By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Two significant events that define the country’s sovereignty, or the lack of it, mark this year: the 60th anniversary of the US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty, and the 20th year of the removal of the US military bases in the country. Thus, it has been 60 years since the country surrendered its sovereignty to the US, and it has been 20 years since the Filipino people, in a historic struggle, were able to kick out the US bases.
During the transition from direct colonial rule toward the “granting of independence,” the US held off turning over two government institutions until the last minute: the Department of Education and the Philippine Constabulary, which was the precursor of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). This goes to show the importance of both institutions to the US: the first to shape the Filipino people’s minds, attitudes, and culture through an instrument for brain washing, and the second to make sure that we tow the US line through an instrument of coercion.
The US continues to control Philippine education through multilateral agencies specifically, the IMF-World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which funded two major education sector studies: during Martial law, which led to the institutionalization of the NCEE (National College Entrance Examinations), which barred students who did not pass the test from taking up college and were made to take up vocational courses instead, and another in 1998, which recommended that budgetary allocations be made to favor basic education instead of tertiary education and the readjustment of basic education into the Kinder+12 program. Both the NCEE before, and the soon to be implemented Kinder+ 12 program are meant to develop generations of trained, cheap labor.
On the other hand, the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951 was ratified to become the basis of all other military agreements between the US and the Philippines that would cement the stranglehold of the US Armed Forces over the AFP. On the basis of the MDT, the US was able to establish a permanent fixture of control over the AFP, the Joint US-RP Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG), which shaped, oriented and controlled the AFP to suit US needs through joint military exercises and trainings, and offering scholarships to develop and maintain a corps of loyal officers; the presence of US military advisors; Foreign Military Financing and transfer of otherwise de-commissioned, junk military equipment to the AFP in the form of military aid (read: loans), such as the recent sale of a previously decommissioned, 46-year old battleship to the Philippine Navy.
These were supplemented by more agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), and other instruments of US control: the US-RP Joint Defense Assessment in 2000, wherein the US Armed Forces evaluated the capabilities of the AFP in conducting counter-terror, counterinsurgency operations that resulted in the Philippine Defense Reform Program, which is being supervised by the US; the Defense Policy Board and the Security Engagement Board, which ensure the supervision of the US Department of Defense over the Philippine Department of National Defense; and the Balikatan US-RP Joint Military Exercises. While the latter is being packaged as joint military exercises, wherein US and AFP troops are supposedly participating as equals, Philippine officers and soldiers involved in field exercises complain that they are being treated as second-class soldiers and are being ordered around by their American counterparts. This is not merely a problem of attitude but of orientation and reflects the relationship between the US Armed Forces and the AFP.
If the MDT is a symbol of Philippine subservience, the rejection of the US-RP military bases agreement reflected the struggle of the Filipino people for genuine freedom and sovereignty. Aided by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and the arrogance of US negotiators, the Filipino people kicked out the US bases from the country in 1991. Despite the campaign that was conducted by then president Corazon Aquino for the ratification of the agreement, the senators, incensed by the arrogance of the US negotiators and the paltry amount of aid and assistance being offered by the US, and pressured politically by progressive groups and individuals, were swayed to reject the agreement, albeit by a slim margin.
A lot of things have happened since then. The US troops are back, courtesy of the VFA, MLSA, and the Balikatan US-RP Joint Military Exercises, but the fact remains that the Filipino people had prevented the US from maintaining and establishing more major military installations in the country. It was a victory for the Filipino people, nevertheless. And the Filipino people could win more small and progressively big battles one after another until we are able to gain national sovereignty, genuine freedom and democracy.