A Sept.16 forum on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement looked back on the historic 1991 Senate decision on the removal of the US military bases in the country, and at the tasks ahead as their return looms.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA — Former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), which the Aquino government signed with the US, should have been a treaty, not just an executive agreement. As such, it should have the concurrence of the Philippine senate.
Shahani discussed independent foreign policy at a forum on Edca on Sept. 16, held on the 23rd year of the removal of the US bases.
“Yes, Edca should have been a treaty,” Shahani said, in response to a question posed by Rey Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center.
“Meron na tayong kasaysayan, the 1991 abrogation by the Senate, and that really should have been a symbol for the Senate and the government,” she said, referring to the Sept. 16, 1991 historic rejection of the RP-US bases treaty by the Philippine senate.
Article 18, section 25 of the 1987 Constitution bans the presence of foreign military bases and troops “except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum.”
The provision also provides that it should be “recognized as a treaty by the other contracting state.”
The Edca was signed on April 28 by Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, two hours before US President Barack Obama arrived in Manila.
The forum, entitled “US Troops, back with a vengeance” focused on the anti-bases and anti-imperialist movement in the time of the US bases, and the challenges in revitalizing another broad united front against Edca. It was held at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
Other speakers were PUP President Emmanuel de Guzman, Renato Reyes Jr, President Emmanuel de Guzman, Renato Reyes Jr, Teddy Casiño, lawyer Evalyn Ursua, Lisa Masa and Robin Padilla.
The speakers all called on the youth to learn from history, engage in the discussion on Edca, and be part of nation-building.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr told the youth in the audience that since they were born after the 1991 bases removal, they must look back on history because the US troops are making a comeback.
“When you hear about Subic and Clark, what comes to mind are holiday destinations, tourist spots. But there was a time when these were ports for warships, barracks where many American soldiers lived, and were not considered Philippine territory,” said Reyes. Some government officials have touted the presence of “visiting” US troops as necessary in the face of China’s threats in the Spratlys islands, but Reyes doubted if the US will actually side with the Philippines.
“Why should we rely on a foreign power to defend us? Shouldn’t Filipinos be the ones defending the country?” he said.
The forum was also a walk down memory lane for the older activists who were active in the anti-bases movement.
Former Bayan Muna partylist lawmaker Teddy Casiño said he was among those tasked to lobby among the senators in 1991. He recalled that Senator Ernesto Maceda, after talking with them, said: “Do not judge me on the decision that I will make.” They assumed that he was pro-bases, and they were surprised when he voted “no.”
“It was a big surprise, specially to those in the nationalist movement, that the senate would vote that way,” Casiño said.
Shahani was not among the “Magnificent 12,” the label of honor earned by the 12 senators who voted “no” to reject the bases treaty. The Senate voted 12-11; the treaty needed 16 votes to be ratified.
“I was really happy that it happened… The 12 votes really was a surprise. I am glad that the ‘no’ vote won because it was a sign of our independence as a nation,” said Shahani, who ran and won as senator under the ticket of President Cory Aquino. “I could not vote against it … being the chair of the committee of foreign affairs, it would have looked really ugly.”
PUP President Emmanuel de Guzman, a young teacher and activist during the 1991 anti-bases campaign, recalled that even former PUP President Nemesio Prudente used to join them in rallies and protests.
Independent foreign policy
Shahani cited the four principles of an independent foreign policy as stated in the constitution: national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right of self-determination.
However, these policies were being undermined as the Philippine government relates with other countries.
In the case of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Shahani said that although it was ratified by the Senate in May 1999, it was rushed and “was not scrutinized.” She said the Edca should also be studied more.
Responding to a question why the VFA took effect even if it was not concurred to by the US senate, Shahani said: “That is, in a way, the privilege of a superpower, which was accepted even by our Supreme Court.”
The VFA gives extraterritorial and extrajudicial rights to US servicemen visiting the Philippines for military exercises. In 2000, the Supreme Court had affirmed that the treaty is constitutional, and again in 2009.
Shahani pointed out that the US has gotten away without ratifying major United Nations conventions, such as the Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw). The US refuses to be dominated by a weaker power, she said.
Shahani expressed how glad she was to meet lawyer Evelyn Ursua, who was one of the counsels of “Nicole,” the Filipina who was raped by US Lance Corporal Daniel Smith. She said that she also takes her hat off to Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Benjamin Pozon who convicted Smith, and issued a commitment order for his detention at the Makati City Jail. Smith was spirited in the middle of the night to the US embassy in Manila 25 days later, after Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and US ambassador Kirstie Kenney signed an agreement on his transfer of custody.
The conviction was, however, overturned after Smith petitioned the Court of Appeals. Smith was acquitted after “Nicole” recanted her statement and left for the US.
