Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 42               November 24 - 30, 2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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MLSA as a Sophisticated Word Game

The “hush-hush” manner in which the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA) was signed only shows the mastery of both the US and RP governments in phraseology and word substitution.


Protesters release pigeons to symbolize their opposition against the recent signing of a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement and possible U.S.-led war on Iraq during a rally in front of the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Nov. 21, 2002.

In the morning of Nov. 21, Commodore Ernesto de Leon, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, on behalf of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, and Col. Mathias Velasco, representing the Commander of the US Pacific Command, signed the MLSA at Camp Aguinaldo.

Interestingly, both US and RP officials stressed that that the nine-page document is “boring.” According to Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, the MLSA is “purely administrative and accounting procedure which will permit the US forces on training engagements to turn over such equipment as military trucks expeditiously to their Philippine counterparts.”

The powers-that-be should be asked at this point if they also consider “boring” the 1993 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which is 424 pages long, consisting of 30 agreements and 12 resolutions.

Nevertheless, one is led to ask why the US and RP officials opted to use the term “boring” instead of a mollifying one like “harmless.” Is this because just like the voluminous GATT, the public is being discouraged from reading the full text of the MLSA?

Which then leads one to further ask why, just like the GATT, the MLSA document is not publicly available as of this writing.

The websites of the Office of the President (OP) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) are efficient in uploading the official statements regarding the MLSA. However, its full text is not uploaded despite Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s claim that “(i)t’s available, and anybody can read the document.”

Again, the powers-that-be may have a different concept of “availability” and “anybody” since based on media reports, only Senators have been given copies of the document when a Senate briefing was held in the afternoon of November 21. Because arrangements were not made beforehand, only Sen. Ramon Magsaysay was able to attend the briefing, though it is presumed that the MLSA-related documents have been distributed to the offices of Senators.

Even the concerned members of the House of Representatives are asking for a copy of the MLSA. As early as October, partylist group Bayan Muna filed a resolution calling on Malacañang to disclose the MLSA’s content and submit the draft agreement to the Senate for ratification.

Bayan Muna Rep. Liza Maza stressed, “We were not even informed which draft of the MLSA they have been deliberating upon.

In a press statement, the lady solon explained that President Arroyo's railroading of this agreement gives the people more reason to doubt the “intent and content of the MLSA.” She asked, “Is it too controversial for public scrutiny and consumption? Or perhaps is it rashly violative of our people's interests and the nation's sovereignty?”

Bunye claims that the MLSA signing is not “secret,” arguing that Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople and National Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes were tasked to "make the appropriate briefings."

Reyes, however, said that the signing was intentionally “kept from the media because…Ople had promised lawmakers that they would be briefed before the signing was made public.” He added that “(w)e wanted to fast-track the briefing of members of Congress because we didn’t want the public to know about it (either).”

In other words, for the powers-that-be there is nothing “sinister” or “secret” about not informing the public beforehand since the latter already know at this point that the agreement was signed.

The Context

Recent events related to the MLSA show the resolve of the powers-that-be to use the power of language and (mis)communication to ensure its signing.

As early as President Arroyo’s US state visit in November 2001, there have been media reports about this agreement which militant groups claim to be just “a revised name for the junked Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA).”

In November 1994, the ACSA sought to expand the Americans’ limited access to include military rights to supply, refueling and repairs, storage, certain services on the part of the Philippine military, and the use of Philippine territory as a launching pad for possible US intervention. The resulting widespread protest forced the then Ramos administration not to pursue its finalization.

As early as late last year, the AFP claimed that the MLSA only covers the ongoing re-fuelling of US aircraft and recreation of US troops before they move on to other destinations." It adds that apart from outlining the policies governing transit operations by US aircraft and vessels in the Philippines, the…agreement would mean added equipment for the military.

At that time, it was then called an “Agreement,” but the complete draft leaked to the media in early January 2002 used the term “Arrangement.” The latter is apparently less binding than the “agreement” and “treaty” and implies that the document is low-level and does not require Senate concurrence.

Bases of Opposition

According to Ople, “(i)t took over a year to negotiate the MLSA because the Philippines wanted to include language in the agreement that would categorically dispel any notions that the MLSA was intended to bring back the bases.”

Such language includes the last paragraph of the MLSA’s Article IV which reads: “No United States military base, facility or permanent structure shall be constructed, established or allowed under this agreement.”

The administration claims that this provision debunks the militant groups’ claim that the MLSA results in the return of the US bases. However, it remains silent on the fact that the MLSA still provides for storage and billeting services, among others, to visiting US troops.

Based on Ople’s statement during the Senate briefing, “(t)he MLSA…(only) has a term of five years, and…there is specific language in the MLSA that states that logistics support and related activities shall be…temporary…and only for the duration of an approved activity.”

What Ople did not say, however, is that the US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement of 1999 and the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 do not explicitly impose any limitation in terms of time and frequency of an “approved activities” like joint US-RP military exercises. As may be gleaned from the controversial Balikatan 02-1, not all US troops were pulled out after six months.

This means that for as long as the US troops are in the country, logistics support will be given. To make things worse, US troops can be stationed anywhere in the country as per agreement with the Philippine government.

This is the reason why the Balikatan 02-1 was held in the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf unlike other joint exercises held in areas where the probability of a shooting war is remote.

Indeed, there is more to what the government officials say, and ferreting out the truth means analyzing what they tend to overlook, consciously or unconsciously. Bulatlat.com

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