On September 16, 1991, 12 senators, collectively called the “Magnificent 12,” went against the wishes of President Cory Aquino and voted for the non-renewal of the US-RP Military Bases treaty. This paved the way for the pull out of US troops in the country and the turnover of the biggest US naval base in Asia the Subic Naval Base and the Clark Air Base, where US fighter and bomber planes used to refuel during their combat sorties in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, to the Philippine government.
Promoters of the extension of the bases treaty warned that the people of Olongapo and Subic would not be able to recover from the loss of their livelihood, which revolved around the bases, and the Philippines would wobble and be vulnerable with the discontinuance of US military and economic aid and the removal of the “protection” that the presence of US troops and armaments provided. Supporters of the US even sarcastically claimed that one could not eat patriotism but the loss in US aid was real.
In a matter of years, the former US bases in Subic and Clark became tourism and business hubs, the conversion of which was presided over by the former mayor of Olongapo, who was a supporter of US bases, and eventually elected senator Richard Gordon. The purported negative effects of the removal of the former US bases were hardly felt in Olongapo, Subic and the whole country. More than two decades hence, the gloomy prognostications of supporters of US bases in the country never materialized.
Of course, there were several attempts by succeeding administrations to gradually reestablish US bases in the country through several agreements such as the Mutual Support and Logistics Agreement, which paved the way for the construction of ‘temporary’ facilities by US troops and their access to the country’s ports and facilities, signed by former president Fidel V. Ramos, the Visiting Forces Agreement signed by Joseph Estrada, which opened up the country to the return of US troops, albeit ‘temporarily’, and the Balikatan joint US-PH military exercises under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which effected the actual return and continuing presence of US troops in the country.
The final return of US bases in the country was effected by the administration of Benigno Aquino III with its signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca). It was an Aquino who campaigned for the retention of the US bases, but failed in the process; it is another Aquino, this time the son, who paved the way for the return of US bases.
Worse than the US-Philippine Military Bases treaty, the EDCA allows the establishment of not one or two but several US bases inside military camps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) all over the country. There are already several restricted areas accessible only to US military personnel inside camps of the AFP where US facilities have been constructed, such as in Camp Navarro, the main operating base of the Western Mindanao Command of the AFP, in Zamboanga City, and even inside the General Headquarters of the AFP in Camp Aguinaldo, where Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was accused of choking to death Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude, is currently detained.
To add insult to injury, the Philippine government would shoulder a substantial part of the costs of constructing and maintaining these US bases, much like the arrangements in South Korea and Japan. In South Korea, the government has reportedly spent $866.5 million in 2014 for the upkeep of US bases in its country. It paid $819 million in 2013. Japan, which pays for the labor costs of Japanese nationals working at US military facilities, utility costs of the bases, and other expenses, has earmarked ¥912 billion for 2015.
For this reason, the 15 senators who asserted that the Edca is not valid as a treaty without the concurrence of two-thirds of senators did the country a service.
The fifteen are:
1. Miriam Santiago
2. Sonny Angara
3. Nancy Binay
4. JV Ejercito
5. Chiz Escudero
6. Teofisto Guingona III
7. Lito Lapid
8. Loren Legarda
9. Ferdinand Marcos jr.
10. Serge Osmena III
11. Koko Pimentel
12. Grace Poe
13. Ralph Recto
14. Cynthia Villar
15. Pia Cayetano
Shame on Sen. Sonny Trillanes for voting against Senate Resolution No. 1414, which was sponsored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. A little less acquiescent but nevertheless a national embarrassment are Senators Franklin Drilon, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Bam Aquino who abstained.
Senate Resolution No. 1414 is not an expressed rejection of Edca, but the 15 senators went against the wishes of the Aquino administration, asserted the Senate’s power of check and balance, and, IF respected by the Supreme Court and President Aquino, would open the Edca to public debate.
What the Filipino people now needs to follow vigilantly would be the decision of the Supreme Court on the petitions asking the High Court to declare the Edca as unconstitutional, and the next steps of the Aquino administration.
Well, of course, Pres. Benigno Aquino III has already demonstrated his proclivity for being obstinate. When the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional substantial portions of the Aquino administration’s version of pork barrel funds the Disbursement Acceleration Program, President Aquino openly defied the High Court. He has consistently refused to hold his friends to account. And he has been turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the plight of the Lumad and their demands for justice. For someone who has declared that the Filipino people are his bosses, Aquino has been one of the most dense, insensitive and obstinate presidents this country has ever had. Even the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. bent to strong political pressure, nationally and internationally.