Philippines braces for post-typhoon 'shock doctrine'

November 23, 2013

After the storm, the “shock doctrine”. This is what awaits the Philippines after the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan.

The familiar cycle of “disaster capitalism” allows wealthy and politically connected First World corporations to profit obscenely from the suffering of acutely vulnerable disaster-affected communities.

Disaster profiteering is a parasitic tendency deeply embedded in the structures of the neoliberal global economy. It will degrade and corrupt the international “relief effort” under way in the Philippines.

If the recent history of disaster response is anything to go by, United States-led “market forces” will exploit this latest opportunity to tighten their grip on an impoverished society.

The case of Haiti offers a portent of what might be in store for the Philippines. After the 2010 earthquake that levelled entire districts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, killing more than 100,000 people, the West’s bloodsucking apparatus was immediately sunk deep into the body of this African-descended Caribbean nation.

The earthquake was notoriously described as the “Super Bowl of disasters” by one business figure, a remark which aptly set the tone for what was to follow.

In a series of confidential diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the collaboration between the US government, US corporations and the Haitian domestic elite to engage in systematic post-earthquake profiteering was laid bare.

One cable written by the US ambassador to Haiti in February 2010 had a section titled: “The Gold Rush is On!”

The cables reveal that, at every stage of the relief effort, the US administration worked via US government-funded bodies such as USAID to ensure lucrative re-construction contracts to US corporations. This had the double effect of boosting corporate profits and Washington’s neo-colonial control over Haiti.

Three years and thousands of “reconstruction” contracts later, 400,000 Haitians are still homeless. The medical system is also in disarray.

Like Haiti, the Philippines has been a victim of US imperialism. Hundreds of thousands of independence-seeking Filipinos died at the hands of the US military in a turn of the 20th century “counter-insurgency” war after a US takeover.

After gaining formal independence after World War II, the Philippines was still effectively ruled from Washington via proxy means, such as the brutal military dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

After the dictatorship was overthrown in 1986, Washington subjected the former colony to ever-increasing levels of control. Today, more than 60% of the 107 million people who live in the Philippines live in poverty.

The role of the Philippines in the global system overseen by the US is to provide cheap labour for the lucrative garment export industry. It is also, increasingly, a source of raw materials such as copper and iron.

In recent years, the US has led a coalition-building exercise in the nations surrounding the South China Sea, hoping to contain China’s growing influence. The Philippines has been a major target of this geopolitical drive.

There can be little doubt that the Obama administration will do everything it can to exploit this latest disaster in the Philippines to step up the US presence ― commercial and military ― in the country. US marines have already been despatched, and Reuters reported that USAID is now on the ground.

The corporate media applauds such gestures, but fails to examine the track record of USAID in managing disaster relief. What we can reasonably expect to see in the near future is the distribution of reconstruction contracts to a bevy of powerful corporations.

As in Haiti and many other locations affected by disasters, huge profits now stand to be made in the Philippines. And with every “service” performed by US corporate entities, dependence on the US and the climate-changing neoliberal system it enforces will grow.

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