“President Duterte, you have been a staunch advocate of freedom from foreign intervention. You have been a vocal critic of US meddling in our affairs. We ask you to stand by your statements. Edca is the ultimate agreement that gives them political power inside our country thus, it must be scrapped at all cost.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Progressive youth and student groups called on incoming President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider his stand on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), which he recently said will be continued under his administration.
“I have no problem with Edca-sanctioned use of Philippine military bases by US troops, because we don’t have good external defense capabilities,” Duterte said on May 23, as quoted in a news report.
The League of Filipino Students (LFS) said Duterte should revoke Edca, precisely because of the current state of the Philippine military, which has been kept backward and poor, in spite of more than half-a-century of defense agreements with the superpower. Agreements such as Edca only give the US a foothold in the country and its strategic spot in the region, they said.
“President Duterte, you have been a staunch advocate of freedom from foreign intervention. You have been a vocal critic of US meddling in our affairs. We ask you to stand by your statements. Edca is the ultimate agreement that gives them political power inside our country thus, it must be scrapped at all cost,” said Aries Gupit, secretary-general of the League of Filipino Students (LFS).
“We are disappointed with the recent pronouncement of President-elect Duterte that he is in favor of continuing Edca. We urge him to uphold Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.
The youth groups stressed that today, May 27, exactly 17 years since the Philippine Senate’s ratification of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the “modernization” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is yet to happen, and the country remains shackled under the wings of US military might.
The need for the presence of US troops has been highlighted by certain government officials, amid increasing aggression by China within Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea.
Edca allows rent-free and exclusive use of “agreed locations” by US troops for the stationing of weapons, war vehicles, and materiel. Although local troops are in charge of perimeter security, US forces are authorized to take “appropriate measures” to protect and defend their troops and contractors, supposedly, as coordinated with Philippine authorities.
Progressives have denounced the agreement as it heralds the return of US military bases in the country, which were kicked out by the Philippine Senate almost three decades ago. Instead of relying on onerous agreements with a former colonizer, activists said the country must build military strength on self-reliance, and accept foreign military aid based on mutually-beneficial agreements with other countries.
“Technology-transfer through prepositioning the equipment, supplies, and materiel of the US is a myth. The US has no interest in developing our defense capabilities,” said Gupit.
“Even after several military treaties with the US, we remain inferior to most of the armed forces in our neighboring countries. Our defense capabilities remain poor and the government is foolishly delighted with hand-me-downs that do not have the capacity to defend us,” said Gupit, referring to second-hand, refurbished military planes and ships acquired by the country from the US.
President Aquino signed Edca on April 28, 2014, in time for the state visit by US President Barack Obama. Early this year, the Supreme Court upheld Edca as an executive agreement, thus, constitutional. The Philippine Constitution bans the presence of foreign military troops and bases, unless provided for in a treaty ratified by both parties.
Initially, five “agreed locations” for US military basing were identified: Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay in Palayan, Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro; and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
In Cagayan de Oro City, Kristine Cabardo, spokesperson of LFS-Northern Mindanao Region, feared that the presence of US troops will lead to worsening prostitution, sexually-transmitted diseases and “anti-social activities.” Cabardo also recalled Laude’s killing, which she said must not be repeated.
The youth leaders asked Duterte to remember the martyrdom of revolutionary heroes, as well as the call for justice for Filipinos who were victims of crimes committed by American servicemen.
“In the name of our national heroes who offered their lives for our county’s freedom, in the name of the victims of human rights violations committed by US soldiers, we urge President Duterte to junk Edca,” Gupit said.
In 2014, Duterte spoke strongly against Edca and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after transgender Filipina Jennifer Laude was killed by US serviceman Joseph Scott Pemberton in October 2014, in Olongapo City, Zambales.
“If we don’t get a fair share for that particular case, it’s about time to scrap it,” Duterte was quoted in a report.
Last year, Pemberton was convicted of homicide by an Olongapo regional trial court. His sentence was reduced from 10 to 12 years, down to six to 10 years of imprisonment, which he is serving in a special detention facility in Camp Aguinaldo, instead of the New Bilibid Prison, where convicts serve time.
The US military bases saw the proliferation of bars, prostitution houses, and consequently, thousands of “GI babies,” who were fathered by American servicemen with Filipina recreation workers.
Anti-US bases activists have also denounced how the US ignored calls for toxic cleanup in the vicinity of their former military bases, where cases of cancer-stricken patients and deformed babies were reported, and attributed to toxic materials from suspected leakage from nuclear weapons and vehicles. Crimes committed by American servicemen against Filipinos rarely reach the courts, as victims were made to accept settlement, while the perpetrators went scot-free.