HEADLINES

Chasing Strings: A Primer on Puppet Governments

By Junelie Anthony Velonta | Feature Writer

Vol. XCI No. 4


Freedom and sovereignty are often expressed in paper, through words that represent the will and aspirations of the Filipino people. For many college students, they are made to memorize the Preamble of the 1987 Constitution. In it, perhaps the phrase, “conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy” provides the best expression of the Filipino people’s will to govern themselves, and be masters of their fates. The same could be observed in the constitutions of other sovereign nations.

However, a similar phrase could be found in the 1943 Constitution. “…to lead a free national existence, do hereby proclaim their independence…” This was from the time when the nation was under the “guidance” of the Imperial Japanese government. How credible, then, is this statement? Even if a nation declares itself sovereign, is it really true?

Predecessors of Puppetry

The term “puppet state” is modern. However, similar concepts are found throughout different societies and eras. If we look back to the times of the Roman Republic, we could see that the Republic managed to grow strong by controlling the states around them. By making sure that the future and current leaders of their neighboring states are favorable to the Republic, Rome was able to give itself not only power but also political and cultural jurisdiction over different peoples. The states indirectly controlled by the Republic were called “client states.”

It could be said that these “client” states were the results of the early forms of globalization. As the influence of the more powerful states spread, so did their knowledge and culture. However, this influence came with subjugation. Take the Delian League, for example. Primarily, it was an association of Greek city-states, under the leadership of Athens, to resist the second Persian invasion of Greece. With the consolidated power and resources, however, the Athenian leadership instead prompted to pursue self-serving goals. This included having weaker city-states to adapt the Athenian government system—democracy. While this may be seen as subjugation by contemporaries of the time, it must be noted that democracy is an important aspect of the modern world. As such, the spread of democracy may have had spread through subjugation. Similarly, democracy is used to subjugate peoples in the modern world, albeit in a more discreet manner.

Anatomy of a Puppet

As history progresses, interactions between societies become more complex. With this, control by stronger states must have more nuances to fit their purposes. Since the 17th Century, states are no longer identified by the people who rule said states, but by the people comprising it. As such, arranging for compliant leaders does not work anymore.

With this, three actors are then revealed in a puppet state. The first is the external administration, many steps removed from the locals—a “Higher Administration.”

It represents the interests and ideals of the stronger state, and interacts indirectly with the locals, through the second actor. Next, a certain type of leadership is needed. Under the supervision of the Higher Administration, a government must be able to sway the rules of the state to fit the demands of their overlords. This requires a “Compliant Government.” Lastly, under both the Higher Administration and the Compliant Government is the “People.”

The Higher Administration is a physical representation of the stronger state. Often, the Higher Administration is brought in after a military invasion. The occupying forces, then, become the executor of the physical demands of the Administration. These include “peacekeeping duties” and “re-education,” among other things. It is also the initiative of the Administration to appoint politicians that align with their agendas, and famous people to advertise their form of governance.

Under the Administration’s guidance, the Compliant Government must meet the demands of the stronger state, and without question. While the Compliant Government may not be inherently corrupt or incompetent, the Administration often has the final say. Officials elected or suggested by the Administration tend to sway the government to a state of corruption or incompetence. A Compliant Government may also declare itself sovereign on paper but is not so in reality. Often, especially so during wartime, this obedience means a reallocation of resources to the stronger state. This, then, leads to shortages.

As shortages become more severe, the People are subjected to more and more hardships. After all, they are the workforce that produces the resources to be shipped off the to the stronger state. It must be noted, however, that the People are often ignored in a Puppet State. Societal development also slows down or halts. The people are then subjected to various forms of propaganda, through posters and whatnot, on how the Compliant Government is doing so much for them. In truth, however, the Government is self-serving. It does not care about the people. The purpose of the Compliant Government is to push the agenda of the Administration. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Philippines and its peoples were subjected to this treatment many years back. As the Japanese Empire spread its influence throughout Asia, through war, they eventually took control of the Philippines in 1942. The Japanese military declared the dissolution of the Philippine Commonwealth and replaced it with the Second Philippine Republic. To legitimize their cause and invasion, they chose former President Emilio Aguinaldo and General Artemio Ricarte to become faces of the new government. Under the Second Philippine Republic, the country experienced crippling shortages in food, clothing, and fuel. Malnutrition was rampant. So was poverty. This was so since much of the country’s resources were re-allocated to serve the needs of the Japanese military.

Puppetry after the Cold War

While puppet states still do exist to this day, the global powers have now resorted to much more effective means of puppetry. No longer are the stronger states represented by a Higher Administration. Armed by a weaponized form of globalization, Multi-National Companies (MNCs) are now the vector in which the influence of global powers spread. While the concept of Compliant Governments is still used, they are now replaced by individual politicians who hold sway in national matters. Often, these politicians are backed and supported by the MNCs. As such, their actions are in line with the interests of companies—enabling them to steal local resources. The people are no longer forced to slavery, as they themselves are fooled into productivity. Employed by local subsidiaries of the MNCs, the people do not even know that their efforts are for the prosperity of another country, and not theirs.

The people, to break free from the strings of puppetry, then need to ask:

Is the country really free?

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