“We do not need the government to once again sell out our sovereignty.” – Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – As students and activists remembered nationalist Claro M. Recto and his branding of the Philippine government’ policies as “mendicant” in a forum at UP Diliman, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, in Congress, issued a strongly worded manifestation against the “transgressions” to Philippine sovereignty of US troops.
Last week, the Mindanao Examiner reported that US troops led a successful airstrike by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Sulu, killing three alleged leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an international terror network (based on US military intelligence reports). If the said US hand in the airstrike were true, said Ilagan, it would only be one of many such incidences reported in the past 10 years involving US troops.
The US government has been revealed to be maintaining camps in southern Philippines though officially its troops are just “visiting.” Their permanent “visit” has been going on for a decade now, noted the multi-sectoral group Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance).
Over the years, Filipinos, especially patriotic groups, have railed against “visiting” US troops. The Philippines had booted out these same troops in 1991, but “the US forces don’t want to say goodbye,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bayan, during a forum on the “return” of the US Bases in Claro M. Recto Hall of UP.
The patriotic groups’ campaign against the return, in various forms, of US troops has prodded the Philippine Senate to issue a resolution calling for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). It is the pact between the US and Philippine governments that allows for US troops’ periodic “visits” and military exercises in the Philippines.
“Although the Senate resolution has no legal effect, it is testament to the fact that there is apparently something wrong with the VFA,” Reyes said in Filipino.
But rather than address these flaws, President Benigno Aquino III has recently allowed, or “invited,” as US officials claimed, an increase in US military presence in the Philippines. Aquino’s ‘invitation’ coincides with reports that the US government is planning to send about 4,500 U.S. Marines stationed in Japan to Guam and to rotate another 4,000 through Australia, Subic Bay and “perhaps a smaller base in the Philippines and Hawaii.”
Rep. Ilagan criticized President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s decision to “kowtow to the US government’s militarist plans in the region.” The US troops had committed many violations while ‘visiting’ and basing in the Philippines, Ilagan reminded the Congress. She decried the Aquino administration’s failure to learn from lessons past, as Aquino’s decision was seemingly made without the benefit of a review or study of the impact of US military presence in the Philippines.
Going into a deeper commitment without thinking it through?
Early into Aquino’s presidency, he ordered a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Until now, though, amid the active foot traffic in Malacañang of top US officials in political-military affairs, not a page of the result of that review has been shared to the public. Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño charged that Aquino had not pushed through with the review. At the forum in UP, though, Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. claimed that a source had told them the review had been concluded.
But “We have yet to hear from the Departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defense. The Presidential Commission on the VFA has yet to give its recommendations following a supposed review of the VFA,” said Rep. Ilagan in Congress.
Without a report, the review may just as well be considered as unfinished. “The review has not even started yet and we are going to enter a new agreement that would further put us in a disadvantaged position,” Casiño said. He dismissed the US-Philippine governments’ seeming justification for the increased presence — the supposed treaty partners’ standing together in the matter of South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea). The “China-card” in Spratlys issue, said Bayan, is just a smokescreen so US can be allowed to strengthen its foothold on this side of the region.
The increased deployment here, “From all indications, is a US move to re-assert its presence in the Pacific Ocean not only to block China’s increasing dominance but to stem as well the US’ floundering economy,” Casiño said.
Meanwhile, the House Joint Resolution 7 calling for the termination of the VFA, coauthored by the Gabriela lawmaker and Makabayan progressive bloc in Congress, has been pending with the Committee on National Defense and Security since August 2010.
Since the VFA was approved in 1999, several violations of US soldiers have been reported. These include the shooting of Buyong-buyong Isnijal by American soldier Reggie Lane in Basilan in 2002; the closing of the Panamao District Hospital in Sulu allegedly ordered by US soldiers led by a Master Sergeant Ron Berg in 2007; the mysterious death of a Filipino translator in an American camp in Mindanao in 2010, the Subic rape case involving Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith in 2005.
“We have witnessed injustice with the acquittal of the Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith after an obvious manipulation between the Philippine and US governments. Yet again in 2009, a 21-year old Filipina came forward after having been raped by a US military personnel from Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG)/ Balikatan,” Rep. Ilagan said. She added that these are just the reported cases – “many more probably remain hidden from public’s knowledge.”
Aside from these cases of human rights violations, cases of violating the Constitutional ban on entry of nuclear weapons and cases of participation in local combat operations of foreign troops, social ills also come with US troops’ presence, “including increased prostitution, sex trafficking and sexually transmitted diseases,” said Ilagan.
A more heightened presence of US troops in Philippine soil and waters would bring in “greater trouble than gain,” concluded Rep. Ilagan.
Aquino’s change of heart?
For Prof. Roland Simbulan of the JUNK VFA Movement, the Aquino government’s willingness to welcome more American troops when the government has not addressed the problems with the Visiting Forces Agreement is a questionable turn-around.
“This is an about-face from the position taken by Aquino as a senator – he’s reneging on the resolution he signed calling for a review of the VFA, and, if the US ignored that, to have the VFA abrogated,” Simbulan said.
In Congress, Bayan Muna Rep. Casiño vowed to file a resolution to investigate the Aquino government’s current talks and dealings with the US government where Aquino reportedly “offered” bases in the Philippines. It appears that the Filipino officials sitting in those negotiations are now on the lookout for possible venues for the US troops.
The Anakpawis Partylist has also demanded disclosure of the details of these ongoing negotiations between the US and Philippine governments. “We do not need the government to once again sell out our sovereignty,” said Casiño, as he reminded the public of the historic booting out of the US bases by Filipinos in 1991. That was an achievement few countries had succeeded in doing, so far, said Reyes of Bayan.