The Aquino government will again pin its hopes of armed forces modernization on US hand-me-downs, but the reality is that all these do not really help in strengthening Philippine sovereignty nor in asserting our claims over disputed territories.” – Renato Reyes, Bayan
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Patriotic people’s organizations led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) have declared that there is no room for doubt that unless unequivocal protests are launched against it, the United States is set to reestablish its military bases in the Philippines. In the past week, protests erupted over the presence of a United States nuclear-powered attack submarine in the former Subic Nava Base in Zambales.
The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said the entry of the USS North Carolina (SSN 777), a Virginia class attack submarine considered one of the “stealthiest, most technologically advanced” in the world, is a sign that the US is intent on reestablishing its military base in the Philippines.
Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said that if developments are any gauge, it appears as if US military bases are back in the country.
“Virtual basing and hosting of US warships are being justified by the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement. Philippine ports like Subic are again providing logistics support for US ships. We might see more of these port calls now that the US is rebalancing towards Asia,” said Reyes said.
Reyes pointed out that the Philippines is de facto hosting US warships presumably armed with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The entry of the nuclear submarine may be in contravention of the Philippine constitutional ban on nuclear weapons.
“The problem is that under the VFA, the US neither confirms nor denies that its ships carry nuclear weapons. The presumption, however, is that they do have these weapons, especially in the more advanced ships,” he said. He added that the presence of nuclear weapons in the US ships went against Article II, Section 8 of the Philippine Constitution. The Constitution states that “the Philippines, consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.”
Increased military aid increases dependence
In the meantime, Bayan did not welcome reports that the US has increased by three-fold its military aid to the Philippines in 2012 over last year’s $11.9 million to $30 million. The group said the supposed aid reinforces the dependence of the Philippines on its former colonizer, but will not amount to much in terms of helping the Philippines assert its claims over disputed territories in the region.
“The Philippines will again be waiting for more second-hand military equipment being thrown its way by the US government. The Aquino government will again pin its hopes of armed forces modernization on US hand-me-downs, but the reality is that all these do not really help in strengthening Philippine sovereignty nor in asserting our claims over disputed territories,” said Reyes explained.
Earlier this month and April 30 in the US, Philippine officials met with US counterparts in Washington to discuss how the two countries can strengthen their defense alliance.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had their “two plus two” meeting and reportedly agreed upon common cooperative strategies that will supposedly bolster existing and planned for economic and cultural development projects.
Reyes, however, pointed out that only concrete outcome of the talks is a second Vietnam-era ship, a 1967 Hamilton class cutter, which will be transferred to the Philippines later this year.
“This is the kind of mendicant foreign policy which has prevented our country to develop its own credible defense posture, because it is so dependent on US military aid,” Reyes said.
According to Reyes, both the Aquino administration and Washington are downplaying the impact of the meeting vis-à-vis US relations with China.
“The US obviously did not categorically take the side of the Philippines over China. The US was very careful. It is an indication that the Mutual Defense Treaty is not a framework where we can always expect automatic US support for our territorial claims.
Neither can we expect automatic US retaliation against China. The MDT only gives the illusion of US support so that the US can get more from the Philippines,” he said.
During the Washington meeting, Del Rosario expressly declared the government’s request for help from the US.
“We also need to deter any additional incursions into our seas where we have sovereign rights,” he said. The official also said that the Philippines is going to submit a list of military hardware it needs and which the US can provide such as patrol vessels, patrol aircraft, radar systems, and coast watch stations.
Impact on dispute with China
In the meantime, Reyes also said the entry of the high-tech US submarine may have negative repercussions in the Philippine’s dispute with China, saying perceived US involvement may further escalate tensions.
“The port calls made by US warships is part of a greater strategy to project US military power in the region. It is directed at all countries in the region, but most especially China, in order to keep China subservient to US dictates,” he said.
Statements from the US military support the view that the port call is being used for US power projection. According to a US official, the USS North Carolina “brings to the region the capability to conduct the full spectrum of potential submarine missions including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, strike, naval special warfare involving special operations forces, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and mine warfare.”
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus also expressed opposition against the entry of the nuclear submarine, saying that the entry of the submarine may escalate the Philippine’s dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal.
“We are in imminent danger of being in the middle of a proxy war. The conflict is primarily between US versus Chinese economic interests in the Philippines and in the region. Instead of resolving issues on the diplomatic table, President Aquino has allowed the intrusion of US war mongering in the guise of protecting Philippine interest. When has the US acted politically and economically on behalf of any other interest other than its own? Is President Aquino blind to this reality or is he only admitting to his administration’s full puppetry to US economic and political interests?” she said.
De Jesus denounced the Aquino administration’s foreign policy and support for US military actions in the Philippines during the Gabriela-USA’s 2nd National Congress in Chicago. The group is among hundreds of others who protested the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in Chicago, Illinois on May 16, 2012.