decision makers will realize the errors of their ways in Iraq. McCoy states: "At first glance, this book seems a study of Philippine policing, both colonial and national, throughout the 20th century. At a deeper level, however, this is an essay on the exercise of American power, from imperial rule over a string of scattered islands in 1898 to today's worldwide dominion. By focusing on the actual mechanisms of Washington's global reach, both conventional and covert operations, this study explores the nature of U.S. force projection and its long-term consequences for both the nations within America's ambit and America itself" (4).

The book is divided into two parts: US Colonial Police and the Philippine National Police. In Part One, he traces the roots of the Philippine police and Constabulary and their techniques—and effectiveness—to quell Filipino resistance toward the Americans. He sorts through familiar details but also adds many new bits of information regarding the early Philippine Constabulary and its officers. He summarizes the highlights of each chapter and thus reinforces the conclusions he had set out in the introductory chapter of the book.

Among McCoy's major conclusions for Part One are the maximization by the US of the information revolution then sweeping the mainland, and utilizing these new technologies to compile a comprehensive database of potential and actual criminals, brigands, revolutionaries, and other threats to the US colonial regime, and neutralizing them before they could cause any damage. The development of a highly modern and systematic web of intelligence nipped the bud of many uprisings and contributed to the pacification of the Philippines. So successful was the constabulary's intelligence network that a number of nationalists were allegedly tamed and brought to the side of the Americans—such as former revolutionary war generals and nationalists like Aurelio Tolentino. The compilation of damaging information (sexual innuendos, involvement in illegal gambling, and the like) and the threat of leaking these to the press served as a Damocles sword to keep these individuals in check. Not that the information was always [End Page 279] true: but gossip and rumor could destroy reputations if leaked at the right moment. Even Quezon, McCoy argues, was controlled in this way.

McCoy also concludes that the constabulary and the police served to strengthen the executive branch of government, far beyond the judicial and legislative branches, and thus left a legacy for the postcolonial Philippine government. The use of force was widespread and bloody in the first decade of American rule, and such force was again used by presidents Manuel A. Roxas, Ferdinand E. Marcos, and, surprisingly, Cory Aquino...


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pp. 278-285
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