Aquino government rushing ‘upgrading,’ construction of military bases for US use

The Philippines is contributing to the spending requirement for the expansion here of US military facilities.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – While slashing the budget for social services and disaster efforts, the Aquino government and its armed forces have been indulging in a “spending spree” as it rushes to construct and upgrade its military facilities. This is the observation aired by the Communist Party of the Philippine in a statement emailed to the media this Monday March 10. The group slammed the Aquino government for the said spending spree, saying this is not for the Filipino people’s benefit but more to “accommodate the requirements set by the US military for its increased rotational presence” in the Philippines.

The latest to dock in a 'routine port call,' USS Cowpens (CG 63), a guided-missile cruiser, arrives in Manila March 9 to replenish supplies and for the crew to get some 'rest and relaxation'. The warship is part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, crewed by approximately 360 sailors. (Photo from US Embassy in Manila)
The latest to dock in a ‘routine port call,’ USS Cowpens (CG 63), a guided-missile cruiser, arrives in Manila March 9 to replenish supplies and for the crew to get some ‘rest and relaxation’. The warship is part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, crewed by approximately 360 sailors. (Photo from US Embassy in Manila)

“Increased rotational presence” is the euphemism employed by US and Philippine defense officials in calling the constant presence in the country of various US troops, warships and warplanes. They are “rotating” their troops all over the Asia-Pacific, but they are always present in the Philippines every day of the year, with reportedly at least 700 Special Forces at any given time before the US announced its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. Now there is officially a negotiation between the US and Philippine defense authorities, the purpose of which is to accommodate the increase in number of US troops rotating in the country.

Last Sunday, after concluding the 6th round of talks on this “increased rotational presence” (IRP), the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) announced that the agreement being ironed out “will allow the sharing of defined areas within certain Armed Forces of the Philippines facilities with elements of the US military on a rotational basis within parameters consistent with the Constitution and laws.”

“Sharing” seems to be another euphemism, too, by which the US and PH defense officials call the US troops’ exclusive use of camps within Philippine military camps.

In a statement to the media last Sunday, DND Undersecretary and chair of the Philippine negotiating panel Pio Lorenzo Batino denied that the framework agreement they are crafting with their American counterparts includes the permanence of US troops or US military basing.

He also said it included provisions on environment safety, as well as “opportunities for potential Philippine suppliers of goods, products and services.” He did not give details.

Cooking PH by its own fat?

Various reports revealed that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is set to spend at least P1 billion (more than $22.5 million) for the construction of a port at Ulugan Bay as well as for the upgrade of facilities at Oyster Bay, both in Palawan.

Oyster Bay lies about 550-km (340 miles) southwest of Manila. Its upgrade is reportedly due to be finished by 2016, and estimated cost would be much more than P500-million or $11.5 million initially earmarked. Last year, Commodore Joseph Rostum O. Peña, commander of PH Western Navy, said Oyster Bay “will be a mini-Subic.”

Subic used to host the largest US military installation in Southeast Asia before it was closed by protests in 1992.

In launching in early 2013 a $1.8-billion Armed Forces Modernization Program, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has revived plans not just to develop Ulugan and Oyster as naval ports but also to build new air and naval bases at Subic Bay.

Last week, on the sidelines of a forum on the 19th anniversary of Philippine Mining Act, an environmentalist leader from the Visayas told Bulatlat.com that as early as 2010, a US corporation, the Millenium Challenge Corp., has started building a road network from Western Samar to Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Guiuan used to be the site of a former US naval depot and air strip during World War II. The World War II “sentimental journey” showcasing US General Douglas McArthur’s “return” is being replayed in the area yearly, and, the anti-mining advocate shared, they also see foreign troops there from time to time.

In Capas, Tarlac, there have been moves to expand the military reservation displacing Aeta communities, Edwin Danan of Central Luzon Aeta Association told Bulatlat.com early this year. In Davao, reports said the US has been searching for an airport for its drones because Mayor Rodrigo Duterte rejected US proposals to convert part of the Davao International Airport as base of its drones.

These are only some of the reported building, upgrading and expansion of military installations, pointing to the likelihood that even as the framework agreement is still being crafted, and its language being discussed to make it “more agreeable,” its implementation seems to have already begun.

Most of the US military aid being coursed to the Philippines are already funding the construction and upgrading of military facilities, some of which are already being used by the US military. Although some Filipino soldiers described it as virtual take-over, where the local armed forces are “treated like dogs,” and the US military seem to enjoy exclusive use of certain facilities, the US-PH military and defense officials continue to refer to the arrangement as “sharing.”

Last year, the US allocated $40 million in military financing to the Philippines. The amount was twice as much as the US aid the previous year.

The CPP said such aid is not helping the country. In fact, “the US is actually saving so much money as its so-called aid, augmented by local funds, are being spent for the needs of US military overseas forces.” The arrangement fits right within the US military’s agenda, as its own crisis has forced it to start a deep and thoroughgoing budget cut for its military, even as it plans to hold on to its global military superiority.

The Philippines is contributing to the spending requirement for the expansion here of US military facilities. In the framework agreement on increased rotational presence of US military here, the drafting of which has already taken six rounds of negotiations as of this week, the language and the setup for the “shared” military facilities have been reported as some of the hardest to craft. How to make the language acceptable to Filipinos have been reported as one of the sources of difficulties, or at least, before supertyphoon Yolanda hit central Philippines.

In the DND and DFA statement after concluding the latest round of talks (6th) on IRP, Batino said “The further exchanges of views have helped pave the way for the formulation of mutually agreeable language.”

But to progressive Filipinos, there is nothing agreeable about euphemisms as they criticized the way the Aquino government and the US used the exigencies of supertyphoon Yolanda to deploy more US troops in Central Philippines.

Last December, after Tacloban City was virtually turned into a US military zone, complete with drones, Gabriela Women Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan urged the Aquino administration to disengage from further talks of mutual defense and military cooperation with the United States.

Filing a resolution in Congress on Dec 18 last year, urging for PH withdrawal from framework agreement negotiations with the US, Ilagan explained that “The framework agreement transforms the entire country into a US military base, allowing US troops unrestricted freedom of action, subsequently allowing US military intervention in the country’s internal affairs.”

Not only that, the Philippines is seen as being relegated to the status of just one archipelago of US military bases in the Asia-Pacific, based on the CPP statement this week. They believe that the negotiations on the IRP, the details of which are so far being kept secret from the Filipino people, “are clearly being rushed to have the agreement ready for the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama this April.”

Another round of IRP negotiations is set for the last week of March. ()

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