EDCA: An environmental hazard and toxic threat to the PH

How can you call someone a friend or an ally when they have stubbornly refused to pay their debts, clean up the mess they made in your own home, and suffer from selective amnesia when it comes to owning up to their transgressions?



Kalibutan-1-1The recently signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippine and United States governments was hyped as a breakthrough military agreement that is highly advantageous to the Philippines. President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III said it will increase our defense capabilities against external aggressors, and will commit US military forces to defend our country against China’s incursions.

It was also hyped as a landmark agreement by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The AFP’s primer on the EDCA states that it has provisions “on environmental protection, human health and safety, including the adoption of a ‘preventative approach’ to environmental protection,” and the application of “environmental compliance standards that reflect the more protective of Philippine, US or applicable international agreement standards.”

The premise that the agreement will categorically commit the US to defend the Philippines was easily debunked by the statement of no other than US President Barack Obama, saying that the US is not seeking to counter or contain China in the Asian Region. The truth of this matter could be clearly seen in the contents and provisions of the EDCA.

The US seeks to transform the Philippines into virtually its biggest military base in Southeast Asia to ensure and protect their military objectives and economic interests in the Asia-Pacific region. The integrity of Philippine territory will only come after if it will serve the geopolitical interests of the US or not.

The claim that the EDCA is an environmental landmark agreement, like the nickname of Aquino, is pure BS. Why? Let us enumerate major points and obvious facts:

Addressing past environmental crimes

First, there was no mention of past environmental crimes and violations of US military forces in the Philippines. The recent destruction in our world heritage site, the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park by the US Navy’s warship USS Guardian remains unresolved up to the present. The US government still has not paid compensation for the damages they caused, has not rehabilitated the damaged reef area, and has not allowed prosecution under the Philippine courts of the responsible officers and personnel of the USS Guardian.

Even the widespread toxic contamination caused by US forces to the nearby communities around the former military bases in Angeles, Pampanga and Subic, Zambales remains unresolved.

What we got instead amidst the hullabaloo of Obama’s visit and EDCA signing is deafening silence from both Obama and Aquino on the outstanding environmental crimes of US forces. BS Aquino, true to his puppet character, failed to demand for US accountability and responsibility on both the Tubbataha grounding and toxic contamination in the former US military bases.

How can you call someone a friend or an ally when they have stubbornly refused to pay their debts, clean up the mess they made in your own home, and suffer from selective amnesia when it comes to owning up to their transgressions?

Accounting for nuclear and toxic incidents

Second, the EDCA did not clearly state that, in an event of nuclear or toxic contamination brought about by US military forces and operations, the US will take responsibility in compensating victims, cleaning up and rehabilitating the polluted environment, and shoulder all related expenses of such incidents. It hearkens back to the provision of the previously junked RP-US Military Bases Agreement that the US has no legal obligation to restore the environs of military bases, now in the terminology of EDCA as all ‘Agreed Locations’, in their original condition.

If we grant the BS Aquino government’s claim that the EDCA is just an articulation of existing military agreements such as the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and the 2007 Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA), then the agreement clearly does not contain measures for environmental regulations and penalties given that none of the abovementioned policies has any concrete provision on environmental guidelines and responsibilities.

Even in the EDCA provisions, the US is still not straightforward and clear in its commitment to environmental protection and rehabilitation. Article IX Section 2 of the EDCA said: “The US confirms its intent to respect relevant PH environmental, health, and safety laws, regulations, and standards in the execution of its policies.” This is no mere play of words, rather a consciously manipulated formulation to allow for a creative interpretation on when and how the US will ‘respect’ PH environmental laws and guidelines.

Thus we can expect, as in the past, that the US will assert “no legal obligation’ whenever a widespread military toxic pollution or environmentally destructive incident happens.

Preventing the preposition of nukes

Third, the US military’s policy of neither confirming nor denying the entry and use of nuclear weapons in Philippine territory remains standing. Despite the EDCA positively mentioning many times over the ban on the entry of nuclear arms, it never challenged this policy of deniability.

The US is the biggest producer of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the world, owning the most number of nuclear-armed ships, planes, and equipments. It is an open-secret that nuclear-powered and armed battleships, submarines and aircraft carriers continue to dock in the country under the VFA and MLSA. The EDCA apparently follows this shameful tradition of the US.

The EDCA is clearly a precursor of more widespread toxic contamination and environmental degradation by the US military in the Philippines, now that it allows the basing of troops and prepositioning of war materiel not only in military facilities but in state-owned civilian facilities as well, all over the country. This is not only grossly immoral but also very dangerous to our people and environment.

Patriotic individuals and environmental advocates should join the protest and call for the junking of EDCA. It is our task to hinder and counter the US-Aquino regime’s traitorous return of US bases and militarism that tramples on our sovereignty, patrimony and environment. We have a glorious past in defending our sovereignty and patrimony, and we should learn lessons and take inspiration from the success of the people’s movement in ousting the US military bases back in 1992. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

Addendum on toxic contamination in former US military bases

Studies published by the US General Accounting Office (US GAO) and the US Department of Defense (US DOD) reported toxic contaminants such as Aldrin, Dieldrin, Petroleum hydrocarbons, Polycholorinated Hydrocarbongs (PCBs), lead, mercury and several different kinds of chemical solvents. All chemicals have been identified at above safe environmental standards in the soil and groundwater on Clark as well as in other bases. This was validated by studies by the World Health Organization and other US-based private research organizations.

The study of the International Institute for the Concern of Public Health released in November 1998 showed that many communities near the former US military base in Clark Angeles City Pampanga reported abnormally high and uneven levels of kidney, urinary, nervous and female system health problems. Several reports also show that the US Military left or abandoned hazardous materials, chemical wastes, and unexploded ordnance in different areas in the former military bases in Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base. Until now the US remains unaccountable to these environmental crimes.

Si Clemente Bautista ang kasalukuyang national coordinator ng Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE). Ang KALIBUTAN, salita ng bisaya para sa ‘Mundo,’ ay ang bagong lingguhang kolum sa Bulatlat.com ng mga tagapagtaguyod ng Kalikasan hinggil sa mga pangunahing usaping pangkapaligiran na kinakaharap ng mamamayang Pilipino.

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