By BENJIE OLIVEROS
While the Filipino people are still following with trepidation the developments regarding the removal of the USS Guardian from the Tubbataha reef, two more US ships – nuclear attack submarine USS Cheyenne and warship USS Stockdale, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer – docked at Subic. This manifests the insensitivity of the US and Philippine governments because they have not even solved yet the problem that the visit of minesweeper USS Guardian caused, which could be likened to a time bomb as the longer the US naval ship remains grounded, the more damage it causes to the Tubbataha marine park. Up to now there is still no clear timeframe for the removal of the US naval ship.
The US and Philippine governments are making it appear that these port calls are but regular, routine, benign visits: “to replenish the supplies of the ship and to give the crew the opportunity for rest and recreation.” But there appears to be something more than just what is being declared.
For one, there had been at least 200 port calls by US Navy destroyers, aircraft carriers, and nuclear-attack submarines in 2012 alone, which is perhaps the most number of port calls in the country since the removal of the US military bases in 1991. From December 2012 up to today, there have already been five reported port calls, which included the USS Gridley (DDG-101), an Arleigh-Burke Class Destroyer, nuclear submarine USS Bremerton, USS Guardian, USS Cheyenne, and USS Stockdale.
In December 2012, then Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Jessie Dollosa announced that there would be more visits this year based on the agreements on new terms under the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. A Manila Standard Today.com December 14, 2012 report revealed that Dellosa signed the new terms with Admiral Samuel James Locklear of the US Pacific Command in Camp Aguinaldo last December 12.
What are the “new terms” mentioned in the report? Does the addition of “new terms” to a treaty not need a concurrence of the Philippine Senate? Are we, the Filipino people, not entitled to be informed about the new terms of a military treaty that our government enters into with another country?
What kind of supplies do the US Navy ships get from here? There has been no case of bulk buying of consumer goods from these ships. In fact, they bring with them all the supplies for the personnel, even their steaks. If they get military supplies, isn’t it not prohibited for any foreign country to stockpile their armaments here?
The grounding of the USS Guardian has also raised more questions. What was it doing at the Tubbataha marine park? If it docked at Subic in Zambales and was on its way to Indonesia via the Sulu Sea, why did it stray toward the Tubbataha reef, which is very close to Palawan island, instead of going straight down to Indonesia? How could a US navy ship, which is part of the most modern fleet in the world, have a “faulty data chart”? Isn’t a minesweeper supposed to have state of the art sonar radars to be able to do what it is supposed to do, which is to detect mines hidden below the surface of the water? Why did it ignore the warnings of the Tubbataha park management to stay away from the reef?
There have been so many developments in the relations, especially with regards military affairs, between the country and US since the Aquino administration took over the reins of government and the Filipino people are left in the dark about these crucial matters; so much for transparency in the Aquino government. But we have the right to know because it is the Filipino people’s lives and future that are at stake.