“Those of us who are feminists were so disappointed, because the ruling was written by three women judges who decided that it was consensual sex and not rape,” Shahani said. “Those are the issues which I believe are worth fighting for and worth critiquing as we go into these relationships with foreign entities.”
“The moment a government loses jurisdiction, it loses sovereignty,” she said.
At a disadvantage
The Edca is even worse than the rejected bases treaty in 1991, said lawyer and women’s rights advocate Ursua in her presentation. She echoed Shahani, and also cited Article 18, sec. 25 which allows foreign troops in the country only under a treaty.
The rejected treaty, which was entitled “RP-US Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace,” required a token payment of rent, was limited to the existing bases and had an expiration.
“Edca is rent-free and far-reaching, unlike the military bases then. The problem is all of the Philippines can have ‘agreed locations.’ There are no limitations on what kind, whether public or private, national or provincial,” Ursua said.
The Edca is automatically renewed after 10 years, unless one of the parties gives a notice of termination. “It’s not something that the Philippine government will do,” she said.
The Edca gives “unhampered use” of “agreed locations” to the US troops, which means they can also bring in nuclear weapons. Ursua said that it “is clearly a violation of Article 2, section 8 (of the Constitution) which bans nuclear weapons in the country.”
During the time of the its military bases, the US kept a “neither-confirm-nor-deny policy” on whether they have nuclear weapons.
She said the Edca has no provision on the criminal prosecution of US troops, personnel and contractors. This was unlike in the VFA, which had a vague provision.
“The courts do not have jurisdiction and power over any dispute. Under the Edca, any Filipino who is abused cannot file a complaint in court, or in any international tribunal. The government surrendered the jurisdiction of the court in Edca,” said Ursua.
Likewise, there is no provision on liabilities for environmental damage.
Ursua also said the Edca gives the Armed Forces of the Philippines, not civilian authorities, unrestricted power to decide on the details of the agreed locations. “The Congress does not have oversight anymore. The Senate has no authority to review Edca even if it covers the whole Philippines.”
Casiño cited violations of the VFA, which means there will be worse abuses under Edca.
He said that American soldiers have been joining combat operations, which is not allowed under VFA.
The International Solidarity Mission in 2002 documented the first case of an involvement of US troops in combat operations, in the shooting of Buyong-Buyong Isnijal by American soldier Reggie Lane, in Basilan.
In 2008, US soldiers were also involved in an encounter wherein seven civilians were killed.
“The US troops are not covered by the laws of the land, a shown by how Smith and Reggie Lane were whisked out of the country,” Casiño said. The latest case is the trespassing and destruction wrought by the American minesweeper USS Guardian in the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu sea.
Ironically, on Sept. 16, the same day of the historic commemoration, the Supreme Court denied the petition for a writ of kalikasan on the USS Guardian.
Lessons in the anti-bases fight
Casiño said the 1991 bases treaty rejection was the “peak” of a long anti-bases and anti-imperialist struggle waged and participated in by different sectors of society, including the revolutionary Left. The 1991 Senate vote was so historic because it was the first time that American troops were booted out of the country, he said.
American troops first arrived in the Philippines in 1898 in the guise of helping the Katipuneros fight the Spaniards. Then the US eventually showed its real interests, and the brutal Philippine-American War, also called “The First Vietnam War”, broke out, lasting for 15 years, and resulting to the American occupation.
Casiño noted the four lessons and requisites in the 1991 anti-bases victory in the Senate, as culled by Bayan Muna’s Nat Santiago in 2011, 20 years after the senate vote:
1) the determined efforts to arouse nationalism among the people;
2) the struggle to oust the US-backed Marcos dictatorship;
3) the formation and mobilization of the broadest anti-bases, anti-nukes and anti-treaty front;
4) the sustained action and big mobilizations of the people.
Casiño said the campaign both exposed the truths and the lies about the US military bases. The truths: that these are launching pads for wars of aggression; that the agreement was favourable only for the US; and that there was proliferation of crimes, drug abuse, prostitution, gambling and other decadent culture around the bases.
It also belied that that the bases’ presence helped in the modernization of the AFP, and in achieving economic growth.
The fall of the Marcos dictatorship dealt a big blow to US imperialism and was a factor in exposing its vested interests in the country, Casiño said. “It was clear that whoever will replace Marcos will also conspire with the US. We have prepared for Cory’s turnabout although she initially had an anti-bases posture.”
Casiño said that so many alliances and nationalist citizens groups were formed, and many regional and provincial formations broadened the front even more. “Even the PDP-Laban took an anti-bases stand.”
The series of massive mobilizations, from 1985, as led by Bayan, was the biggest, he said. “Cory also tried to bring a pro-bases show of force on August 10, 1991, but it quickly dissipated, because of the rains.”
