Looted: The Philippines After the Bases; 2nd edition: Philippines in Crisis: U.S. Power vs. Local Revolt
LOOTED: The Philippines after the Bases, by Donald Kirk
(St. Martin's Press, 240 p. $45)
MAGIC OF A NAME
Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr will return to the presidential palace from which his parents were airlifted by U.S. forces during a popular uprising 36 years ago.
Clark Air Base and Subic Bay were symbols of America's global might. Then the Cold War ended. Mt. Pinatubo erupted. They closed. Now China is the unassailable power in these seas.
Philippine President Duterte says he thinks God is 'stupid,' and believes he has the power of life and death. The really bad news: he's quite popular.
Landing in Jolo, capital of the Philippine island province of Sulu, you feel as if you've arrived in a torpid backwater where the main distraction is the fire engine that years ago was no doubt there for a purpose.
1--St. Martin’s, NY; Macmillan, UK, 1998; Palgrave, NY and UK, paper, 2000
2--Anvil Publishing, Manila, 2005, paper
"Journalist Donald Kirk writes a passionate indictment about all that is wrong with the Philippines."
- Far Eastern Economic Review
"Kirk describes a nation adrift. He writes with passion and indignation about rising poverty, joblessness, child labor, crime, and corruption, and the plunder of the state by powerful oligarchic interests."
- Donald Zagoria, Foreign Affairs, July/August 1998
"Kirk writes a highly provocative book. On the one hand, Looted is an interesting exegesis of the Philippines' corrupt and amoral political culture. On the other, it is a scathing expose of public officials who abuse the public trust and view public office as a vehicle for personal selfaggrandizement and the acquisition of wealth....To his great personal credit and that of his craft, Kirk spared no one, and everyone and everything he aimed his sharp pen at was ripped to shreds."
- Benjamin N. Muego, Pacific Affairs, Fall, 1999
",,,, an entertaining read....a well-written compilation of complaints typical of the marginalized and dwindling expatriate population of the Philippines. By reading Kirk’s book you can get a sense of these grievances at home without risking the zealous hand of Father Cullen dragging you off to jail from your bar stool. "
- Alan Robson, Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia, University of the Philippines, Asian Studies 47, 2011
From the publisher:“In Looted, veteran correspondent Donald Kirk cuts through the mystique of democracy that has shrouded the Philippines since the American withdrawal from its military bases there in 1991 and 1992, revealing the corruption that exists beneath the surface. Making use of his extensive firsthand knowledge of the region, Kirk recounts the drama of one of history's greatest volcanic eruptions as just the beginning of a period of looting and exploitation. He provides details and revelations of the Philippine role in the stripdown of Clark Air Base and the subversion of Subic Bay to serve the purposes of one ambitious politician, and he offers a disturbing analysis of the efforts to resolve Muslim and Communist revolt.”
“This is an informed survey of a political system which resolutely resists reform....An engrossing read.....part dark comedy and part social allegory with the fates of the two bases as narrative bookends...Exhaustive in detail....Kirk evokes the country's corruption and devastation most effectively in his take on Clark, where everything was ransacked....many observations prove all too prophetic....making a comeback: Marcos cronies once in retreat after the People Power revolution.
- Ruel S. de VeraAsiaWeek
"Donald Kirk takes the experiences of the closing of the U.S. bases as a starting point to assess the 'looting' of Philippine society. Kirk views the looting of the Clark and Subic bases (by both Filipinos and American servicemen) as symbolic of the exploitation of the country more broadly. He argues that the Philippine country's wealth and democracy have been looted by the upper class, through an unequal class system and a legacy of corruption....the book is historically informative concerning the period in Philippine society since the People Power revolution and the closing of the American bases. Its contributions include pointing to substantial continuities with respect to national politics and class structure between this period and the Marcos era preceding it, and more generally to the failure to realize the promise of democracy in the Philippines."
- Lynn Kwiatkowski, The Journal of Asian Studies
"This strangely-titled book is a scathing attack on the Ramos era. The author, a journalist, finds one corrupt practice after another, from the systematic looting of Clark Air base even as Mt. Pinatubo was erupting, to the so-called lahar scam where monies allotted to build dikes to divert the volcano’s ash flows went to local politicians’ pockets.
"Kirk spares no one. Gen. Leopoldo Acot, then Clark Philippine commander, is practically accused of overseeing the pillage of the base, with the blessing and involvement of his boss Air Force Commander Gen. Loven Abadia. Unnamed American military personnel were equally to blame, filing false claims and getting their government to reimburse them more than what they really lost. When the media started reporting about the pilferage, a scapegoat was found. Capt. Chen Almacen, an Igorot who migrated to the US and came back as one of the base guards, was subjected to court martial proceedings in Guam on the charge of being involved in the looting, an accusation that was full of holes but which was nevertheless pursued to protect the real culprits while providing good publicity for both Americans and Filipinos.
