When I am asked here or abroad what are the two outstanding achievements of the Philippine mass movement in the 20th century, without thinking twice I declare it is the ouster of the dictator Marcos through a people’s uprising in 1986 and the booting out of US military bases through the Philippine Senate rejection of a new treaty in 1991.
Today marks the 20th year of the RP-US Bases Treaty rejection and it is worthwhile to celebrate and be proud of this shining accomplishment.
We Filipinos did it through consistent struggle, through the mass movement that spanned more than half a century (counting the anti-colonial struggles of the 30’s) and the forging of the broadest anti-bases formations that delivered the coup de grace to this glaring vestige of US colonialism in Asia. Against the unrelenting efforts by the US and President Cory Aquino to simultaneously cajole and pressure the Senate, 12 senators stood up for national sovereignty and the larger national interest.
BAYAN convened a few days ago, September 14, a gathering of Filipino nationalists — young and not-so-young, street parliamentarians and activist legislators as well as veteran and budding progressive artists — for a forum to rededicate themselves to the cause of freedom from foreign, specifically, US military presence.
According to Prof. Roland Simbulan, “(T)he non-concurrence by the Philippine Senate of the proposed treaty that was to extend the U.S. bases for another 10 years after the expiration of the 1947 RP-U.S. Military Bases Agreement…was a historic feat because it marked the shutting down and dismantling of the largest U.S. overseas military naval and air force bases that were located on Philippine soil since 1901.”
Nathanael Santiago, BAYAN Deputy Secretary-General during this tumultuous period attributed the resounding victory to four major factors: 1) the persistent and painstaking efforts to awaken nationalist and anti-imperialist sentiments among the people; 2) the struggle to overthrow the US-backed Marcos dictatorship; 3) the unification and mobilization of the broadest array of anti-bases, anti-nukes and anti-treaty forces; and 4) the sustained political campaign that saw huge and militant demonstrations attesting to growing public opinion against the bases.
Senator Wigberto Tañada, staunchest of the 12 senators who voted down the bases treaty, recounted how they were derided by pro-bases quarters as the “Dirty Dozen”. After the vote, they were toasted by the media and the general public as the “Magnificent 12” who took that fateful stand and struck the chord for national independence and sovereignty.
Mr. Tañada told the gathering of his proudest moment when his then ailing father, the venerable nationalist, Senator Lorenzo Tañada, sat in a wheelchair in the Senate gallery during the suspenseful vote to witness and take part in the victory of the lofty cause he had fought so hard to attain since the 1950s.
But he categorically concluded that the fight did not end twenty years ago. The Cold War vintage Mutual Defense Treaty and The RP-US Military Assistance Pact together with the post-bases treaty Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and Mutual Logistics and Support Arrangement (MLSA) remain and must be abrogated.
These provide the legal and political infrastructure to justify and pave the way for the permanent presence of hundreds of US troops; the prepositioning of US armaments, war vessels and aircraft and related equipment; year-round cooperation between US and Philippine Armed Forces ostensibly for training and joint exercises and civil military operations under the cover of humanitarian assistance and peace and development projects.
Current BAYAN Secretary General, Renato Reyes, titled his presentation “It’s like they never left”. He expounded on how the US and all the post-bases regimes – Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo and now Benigno Aquino – conspired to ensure the virtual return of US military bases in a form more pernicious and more of an affront to Philippine sovereignty than ever before.
He cited the VFA and MLSA as legal instruments that allow the stationing of US troops and war materiel in Philippine territory with very little regulation and oversight. He decried the fact that the VFA has an unspecified duration; does not specify or limit the number of troops allowed entry into the Philippines; does not specify or limit the areas in the Philippines that the “visiting” troops can access; and does not specify or limit the activities of the “visiting” troops.
The MLSA on the other hand allows the US Armed Force to access and utilize a wide-array of services for its civil-military operations from the Philippines as host country without having to set up the requisite physical and personnel infrastructure.
In short, “US troops are back and are digging in.”
The US has in fact established the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) that is headquartered in the Western Mindanao Command’s Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City. The activities of the JSOTF-P are kept from the public eye and access to its headquarters is highly restricted even for Philippine military and civilian officials. Moreover, the JSOTF-P is a ubiquitous presence especially in Western Mindanao where it partners with the USAID to spearhead civil-military operations under the auspices of the so-called Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) programs.
Recently Wikileaks released a US embassy cable dated April 2007 explicitly describing the Philippines as “currently the focal point of our counterterrorism fight in the region”. It proposes five projects in Southwestern Mindanao for “dual-use” facilities, i.e. useful both for military and civilian purposes. This revelation provides concrete examples and proof of continuing and permanent US military presence and activity in the Philippines twenty years after the Filipino people expelled the US bases from Philippine territory.
So far, the Aquino regime has not taken a single step, not even uttered a single word in the direction of reclaiming the victory marked by September 16, 1991. In this regard President Benigno Aquino is following closely his mother’s subservient example.
Clearly, while the September 16 Senate vote was historic because it capped the victory of the decades-long struggle for sovereignty and against US bases, it was by no means the end of the struggle.
For so long as the country is ruled by a political elite beholden to the US, who cannot shake off the US economic shackles and who can only find security under the protection of a foreign military power that it calls an “ally”, the lessons of the anti-bases struggle retain their relevance and power to inspire a new generation of Filipino nationalists and anti-imperialists. #
Published in Business World
16-17 September 2011