Benjie Oliveros | A Defining Trip


President Benigno Aquino III has barely reached his 80 days in office and so may issues have already shaped his administration. The Hacienda Luisita land dispute and the Philippine Airlines labor issue have shown how the administration would position itself on issues affecting the working masses; he kept a “hands off” policy.

On the question of holding the previous Arroyo administration accountable for the numerous corruption scandals involving the family of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and for the more than a thousand cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, President Aquino formed a truth commission to conduct an investigation that would be limited to the corruption cases that have been the subject of so many congressional inquiries and senate investigations before.

His silence on human rights issues, on the other hand, and the extension of the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, which has been blamed for the spate in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations including the filing of trumped up charges against activists, show the current administration’s attitude and policy with regards human rights.

The bungled police operations in the hostake-taking incident at Luneta, which claimed the lives of eight Hongkong tourists, and the ensuing confusion and passing of the buck regarding who was responsible for the gross errors in judgement also became a defining issue for the government. This has been stressed more emphatically when President Aquino defensively declared that this should not define his administration.

But what would define the Aquino administration even more would be the results of his trip to the US. Would President Aquino push for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement as demanded by various sectors, especially after so many cases involving US servicemen such as the Nicole Subic rape case and the eventual transfer then acquittal of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, the Vanessa rape case, and the mysterious death of Gregan Cardeño inside the barracks of American soldiers in a military camp in Marawi city? Would he put a stop to the Balikatan war exercises and the continuing presence of US troops in Mindanao? Would he push for a review of unequal treaties and investment and trade agreements that infringe on the country’s patrimony or would he commit to amending the Constitution to grant more rights to foreign corporations by the removal of restrictions to foreign equity and provisions that prohibit them from owning land in the country? Would he assert the sovereign right of the country to pursue its own path to development or would he commit to continuing the globalization policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization, which were pursued by the previous Arroyo administration, and have worsened the crisis and pushed the Filipino people deeper into the quagmire of poverty?

The maintenance of the current state of US–Philippine relations is very important for the US government. Around 20 percent of the country’s imports emanate from the US and from 20 to 30 percent of the country’s exports go to the US. The country’s balance of trade with the US may seem positive until 2001, but 90 percent of companies in the export industry are multinational corporations, which have a lot of tax breaks and are allowed to freely repatriate their profits and investments. In fact the US is among the top three in foreign direct investments and the top source of portfolio investments going into the country.

The Philippines is also crucial to the projection of US military hegemony in Southeast Asia, a trade lane and an important transit point for US troops to the rest of Asia.

During a live webcast hosted by and Kodao productions, Dr. Giovanni Tapang of Agham, a progressive group of scientists, made an important point regarding the relationship between the assertion of the country’s sovereignty and the promotion of the Filipino people’s rights and welfare. Tapang said that for as long as US troops are in the country, we could never assert our own path to development and we could never repeal laws such as the Mining Act of 1995 that favor multinational corporations to the detriment of the rights and welfare of the Filipino people. (

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