alikatan 2015 is soon over. This year’s war exercise had almost 12,000 soldiers participating. They include 6,656 Americans, 61 Australians and 5,023 Filipinos. Last year’s Balikatan included 2,500 US soldiers.
Other than being a bigger war exercise, Balikatan 2015 signifies something more. By the time it ends in ceremonies at Clark Special Economic Zone, the former US Air Force base in Pampanga, the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will have turned one year old. Also, a contingent of thousands of US soldiers is a grave insult to Filipinos who are seeking justice for a transgender Pinay a US marine corporal gruesomely murdered just 6 months ago.
Clark and the erstwhile US Naval base in Subic, Zambales are among several sites for the war games. The US military contingent of more than 6,000 soldiers, 3 ships and 76 aircrafts would definitely need the facilities of its former bases for billeting, ship berthing and aircraft parking.
With its size, Balikatan 2015 is a prelude to the eventual re-basing of US troops in the country. US’s and Philippines’ military officials consider the two former US military bases among “agreed locations” as defined under EDCA. Representatives of the two governments signed the new basing arrangement for US armed forces on April 28, 2014 during US President Obama’s visit in the Philippines.
EDCA provides for US military’s use of “agreed locations” within Philippine military camps for the basing of its “rotating forces”. A Philippine Air Force camp is located near Clark international airport, which was originally designed for use by US military aircraft of all types. In fact, an air unit of the US Navy, the Patrol Squadron 45, now stations in Clark on rotational basis. Patrol Squadron 45 is a support unit the US 7th fleet and is equipped with a P-A8 Poseidon, the newest maritime intelligence-gathering aircraft of the US Navy.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has reserved a 200-hectare area covering the former naval magazine or arsenal, ship repair facilities and airfield in Subic as Philippine Navy Base. Subic, which like Clark supposedly ceased to be a military base after the Philippine Senate rejected a new basing agreement in 1991, is a regular “port of call” of US Navy ships and submarines even before the drafting of the EDCA.
The Philippines in more than a century of US global designs
The strategic location of the Philippines has consistently served the US in projecting, expanding and maintaining its global hegemony ever since it arose as an imperialist power at the turn of the 20th century. Such importance of the country to the US first concretely manifested in 1900 when the US sent its soldiers from the Philippines to China. The dispatched US Marines and Army troops formed the US contingent in the international force that suppressed the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. Some years later, in 1918, around 2,000 US Marines sailed from the Philippines to Vladivostok to support the rebellion of “White” Russians.
As the only imperialist superpower at the end of World War 2 and at the start of the Cold War era in 1948, the US launched wars of intervention and aggression to “contain communism” and “defend the free world” whenever and wherever there is threat to its interests. The Philippines as host to two strategic US military bases was party to US war in Korea (1950-1953) and later, in the longer war in Indochina, especially in Vietnam (1954-1975). The Philippines also sent combat soldiers to Korea and armed civic action troops to Vietnam.
This role was assigned by the US to the Philippines through various treaties and agreements the two parties signed on the day and after the US granted “independence” to its “former” colony in 1946. The US, in 47 years of its direct rule over the country from 1899, has laid the foundations for its continued use of the Philippines as launching pad and as “partner” for its global designs.
For years since “independence”, the US assumed unrestrained authority over Philippine territories reserved for military and defence purposes and jurisdiction over its military and defence personnel in the country. The US-RP Military Bases Agreement (MBA), signed on March 14 1947 and the Military Assistance Pact, March 21, 1947 further enforced the powers that the Treaty of General Relations (signed July 4, 1946) dictated. The Treaty of General Relations, ironically, is the document that states the “granting of independence” to the Philippines.
The Mutual Defence Treaty (August 30, 1951), which remains in force until now, sustains the authority of the US. The MDT perpetuates the “special security relations” between the Philippines and US. The MDT serves as the framework and basis for the US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and EDCA.
The Filipino people, especially those in Pampanga, Zambales and Tarlac, and, in more recent years, those in Sulu, Basilan, Zamboanga and in other places in Mindanao, had known what it takes to host a dominant foreign military force. A long string of crimes perpetrated by US troopers—murders and massacres, abuses on women, maltreatment of workers, harassment of fishers and indigenous people—have accompanied hosting of foreign troopers who were free from Philippine jurisdiction.
Generations of Filipinos have struggled against US domination and opposed US troops’ presence and operation in the Philippines. Every generation contributed a significant number of their finest sons and daughters to the struggle. The struggles however had only managed to assert certain rights and some significant concessions like shortened term of the MBA but US domination persists.
Heighten the struggle to be free from being an appendage of the militarist USA
A high point in the Filipino people’s struggle for sovereignty was reached when the Salonga-led Philippine Senate rejected another basing treaty in 1991. The rejection of the treaty gave the opportunity to convert Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base from military and war purposes into commercial and productive economic uses. Almost 100,000 hectares of land the two former bases occupy are now special economic zones that include industrial parks, real estate and commercial areas and tourism-oriented sites. The two economic zones are employing more than double the number of people employed when these were military bases. While open to all, however, the two economic zones are catering principally to foreign investors.
Certain areas also remain restricted like the naval magazine site in Subic and the practice bombing and gunnery site in Crow Valley in Tarlac, an extension of the former Clark airbase. The US naval communication station in San Antonio, Zambales, although officially has become a Philippine Naval base, remains functional for the US military.
The fading derogatory labels of the US military base cities of Olongapo as “Sin City” and Angeles as “City of Angels” re-shine whenever American troops are around for the regular war exercises. In fact after EDCA was signed, bar and club owners, prodded by both cities’ governments, displayed streamers with messages like “Welcome, we love you US military”.
With or without bases, special arrangements between the two parties sustained US troops’ presence in the Philippines. Just before the 1947 MBA expired in 1992, the chiefs of US and Philippine armed forces signed the Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) on November 7, 1992. The US succeeded later in having the VFA ratified by the Philippine Senate on May 27, 1999. Then the US Department of Defence and its Philippine counterpart signed the 5-year extendable Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) in 2002.
But these agreements are not enough for the superpower US to concretize the ambiguous terms of the MDT for its current needs and schemes. The present US strategy of Asian Pivot or the deployment of 60% of its naval and air forces to Asia-Pacific means more bases for increased number of US troops in “rotating” tours of duty. The US principally directs the Asian Pivot against its chief rival, China, which has territorial disputes with, among others, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The US and the Philippines used China’s aggressiveness in asserting and claiming its extended territory as a strong argument for a new basing arrangement for “rotating” US forces in the Philippines. Thus, they crafted EDCA through more than 8 rounds of secret talks but finally signed publicly last year.
Resist US troops’ basing in the Philippines! Reject EDCA and all unequal security relations with US!
Oppose US global militarism!
Fight for the Filipino people’s sovereignty!
Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KILUSAN)
April 28, 2015