"From Clark, Kirk moves to Olongapo, describing Kate and Richard Gordon and their bete noir, the Columban priest Shay Cullen, as spitting images of one another—ambitious personalities interested more in promoting their political careers than really helping their constituents. He writes about Danding Cojuangco’s move to Negros, which he describes as the result of a mutual agreement between him and his cousins from the Cory Aquino camp to leave Tarlac politics. Danding, however, is treated with kid’s gloves....
"In Manila, Kirk vividly describes extremes of urban life—from the shacks of Tondo, where people live on a mountain of garbage or along foul-smelling canals, to the gated villages of the rich, protected by walls of barbed wire, glass shards, and mean-looking private security guards. He is rightfully disdainful of the wealthy and their golden ghettos, which function as a physical wall and a social barrier to protect and segregate them from the poor millions....
"The book is full of Kirk’s anger: over nationalists who brag of having finally kicked out the Americans, but who did nothing to preserve what the two US military bases had installed in the Philippines; over a betrayal of the democratic promises of 1986; over all kinds of Filipinos—military officials, communists, Muslim rebels, politicians, businessmen—being sucked into a world of rackets and sleaze....
"Kirk saw the folly of US intervention in Vietnam, particularly its backing of the corrupt South Vietnamese regime. He sees the same pattern being revived in the current war on terror in the Philippines. Washington seems unable to learn from its past. But will it listen to a citizen’s admonitions from afar?
"Critics—especially nationalists who will not like Kirk’s unpleasant description of them—may dismiss his book as the ranting of an American who missed the glory days of neo-colonial rule. But this may not be an entirely accurate picture. For there is a basis for the anger—books by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on Ramos had confirmed the pervasiveness of corruption during that period. More importantly, one senses a genuine affection for the Philippines and ordinary Filipinos, a sentiment arising perhaps from the author’s personal ties with non-elite Filipinos.
"The book can sometimes be obsessive in its bitterness and a tad patronizing in its description of Filipinos in general. But what it says should also make us take a second look at a time which people in politics today refer to as the high point of post-Marcos politics."
- Newsbreak, Manila, October, 2006
"Donald Kirk is a 'veteran correspondent' and has done his research thoroughly, with extensive secondary sources supplemented by 'several hundred' interviews. He is hard hitting in a way that it might be difficult for someone more firmly rooted in the country to be. I particularly enjoyed the description of Ramos as 'an inveterate junketeer,' but the portrait of the glib, hugely egocentric, former Marcos ally Dick Gordon is also to be treasured. Kirk is an excellent story teller and the book is full of nuggets of information (the energy released by Pinatubo was over a million times more powerful than the atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima) and graphic and appalling descriptions of the institutionalized looting and destruction that took place at Clark. He is scathing not only about the corrupt Philippine elite, but also about the Americans. His detailed analysis of the scapegoating of Chen Almacen, a Fil-Am with the US forces who was the only senior American official to be punished for looting of Clark, is excellent. Kirk sees the looting of the bases by the people who were supposed to be protecting them as a metaphor for the predatory politico-economic class that has brought the country to its present state. And quite a good metaphor it is too.... Looted succeeds brilliantly in what it sets out to do."
- Torn and Frayed in Manila, March 12, 2004
“Although the Spanish-American War made the Philippines an American protectorate and the islands housed major American military bases until five years ago, Americans have only occasionally taken a serious interest in what's really going on there. With Looted, Kirk seeks to change that pattern by exposing the corruption and family oligarchies that persist long after the mid-eighties ‘people power’ revolution, examining who has benefited from U.S. decommissioning of Subic Bay and Clark Air Base, and analyzing government response to internal Muslim and Communist revolts. In a nation rocked by typhoons, volcanoes, and, in the past six months, financial panic, Kirk argues that democracy is mystique, not fact, and that threats from other parts of Asia mean the U.S. should care about the Philippines.”
- Mary Carroll, Booklist
Uh-oh, full disclosure: one academician took severe umbrage, writing a thoroughly negative review that put the book "in the bombastic journalistic tradition of Katherine Mayo's 1925 The Isles of Fear: The Truth about the Philippines, though Kirk's writing is often a bit more breezy than bombastic." The review, suggesting the professor had done little more than thumb the pages, extrapolating two quotes, concluded:
"Admittedly Kirk is a good observer and interviewed a lot of people, most of them significant players; so there is some interesting information in the book....The general tone of the book, however, is too irritating for anyone to take it seriously. For the most part this book is a good example of what social and behavior scientists mean when they use the term 'journalistic' pejoratively."
- Robert Lawless, Wichita State University, Pilipinas: A Journal of Philippine Studies
©DON KIRK PHOTOS