“It is time to rock the boat, it is time to assert Philippine sovereignty, to junk VFA, Edca.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Progressive groups expressed support for President Duterte’s declaration of an independent foreign policy, as they urged him to “do a Dirty Dozen” and reject US military domination, just as the 12 senators did in the historic vote that booted out US military bases, 25 years ago on this day, Sept. 16.
In a protest at the US embassy in Manila, progressive groups commemorated the momentous senate rejection which ended 40 years of US military presence, as they called on Duterte to order the pullout of US troops and bases from all over the country.
On Sept. 16, 1991, the senate voted 12-11, rejecting the renewal of the “RP-US Bases Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace,” which needed 16 votes for ratification. This closed down all US military bases in accordance with the Philippine Constitution, which bans foreign troops and bases, unless on the strength of a senate-ratified treaty.
In the succeeding years, however, new defense agreements were signed between the two countries, allowing the entry and basing by US troops.
Recently, progressives were heartened to hear their calls echoed from the highest post in the land, when Duterte called for a pullout of the remaining US troops under the Joint Special Operations-Task Force Philippines (JSOTFP) based in Zamboanga City in Mindanao. Earlier, at the ASEAN summit in Laos, Duterte also criticized the US for its atrocities during the Philippine-American War.
Such strong words for national sovereignty and against foreign dominating powers were never heard from a Philippine president since Andres Bonifacio, the Father of the Philippine Revolution, in 1896. The progressives were quick to applaud, along with major challenges.
“We join Duterte in holding the US to account for atrocities committed during its colonization of the Philippines. We support his call for the withdrawal of US troops from Mindanao. However, he must go further if he truly wants to pursue an independent foreign policy,” said Renato Reyes Jr, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
Foremost of which is to revoke the Enhanced Defense Cooperative Agreement (Edca) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which has allowed the entry and basing of US forces in the country. This year, the Supreme Court declared Edca as constitutional, being an executive agreement and within presidential powers to sign, as well as discontinue.
“The ball is now in the President’s court,” said Joms Salvador, Gabriela secretary general. “Hinahamon namin si Pangulong Duterte, na tumindig para sa bayan, tumindig para sa kababaihan, at itindig ang malayang Pilipinas (We challenge President Duterte: stand for the people, stand for women, establish a free Philippines),” said Salvador.
What independent foreign policy means
Bayan listed five points defining an independent foreign policy:
1. Abrogation of unequal military agreements with the US, including the VFA, Edca, the 1955 Mutual Defense Treaty, and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement.
The VFA was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, although there was no reciprocal affirmation by the US. Edca was signed by the Aquino administration in 2014, prior to President Barack Obama’s visit, while the MLSA was signed by President Gloria Arroyo in 2002.
2. End to PH-US joint military exercises, and the Philippines’ dependence to second-hand “so-called US military aid.”
3. Investigation into abuses by US troops, including the reinvestigation of the US role in the botched 2015 Mamasapano operations.
4. Assertion of Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, by availing of the favorable ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China’s aggression. Reyes also hailed Duterte’s pronouncements against the conduct of joint patrols with the US, which only raises tension in the disputed waters.
5. Denounce US wars of intervention. “Never again should the US allow itself to be used in wars of aggression, such as those in Vietnam and Iraq,” Reyes said.
’Duterte needs people’s support’
On Sept. 15, Duterte toned down his statements and said that he only wanted American soldiers out of harm’s way in Mindanao, and that they can return when peace has settled. Before that, several Malacañang officials downplayed his statement for US troops’ pullout by saying that “it is not a policy,” and that there has been no notice for its implementation.
Satur Ocampo, Makabayan coalition president and former Bayan Muna party-list representative, said that the President’s stronger pronouncements were not negated by his later statements, because he still meant that “there will be no peace in Mindanao with the US military presence.”
Duterte’s statements had “laid down the foundation for review of the long, unequal RP-US relations and agreement, to assert an independent foreign policy based on sovereign equality, non-interference and peaceful resolution of disputes,” Ocampo told Bulatlat in an interview.
“President Duterte needs support, because even his Cabinet is not united behind him. There are many US lapdogs who say, ‘Don’t rock the boat,” Ocampo said. “But it is time to rock the boat, it is time to assert Philippine sovereignty, it is time to junk VFA, Edca,” Ocampo later said during the program.
American ‘legacy’ to Filipinos
Gabriela’s Salvador said that by the time the US bases left in 1991, Gabriela documented some 3,000 cases of violations of the rights of women and children since 1981. Various violations continued in the following years, as US troops returned by virtue of the VFA. She cited the rape case of “Nicole,” who withdrew her charges even after the perpetrator, US Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was convicted by a local court.
Other women victims did not pursue their cases, and opted for a settlement, out of fear, Salvador said. She said many women also become victims of prostitution, with the American troops’ presence.
Dr. Joseph Carabeo, of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) recalled the case of Rosario Baluyot, a 12-year-old child who became a prostitute near the Subic Naval base in Olongapo City, Zambales. She died of infection from a vibrator forced into her genitals by an Austrian tourist. He also cited the case of Jennifer Laude, the Filipina transgender who was drowned in a toilet by US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton.
Carabeo said the toxic waste left around the former US bases were believed to have caused various illness among the surrounding population.
“But the worst illness is the mentality that the Americans are our protectors and that they can do us no harm; and that we cannot stand on our own without them,” he said. To “cure” such disease, “large doses of education” is needed, Carabeo said.
Filipinos stood up to America’s might
The groups also remembered points in history which showed the valiant stand by Filipinos against the American colonizers. The President has stirred public interest in history, as he recalled Bud Dajo massacre in Sulu and Balangiga massacre in Samar, where US troops killed the population by the thousands.
Elmer Labog, chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS-Philippines), cited how the revolutionaries in Balangiga, Eastern Samar practically wiped out — with only three men spared – a battalion of US Scouts, who were trained in the pacification of native American Indians.
“This shows that in spite of the modern weapons and troops of Americans…Filipinos defeated their superior forces,” Labog said.
Police road block resulted to gridlock
A gridlock was formed as police closed off traffic along Roxas Boulevard to prevent the groups from getting to the front of the US embassy gate. Dozens of anti-riot police men from the Manila Police District first formed a road block near the corner of Kalaw avenue and Roxas Boulevard, but protesters found a break and proceeded towards the US embassy. As the anti-riot forces hurriedly regrouped near the embassy gate, tension rose as some police men tried to assault the advancing protesters.
A police man aimed a truncheon at the leg of urban poor leader Estrelita Bagasbas, 60, who in turn kicked him, grabbed the truncheon, and grappled with the police in a tense tug-of-war. Another police man tried to snatch a streamer, but failed, as protesters pulled it back.
“Buti pa presidente n’yo, naninindigan, habang kayo, Amerikano pa rin ang amo (Your president has made a stand against Americans, but you still look up to them as masters),” one protester scoffed at the police blockade. Another protester noted that an earlier rally at the embassy in August, police did not block the whole road and allowed a lane for vehicles to pass through.
“Read carefully what our placards say,” an angered Reyes addressed the police men. “We’re expressing support to Duterte’s independent foreign policy… You’re blocking our way, while your President already wants to pull out American soldiers in Mindanao.”
With video by Divine Miranda/Kodao.org