September 19, 2008

US troops back

Seventeen years ago, the Philippine Senate voted to reject the renewal of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement, ending more than 40 years of US military presence and activity in the Philippines. The decision was met with acclaim from nearly all quarters, indicating it had broad support from the population. Within a year, the Filipino people once again cheered when the Mt. Pinatubo eruption forced the early withdrawal of all US personnel and the closure of the Subic Naval Base and the Clark Air Base.

For good. Or so we all thought then.

Yes, US troops and their war materiel are now definitely back. Their stay in the country -- with full freedom of movement, flexibility in disposition and maneuver, a broad range of permissible activities that can justify almost anything as well as virtual impunity for crimes committed against Filipinos on Philippine soil -- has been legalized and questions as to the constitutionality of their presence set aside by the Supreme Court.*

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA, 1999), the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA, 2003; renewed, 2008) and the Security Engagement Board (SEB, 2006) allow the unlimited, unrestricted and indefinite stay of US military forces, including civilians attached to them, in Philippine territory; their bringing in of war ships, aircraft, tanks and entire gamut of war materiel including nuclear weapons that they need not declare despite nuclear-free provisions in the Philippine Constitution; and their construction, utilization and control over physical infrastructure required for their continuing operations.

The little-known SEB is a consultative group headed by the AFP chief of staff and the commander of the US Pacific Command that supervises US-RP security cooperation based on a broadened definition of the term "security". While the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty addressed so-called "traditional" security issues such as threats of a foreign military invasion, the new agreement now covers "non-traditional threats" such as terrorism, drug trafficking and piracy and disasters such as floods, typhoons, earthquakes and epidemics.

Activities of US troops in the Philippines are classified according to US military doctrine as “stability operations” and are packaged as operations outside the theater of war, i.e., non-combat operations. But in fact, US military doctrine emphasizes how, especially in overseas operations, the situation could be so volatile as to turn at any time from a non-war or non-combat situation to a war or combat situation.

US military field manuals, for example, cite the Fil-American War as an early example of stability operations by the US Army. To wit: “The Army also provided disaster relief, quieted domestic disturbances, and supported American foreign policy (for example, conducting stability operations in the Philippines from 1899–1904 and Haiti from 1915–1934).” Take note how stability operations by the US Army which resulted in the death of more than half a million Filipinos, is described as “quieting domestic disturbances”.

The Arroyo regime justifies current US military presence by invoking the threat of international and domestic “terrorism” and how the AFP’s capabilities and effectiveness in counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency are buttressed by US training, intelligence sharing, equipment upgrade and use of high-tech capabilities. The US military’s participation in rescue and relief operations, civil works, medical missions, security support for development projects, etc. are pointed to as highly beneficial given the government’s inadequacies and limitations.

But even while the “terrorism” bogey still works, its effectiveness in generating support for the so-called war on terror has been significantly blunted with the exposure of the US President’s blatant lie regarding the Saddam regime’s possession of weapons of mass destruction; the rising cost, brutality and unclear direction of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the carnage, massive destruction and human rights abuse inflicted on entire civilian populations, non-combatants, “terrorist” suspects and detainees.

The US and Philippine governments have gone to great lengths to argue that US military presence does not constitute military intervention because the US presence and activities are all “upon the request of the Philippine government”. But undoubtedly, the US has its own agenda that goes far beyond the Philippine government’s “requests”.

The Arroyo regime deliberately obfuscates the unbending aim of US geopolitical and military strategy in the Philippines and elsewhere: the pursuit of its own Superpower interests. These include securing areas with strategic communication and supply lines and resources, primarily oil, (such as in the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia), trade routes (such as the South China Sea) and other geographically strategic areas that will ensure its achievement of unrivalled global power. Domestically, the US has a keen interest and long history of interfering in the country’s internal affairs most especially countering the growing strength and influence of the local anti-imperialist, patriotic and democratic movement.

The US conversion of the entire Philippines into an essential cog in its regional and global war machinery, once more in violation of the Constitution that renounces war as an instrument of national policy and contrary to the wishes and interest of the Filipino people, is also covered up. The consequent dangers and pitfalls for the country are treacherously and foolishly being brushed aside.

It cannot be overemphasized that the US has indeed a long record, internationally and locally, of doing as it pleases when it pleases, regardless of the “host” country’s requests or intentions. This is so even as both the US and Philippine governments continuously assure the Filipino people that, being a long-term and most dependable ally, the US would never violate Philippine sovereignty or do anything inimical to the interest of the Filipino people.

We only have to look a century back into our history to see how the US entered the circle of world imperialist powers by "helping" the Filipino revolutionaries kick out the Spanish colonizers, then turning their guns not only on their erstwhile allies but on the entire Filipino people in a brutal pacification drive starting with the Fil-American War and lasting through 1916.

A more recent example is how US forces based in Afghanistan attacked Pakistani communities suspected of harboring Al Qaeda or alleged Muslim militants without bothering to get the permission of the Pakistani government, supposedly a staunch ally in the war against terror. Despite protests from the Pakistani government and army the US appears unfazed.

Given these facts, can anyone say for certain that US military presence is temporary, beneficial and innocuous? #

*Bayan, together with other complainants including “Nicole”, the young Filipina who accused four US servicemen of raping her in 2006, have filed another suit in the Supreme Court asking the SC to revisit the question of VFA constitutionality. Oral arguments are scheduled today, 19 September 2008.


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