Satur C. Ocampo | Post-US bases: Concerns remain

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

In the past two days, I attended two similar but distinct commemorations, at UP Diliman on Tuesday and at Club Filipino yesterday. The events celebrated the 20th anniversary of the historic act by the post-Marcos-dictatorship Senate – on September 16, 1991 that ended the stay of US military bases in the Philippines.

Ironically, a subsequent Senate act – the ratification in 1999 of the Visiting Forces Agreement has substantially eroded, if not negated, the people’s victory in that historic act. The VFA, since the Balikatan joint-military exercises in 2002, has been invoked to justify the continuing stay of American military forces in Mindanao and other parts of the country, without a bases treaty as required by the 1987 Constitution.

To validate the September 16 triumph we must pressure the current Senate to rectify the 1999 blunder by at least terminating the VFA. Besides that, other important actions are needed to redress the injustices inflicted by the US bases on the people.
First, let’s review the significance of September 16.

The RP-US Military Bases Agreement of 1947 was set to expire in 1991. A proposed treaty extending the bases’ stay by 10 years was submitted to the Senate for ratification. President Cory Aquino staked her popularity and authority by pushing for ratification.
Voting 12-11, the Senate convincingly rejected the proposed treaty. Yes, convincingly, because only eight “no” votes were needed to deny ratification by a two-thirds majority “yes” vote. There were only 23 senators who voted because the 24th, Raul Manglapus, had been appointed foreign affairs secretary who led the treaty negotiations.

The “Magnificent 12” who voted not to concur with the treaty were led by Senate President Jovito Salonga, Wigberto Tanada (main author of Senate Resolution No. 1259 calling for non-concurrence), and Aquilino Pimentel Jr. The rest were Agapito “Butz” Aquino, Juan Ponce Enrile, Joseph Estrada, Teofisto Guingona Jr., Sotero H. Laurel, Orlando Mercado, Ernesto Maceda, Rene AV Saguisag, and Victor Ziga. (Laurel has passed away.)

Recalling that event, scholar-activist Roland Simbulan, recognized as an authority on the American bases and global military operations, told the UP audience last Tuesday:

“That was a historic feat because it marked the shutting down and dismantling of the largest US overseas military naval and air force bases that were located on Philippine soil since 1901… Filipino nationalists consider that day as historically significant because it marked the end of 470 years of foreign military base and troops’ presence on Philippine soil, which began during Spanish colonization and extended almost permanently during the American colonial period and beyond Philippine independence in 1946.”

The nationalist movement in general, Simbulan added, had long considered the foreign bases presence as antithetical to independence. “They were the most visible physical symbols of continuing colonialism and farce independence,” he stressed, adding:

“Under the 1947 (MBA), an estimated 250,000 hectares of arable lands with rich agricultural and mineral potentials in 23 bases in 13 provinces – prime real estate – were placed under the exclusive and absolute control of the US government. The original agreement was for the rent-free use of our territory, for 99 years, later to be shortened in negotiations to end in 1991. It was as if these lands were carved out and seceded from our sovereign control, making a travesty of our independence.”

While he cited the Senate leadership’s courageous stand, in defiance of President Cory’s open endorsement and conservative public opinion favoring the treaty’s extension, Simbulan gave principal credit to the nationwide popular anti-bases campaign. “But it was the Filipino people, in their long struggle and sacrifices with so many freedom fighters and martyrs,” he pointed out, “who made the Sept. 16 rebirth possible … the Senate action was really a reaffirmation of that aspiration that is now articulated in the 1987 Constitution.”

The 1987 Constitution declares: “The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relations with other States the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.”

It likewise declares: “The Philippines, consistent with the national interests, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.”

In this regard, the National Security Archive at George Washington University, citing State Department documents as sources, has confirmed that “from the 1950s through the early 1990s, the US government deployed nuclear weapons around the world, from the North Atlantic in Western Europe to South Korea, the Philippines, and Western Pacific.”

The P-Noy government must demand a categorical statement by the US government on this matter, and not timidly accept the latter’s “neither confirm nor deny” stance on whether visiting US warships carry nuclear weapons.

The government must also do the following:

1. Press the US to clean up the toxic waste left behind in the former bases;

2. Investigate, and report to the people, how the 250,000 hectares of arable lands that had been ceded to US control under the MBA have been utilized.

3. Explain why proper attention hasn’t been paid to the farmers’ demand to include the former base lands in agrarian reform, and the Aeta people’s claim on portions of these lands as their ancestral domain.

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