Press Release/ May 26, 2009
In September 1991, I was one of the tens of thousands of jubilant, soaking wet people who gathered outside the Senate when the historic vote was taken to not renew the bases treaty with the US. It was quite a night, marking the culmination of decades of struggle by one of the most successful anti-bases movements in the world. Coming only a few years after People Power astonished the world by peacefully getting rid of Marcos, the Philippines once again earned the admiration of the world’s peoples for its courageous and principled rejection of the presence of American or any other foreign military forces on its soil (those has included New Zealand, which had regularly used the US bases
for training purposes during the Marcos dictatorship).
I had seen the effect of those US bases for myself, having been in Olongapo when the US fleet was in Subic and the sailors were out on the town. And I had been in Angeles City and seen the concentration of brothels, many of them owned by foreigners, around the entrance to Clark AFB. To be honest, witnessing that made me ashamed to be a white male. In my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand, there has been a continuous US military presence at our airport since the 1950s but it will come as no surprise to Filipinos that GIs behave very differently in white First World countries than they do in brown Third World ones. Suffice to say that the US military in NZ has never been able to enjoy and/or exploit any equivalent of Olongapo or Angeles.
So, it has been with sadness and alarm that I, and millions of likeminded people around the world, have witnessed the Philippine government determinedly undermining the clearly expressed will of the Philippine people and doing their damnedest to get back into bed with the US military in every way except offering it permanent bases again. It is no surprise that the dynasties who comprise the ruling class want that relationship restored to exactly how it was. Every Philippine President since Marcos has actively promoted the restoration of such ties. Gloria seized the opportunity presented by 9/11 to offer the Philippines on a plate to George Bush. Bush has gone, Gloria is still there and nothing much appears to be changing under Obama.
The legal justification of all this is the Visiting Forces Agreement but the way that it has been utilised by both the US and Philippine governments is that the US military is back in the country as the visitor that never goes home. The VFA means that, once again, the US
treats the Philippines as a door mat, with the Philippine government and military as the obsequious doorman. In this master/servant relationship, even the tips don’t amount to much. The US military has never entrusted its Philippine counterpart with very much in the way of its most modern and expensive equipment, only the outdated castoffs that it no longer needs. And once again US GIs are treating the Philippines as the place to sow their wild oats. If the Philippines actually asserts its sovereign rights to punish such behaviour, as it reluctantly did in the case of Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, then the US pulls out all the stops to remind the Philippines just who is the boss. The message that it sent via the Smith case was: “Don’t mess with Uncle Sam”.
The Philippine government and military peddle the line that a close military relationship with the US is indispensable to the country’s national security; that the Philippines cannot manage without it. There is a parallel between our two countries. The US used to have no more loyal ally in the South Pacific than New Zealand, which had fought in every American war of the second half of the 20th Century (and, before that, in every British one, including those in the Philippines’ nearest neighbours). But, in the 1980s, after a prolonged and heroic people’s struggle, the Government declared NZ to be nuclear free. This provoked a thunderous reaction from the US (NZ was expelled from the cornerstone ANZUS Treaty between it, Australia and the US). NZ’s “AmBoys” declared that the sky would fall. One by product was that the NZ military was no longer able to use the US bases in the Philippines for training.
But, guess what? A quarter of a century later, after several changes of Government, NZ remains nuclear free, the policy has become the status quo among all parties, the servile military relationship with the US has never been restored (Iraq was the first US war that NZ refused to join), and the sky has not fallen. NZ currently has a Rightwing government but it has not automatically ceded to the formal request from the US to commit combat troops to Afghanistan, saying that it wants to think about whether that is the best use of NZ’s military.
So, take it from us – the sky won’t fall if the Philippines kicks out the US military. After all, you’ve done it once and earned the admiration of the world. Scrap the VFA, show Uncle Sam the door, stand on your own two feet, be masters of your own destiny by finally ending the colonial relationship and being truly independent of the US.
Secretary of the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (New Zealand)
Box 2450, Christchurch, New Zealand