“Up until the last moments of his term, Aquino continues to allow the wanton surrender of our sovereignty and territorial integrity to a foreign oppressor.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Anti-US bases activists pledged to strongly resist the return of US bases in the country, as Malacañang approved the first five “agreed locations” for the basing of US troops and war materiel under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
Amid China’s growing aggression in the West Philippine Sea, progressive groups asserted that the Philippines must not rely on the U.S., which is not likely to counter China, given its heavy economic investments and debts in Chinese soil. Activists have called for strengthening the Philippines’ capability for external security without entering into onerous defense agreements, such as bringing back the US bases.
On March 18, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Amy Searight announced that the sixth PH-US Bilateral Strategic Dialogue had agreed on five locations for the U.S. military bases. It was later announced to be three sites in Luzon, one in the Visayas, and one in Mindanao, namely:
1. Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
2. Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga
3. Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija
4. Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu
5. Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan De Oro City in Misamis Oriental
“Aquino will go down in history as the president who brought back US bases to our shores. There will be strong resistance from the areas where these bases will be set up,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
The progressives warned of the return of the “evils” that thrive along with the U.S. military bases, such as prostitution, cases of violence against women, children, and other civilians, and health hazards caused by inappropriate disposal of toxic nuclear waste.
Reyes reiterated that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) failed to modernize for four decades during the stay of the US bases, nor in the past 17 years under the Visiting Forces Forces Agreement (VFA), which allowed the continued entry of U.S. troops for joint military trainings.
“We do not need Edca to stand up against China…Standing up to China requires developing our domestic economy, industrializing our country and developing our capacity for external defense. This cannot be achieved if we remain a neo-colony of the US,” Reyes said.
Elmer Labog, chairman of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) lamented Aquino’s “shameful puppetry” in violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, 25 years after the Philippine Senate decision kicked the U.S. military bases out.
“The Aquino government, through Edca, is bringing back what Filipinos fought hard to evict. The Filipinos’ assertion of national sovereignty in 1991 truly seems like a reminder of a bygone era amidst Aquino’s puppetry to the US,” said Labog.
League of Filipino Students national chairperson Charisse Bañez said the U.S. bases signals “doom for the Filipino people.” She cited human rights violations committed by American soldiers who were participants in the PH-US Balikatan exercises. In 2014, Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude was strangled to death by U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was sentenced up to 12 years in prison, and is now detained in a Jusmag facility inside Camp Aguinaldo.
Bañez said that unlike under the VFA which allows trial in Philippine courts for criminally-accused U.S. servicemen, Edca’s Article XI provides that any dispute will undergo settlement and prohibits the referral of the case to any court or tribunal, local or international.
“Up until the last moments of his term, Aquino continues to allow the wanton surrender of our sovereignty and territorial integrity to a foreign oppressor,” she said.
Early this year, on Jan. 12, the Supreme Court upheld Edca as an executive agreement, thus, within the powers of the president and does not need Senate ratification. Government had argued that Edca will benefit the country because it will be able to use whatever infrastructure and equipment that the U.S. troops will leave behind, when they depart.
PH dependence on US bases
Bañez said Edca gives exclusive use of the military bases to U.S. troops, who will also exclusively use the equipment and tools they will bring.
“Technology-transfer through prepositioning the equipment, supplies, and materiel of US is a myth. The US has no interest in developing our defense capabilities,” Bañez said.
Since last year, nuclear-power submarines, war ships and planes of the U.S. had frequented Philippine shores and conducted patrols in the West Philippine Sea, amid China’s intrusions in Philippine waters. Recently, Chinese Coast Guard ships were seen around the Quirino (Jackson) Atoll, a traditional fishing ground 60 miles off Palawan. Filipino fishing boats were also helplessly shooed away by Chinese ships even within the Philippine exclusive economic zone in Bajo de Masinloc.
In stark contrast, last week, the Argentine Coast Guard shot and sank a Chinese trawler illegally fishing in its territorial waters. The Chinese trawler reportedly ignored warning shots, and even tried to force a collision with the Argentine Coast Guard, provoking the latter to use force to stop it.
‘Aquino’s successor should terminate Edca’
Reyes said they will campaign for the review and termination of Edca by whoever will succeed Aquino. “Since EDCA is an executive agreement, it is well within the power of the next president to terminate it,” he said.
Of the five presidential candidates, only Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has made a strong stand for Philippine sovereignty, as she consistently called for the termination of the VFA. Santiago had insisted that Edca is a treaty and should get Senate approval. The senator, however, has placed last in poll surveys.
At the recent presidential debate on March 20, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte asked Senator Grace Poe what she will do in case of an extreme scenario that Philippine Coast Guards were attacked in the West Philippine Sea. To this, Poe answered that the Philippines could get help through the VFA, while it strengthens its external defense capability.
“Totoo, ayaw nating umasa sa kanila, pero tayo lamang, di natin kaya, kung ano ang pwede nating gawin sa pagkakataon na yon, kailangan ay depensahan natin ang ating bansa, pero ang totoo, kailangan din natin ang tulong ng ibang komunidad para tayo madepensahan. Pero hindi ngangahulungan na hindi natin palalakasin ang ating military (It’s true, we don’t want to be dependent on them, but on our own we can’t do it, and in a situation that we have to defend our country, we also need the help of other communities. But this does not mean we will not strengthen our military),” she said.