Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 32 September 15 - 21, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
GIs are back in the Philippines. This time, for joint military exercises which
critics claim is an alibi for heightened U.S. military presence in the country,
America’s “second front” in its war against terror.
This situation brings to mind the time when American soldiers could come
and go, and the day, Sept. 16, 1991, when things changed for the U.S. military
a country where the word America is equivalent to all good things in life and
where the United States is perceived as the “big brother” who gave Filipinos
democracy, Star Wars and hamburger, the impossible became possible on Sept. 16,
amazing is the fact that the “impossible” was performed by the Philippine
Senate, traditionally conservative and pro-U.S., a training ground for future
presidents (U.S. support is crucial in Philippine elections and senators are
generally friendly to the U.S).
nobody thought that the Senate, in a 12-11 vote, would reject a proposed bases
treaty that would have given the U.S. another 10 years to maintain one of its
most strategic bases, the Subic Naval Base (Clark Air Base had become inoperable
the year before because of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption).
historic vote ended a century of U.S. military presence in the Philippines and
proved that America’s neo-colony in Asia could stand up to the mighty Uncle
old bases treaty was forged after World War II and covered the Clark Air Base,
Subic Naval Base and several other smaller ones. U.S. military presence in the
Philippines however started at the turn of the century when the U.S. forcibly
occupied the archipelago and military tactics developed during its Indian
“pacification” campaigns were applied against Filipinos.
was well documented how important the military bases in the Philippines were for
U.S. defense and military strategy in the Asia Pacific. They served as refueling
stations of U.S. warships, launching pads for attacks in the Middle East and
other areas of the world, training centers for American troops and storage
facilities for its weapons of mass destruction, even possibly nuclear weapons.
Sept. 16, 1966, in what was called the Ramos-Rusk Exchange of Notes, a review of
the old bases treaty was made and the remaining duration of the bases was
reduced from 99 to 25 years. The old bases agreement was thus scheduled to
expire on Sept. 16, 1991.
in 1987, a new Philippine Constitution, also called the Freedom Constitution,
was ratified and Section 24, Article XVIII reads:
the expiration in 1991 of the agreement between the Republic of the Philippines
and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military
bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under
a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires,
ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum
held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting
U.S. troops to say on beyond Sept. 16, 1991, a new treaty was needed.
Accordingly, negotiating panels of the then Aquino government and the U.S. began
meeting in 1990 to draw up a new treaty before the expiration. The result was a
proposed treaty titled “RP-U.S. Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and
Security” which gave the U.S. a 10-year withdrawal period.
first, resistance to a continued U.S. military presence was confined to leftist
groups and a few nationalist individuals who have long opposed any sign of U.S.
control in the Philippines. The arrogance however of American negotiators, led
by Richard Armitage, pushed even those who were agreeable to an extension into
firm anti-bases position.
Alfredo Bengzon, then Aquino’s health secretary and pointman in the bases
treaty negotiations, revealed in a book how the U.S. “bullied and
bamboozled” the Philippine government panel.
said the Philippine panel's original position in the negotiation was for a
seven-year phase out of the bases. Had the U.S. panel accepted this, it might
have resulted in the removal of the U.S. bases only in 1998. The Philippine
panel thought it would be a dramatic way of commemorating the centennial of
Philippine independence. But as expected, the U.S. got the most concessions,
particularly on the contentious issues of duration and compensation.
Prof. Roland Simbulan, well-known anti-bases advocate, “By being too greedy,
the U.S. lost precisely what it sought to gain: the retention of its military
thought that resistance to U.S. pressure merely consisted of opportunistic and
vacillating Filipino politicians who would ultimately give way to its wishes. In
the end, the Americans had the greatest shock of their lives when the Senate
rejected the draft treaty,” said Simbulan.
American than the Americans
Corazon Aquino, catapulted to power through the popular uprising that toppled
Ferdinand Marcos, chose to take the American side and campaigned for the
ratification of the treaty ¾
hard. She was the first Philippine president to march and lead a rally in
support of foreign military troops and bases.
even threatened to invoke Republic Act 6735, also known as the Initiatives and
Referendum Law. This act empowers the people to directly oppose, enact, approve
or reject any law passed by any legislative body through a referendum if 10% of
the country’s registered voters petitioned to do so.
brother, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, who was also head of the ruling party
Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), reportedly threatened to expel anti-bases
senators from LDP.
the rabid pro-bases officials were former Sen. Raul Manglapus who said the
treaty would boost efforts to achieve political and economic stability. (Manglapus
served as Aquino’s foreign secretary during the bases talks.) Vice President
Salvador Laurel on the other hand warned that the rejection of the treaty would
lead to “economic collapse for the country while creating a dangerous security
vacuum in Asia.”
Franklin Drilon, the present head of the Senate, stated that rejecting the
treaty would “send a strong but wrong signal to the U.S.”
senators sought to go around the constitutional provision that requires a treaty
for U.S. military bases to continue. Sen. Joey Lina filed a resolution asking
the Senate to conduct a deeper study on whether it was possible for the Senate
to abstain from deciding on the treaty and let the people make the decision
through a referendum.
all these, resistance to continued U.S. military presence grew day by day, as
the day of the voting neared. The original eight senators who were against the
bases from the start – Senate President Jovito Salonga, Sens. Wigberto Tanada,
Teofisto Guingona, Rene Saguisag, Victor Ziga, Sotero Laurel, Ernesto Maceda,
and Agapito Aquino – stood firm, signing a resolution calling for the
rejection of the treaty on Sept. 8.
others – Sens. Juan Ponce Enrile, Joseph Estrada, Orlando Mercado, and
Aquilino Pimentel – declared their intention to vote against the treaty the
on the other hand was denounced by fellow senators for voting in favor of the
new agreement in exchange for a U.S. pledge to give his Trade Union Congress of
the Philippines (TUCP) a grant of $13.7 million.
the underground revolutionary group National Democratic Front of the Philippines
(NDFP) declared on Sept. 12 a unilateral nationwide ceasefire in the face of a
“clear trend” in the Senate to reject the new agreement.
Simbulan, “The growth of the resistance mobilized against the proposed bases
treaty is reflected in the fact that on Sept. 10, 1991, about 50,000 people
marched against it as the Senate vote drew near. But six days after, on
September 16, 1991, the number of protesters had swelled to 170,000 outside the
Senate despite a heavy downpour.”
so it came to pass that on Sept. 16, 1991, the impossible happened. Twelve
senators, dubbed by the media as the “Magnificent 12,” voted down the new
treaty. After the result of the voting was officially proclaimed and the senate
gavel banged, the thousands of anti-bases rallyists in front of the Senate sang
and danced, the rain mixing with tears.
Eleven years later, in the face of renewed escalation of U.S. military presence in the country and Asia, it is worthwhile to look back at the anti-bases struggle and learn from history. Bulatlat.com