“When the bases were gone, we were proven correct in our stand. They claimed the economy will collapse in all of Central Luzon. But local officials were the ones who later on admitted that there are bigger benefits when the facilities were used for civilian purposes,” Casiño said.
Casiño said the anti-imperialist protests continued, specially since the US troops found a way to return.
“In 1994, Ramos attempted with the Acquisition on Cross Accessing Agreement, but later backtracked amid strong public opposition. In 1996, there was the Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) which later on became the VFA,” he said.
On Feb. 10, 1998, then Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon and US ambassador Thomas Hubbard signed the VFA. There were big mobilizations led by the Junk the VFA Movement in 1998, and a vigil at the Senate in 1999. In spite of the big mobilization, Casiño said, the Senate ratified the VFA on the same basis that the bases treaty was rejected, among which was to modernize the AFP and as defense against foreign aggression.
Bayan and the Junk the VFA Movement filed a petition with the Supreme Court, but on Oct. 10, 2000, the SC ruled on the constitutionality of the VFA, saying that there was no need for its ratification by the US senate since the US ambassador certifies it as a treaty.
Ursua noted that since 2000, many soldiers have stayed, many in Mindanao. In 2002, the Arroyo regime signed the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA).
As the violations and abuses by US servicemen were piling up, other voices were heard against the VFA. In 2009, Senator Francis Pangilinan filed a resolution calling on President Arroyo to renegotiate the VFA, but this was ignored.
Ursua said that now, in 2014: “The Edca completed the return of the US bases in the Philippines although they don’t call it bases.”
Casiño said the anti-Edca campaign is faced with the tasks of documentation of actual US troops’ activities, showing Edca’s connection to neoliberal policies and counterinsurgency, and exposition of claims that the US will come to the Philippines’ aid, which is not even stated in Edca.
“We have to prepare…let us complete the requisites for the second round,” he said.
In a red Katipunan shirt and native salakot, award-winning actor Robin Padilla said he came all the way from a movie shooting to express solidarity in the forum.
“Mga kaibigan, mayaman ang Pilipinas. Noong dumating Kastila, ninakawan kayo. Mga hapon, ninakawan kayo. Mga multicultural na Pilipino, ninanakawan pa rin kayo. At di pa nasiyahan, nagtawag pa ng backup,” then Padilla gestured to the words “US troops” on the forum’s sign on the stage.
(Friends, the Philippines is a rich nation. When the Spanish came, they robbed you. Then the Japanese came, they robbed you. Multicultural Filipinos are still robbing you. Not satisfied, they even called for back up.)
“Payag ba kayo na mahina kayo? Na di n’yo kayang tumayo? Walang Pilipino na sumbungero. Ito, ano tawag dito? Sumbungero! (Do you agree that you are weak? That you can’t stand on your own? Filipinos are not sumbungero. But what do you call this? Sumbungero!)” Padilla said as he again pointed to the words “US troops.” “Sumbungero” is a Tagalog word which refers to a snitch, or one who kisses up to authorities.
Padilla then called on the youth “to unite and put your trust on each other.”
“Sana makinig tayo sa mga beteranong rebolusyonaryo, dahil sila, hindi tayo dadalhin sa masama (Let us listen to veteran revolutionaries, because they will not lead us astray),” Padilla said, referring to leaders of Bayan Muna partylist, Bayan, Gabriela, Alliance of Concerned Teachers and We Govern Institute, which were the forum organizers. Padilla also mentioned that he is a descendant of Ilocos heroine Gabriela Silang, which he traced to his Cariño roots.
‘Blaze new paths’
Former Gabriela Women’s Partylist representative Liza Maza called for broad formations and protests as the Supreme Court starts oral arguments on the petition against Edca in October. The government will also begin negotiations with the US on the “agreed locations” under Edca.
“Let us make our position clear to the senators that we want the Edca junked,” she said that lobby work is needed in case the Supreme Court calls for senate concurrence.
Maza noted the example of a village in North Cotabato, which filed a local government resolution opposing the construction of a “training facility” for US servicemen. She said all affected places should make a similar stand.
Going back to 1991, Maza recalled that after the “no” votes won, the Magnificent 12 gave a standing ovation to former Senator Lorenzo “Ka Tanny” Tañada, who was present in the gallery. Since the 1950s up to the Martial law era, Ka Tanny was at the forefront of the anti-imperialist and anti-fascist struggles. His son Senator Wigberto Tañada was one of the Magnificent 12.
Maza called on the PUP students in the forum, and to all youths, as she quoted Tañada’s words in his 1965 commencement address at the Lyceum of the Philippines.
“Young people do not by nature cling to the past; they embrace the future. They can see further, they can work harder, they should achieve more. Do not be old before your time, dare to blaze new paths and take your countrymen with you to those heights of freedom and independence which our generation dreamt of but failed to reach.”