by INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — United States State Secretary Hillary Clinton is not welcome in the Philippines.
This was the declaration of the patriotic alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) as it announced that it will lead protests next week coinciding with Clinton’s visit.
Clinton will be in Manila on Tuesday for the observance of the 60th anniversary of the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty. It was also reported that she will join a ceremony launching the Partnership for Growth with the Philippines.
“There is no reason to celebrate 60 years of the Cold War relic that is the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty). This agreement is a lasting testament to the unequal and one-sided ties that bind our two countries. This pact has no value for national security and sovereignty. We are better off without it,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
According to Reyes, the MDT and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should also be scrapped as both have been used to justify US state officials’ brief visits to the country, as well as to justify the permanent stationing of US troops in the Philippines.
“The Aquino government should stand for sovereignty and do away with mendicancy in its foreign relations,” he said.
Reyes said Bayan expects that the MDT anniversary will be used to drum up the so-called US support for the Philippines and its claims on the Spratlys. The event, he said, will also likely stress on the importance of continued US military presence in the region.The group cautioned that the actions and statements of the two governments should not exacerbate tensions in the region.
“We’re being hoodwinked into believing we have the unqualified support of the US for the Philippines Spratly’s claim and that the MDT is the key to all this. The reality is that the US will NOT automatically go to war with China on the basis of the MDT alone. Military action would first require US congressional approval, which would be difficult considering America’s economic ties with China,” Reyes asserted.
According to the Bayan leader, mutuality and reciprocity are the biggest myths fostered by the MDT and the VFA.
“These instruments are in place primarily to secure support for US hegemonic interests in the region and not for anything else. The Philippine government should wake up from the pipe-dream that we are treated as equals and with respect by the US,” he said.
Patriotic groups lament that more than a year after Aquino assumed office, the results of a promised VFA review have not been made public. They said the VFA has been used to justify the permanent basing of US troops in Southern Philippines.
“January 2012 will mark 10 years of US permanent troop presence in Mindanao. While US troops in Iraq are set to leave at the end of 2011, US troops in Mindanao appear to be staying indefinitely. There is no known timetable or duration for their presence. Secretary Clinton’s visit will likely reinforce this unequal and illegal arrangement,” Reyes said.
“The Philippine government refuses to abrogate these two agreements because it wants to continue receiving US military aid even at great cost to our sovereignty. This is government’s mendicant foreign policy.”
Six years after Subic rape case
Bolstering Bayan’s claim that the VFA and the MDT have proven inimical to the interest of Filipinos, last November 1 marked the sixth year after the controversial “Subic rape” incident involving a Filipina and four visiting US Marines.
During the anniversary of the rape, US embassy authorities reiterated their stand that no “rape” ever took place after the Court of Appeals reversed the earlier conviction of L/Cpl. Daniel Smith. The verdict of the CA was of course widely criticized by various sectors for disregarding the obvious facts of the case.
“What the Subic rape incident highlighted were the problems with the VFA, especially on custody issues. Up to now, these have not been resolved. The VFA continues to remind us of the special treatment accorded US troops,” said Reyes.
Reyes pointed out that the US has always publicly insisted that under the VFA, even convicted US troops will remain in US custody pending appeal of their case. This interpretation, however, has been struck down by no less than the Philippine Supreme Court, yet the Philippine government, since the the Arroyo administration, has not taken any action to address this outstanding problem,” he said. “Beyond the verdict of the courts, the issue that will continue to haunt us is the patent one-sidedness of the VFA when it comes to US soldiers who have violated Philippine laws.”
VFA provisions ambiguous
The whistleblower website Wikileaks has already exposed the problems in the custody provisions of the VFA.
In one embassy cable dated April 27, 2009 (09MANILA903), or after the acquittal of Smith, former US ambassador Kristie Kenney admitted that custody provisions of the VFA were ambiguous and that clarifications had to be made. And for all its insistence of keeping custody of Smith, the US embassy admitted that it was not capable of serving as a detention facility.
“Given ambiguity in the VFA about both where custody lies following initial conviction of U.S. servicemen and detention facilities where they should be held, we believe it is important that we begin discussions on how we clarify these undesignated requirements and whether there is a more workable, less debilitating, custody process. The last three-and-a-half years have clearly demonstrated that U.S. Chancery grounds are not appropriate detention facilities to hold such servicemen in custody, not least because Mission personnel have neither the resources nor expertise to serve as jailors. We believe that the unusual situation of having a diplomatic facility as a place for detention should be clarified in future discussions with the Philippine government,” Kenney said in the confidential cable.
In the same cable, then Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo told Kenney “that he was pleased with the outcome of the case, attributing the success on the excellent collaboration the Philippine government had enjoyed with the Embassy”.
Romulo said “with several thousand U.S. servicemen currently in the Philippines for the Balikatan bilateral (military) exercises, it was imperative that both sides completely followed the letter of the VFA”.
In another cable dated September 18, 2009, Kenney again admitted the problems with the VFA but cautioned against renegotiation.
“Post would welcome a review by US Government lawyers to determine the best approach we can take to clarify the custody provisions. Following such a review, Mission would aim to establish this clarification through quiet discussions that would allow us to reach a common understanding with the Philippine government without the need to formally renegotiate the entire VFA,” Kenney said.