“The US government has no intention of getting directly involved in the Philippines’ territorial disputes… It is time that the Aquino government acknowledges this truth, instead of trying to spin the tale of the US as benevolent protectors.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Amid protests of patriotic groups against the Aquino government’s announcement last week that it would virtually reopen the former US military bases in the country, more than 600 U.S. Sailors and Marines participated in a six-day military exercise called CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training). They held it in Subic Bay, Philippines, former site of one of the largest US naval bases outside of US mainland.
As if Subic is still its own military base, the US military deployed ships and aircraft at Subic Bay during its CARAT. These included the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) with embarked Commander, Task Group 73.1/ Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 staff, the diving and salvage ships, USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) and USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) and its P-3C Orion aircraft. It reportedly “trained” a company of Marines from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, divers and evaluators.
Fitzgerald is the same military ship on board of which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in 2011 in Manila marked the 60th anniversary of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty by signing what they call as the Manila Declaration. The Fitzgerald warship, according to a US Navy website, is one of seven Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, and is forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, “to support security and stability of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.” It also engages in intelligence gathering operations.
CARAT reportedly ended July 2 on board the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald. The US troops who participated in the exercise would depart from Subic Bay to resume their regular duties this week, the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
But US troops have been frequently and regularly seen at the former US military bases. This was even before the Aquino government has announced its intention to expand the access agreement this week, activist leaders from Central Luzon have previously told Bulatlat.com.
Increased visits to the Philippines by top US military officers for meetings with Philippine government leaders and military officers also preceded last week’s announcement by the Aquino government. On June 17, for example, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus arrived for a three-day visit to the Philippines, likely to firm up preparations for CARAT and reopening of US military bases such as the Subic naval base.
As Secretary of the US Navy, Mabus is in charge of all business matters for the two uniformed services that make up the US Navy and the Marine Corps. According to the US Embassy in Manila, it is also his job to oversee the construction and repair of naval ships, aircraft, and facilities. Mabus is reportedly responsible for an annual budget in excess of $170 billion and provides leadership for almost 900,000 people. After he left and just as the CARAT began, Philippine defense officials confirmed and defended the reopening of US military bases for US troops and their allies.
Protests, writs vs US military presence
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, with other members of the Makabayan bloc, filed on Monday (July 1) House Resolution No. 08 calling for the scrapping of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement and the plans to give ‘temporary access’ of Philippine military bases to American forces. The next day, youth activists from the League of the Filipino Students and Anakbayan stormed Mendiola and burned the US flag to show their anger over the proposed expanded US military access agreement.
On Tuesday (July 2) environmental activists and progressive groups also filed an urgent motion to ask the Supreme Court for a series of Temporary Environmental Protection Orders (TEPOs). Among others, the TEPOs aim to stop the US military exercises and port calls of US warships in the Philippines. The motion is part of an earlier Petition for the Writ of Kalikasan regarding the USS Guardian grounding case in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park. The petitioners are led by Palawan Bishop Pedro Arigo.
Bayan spokesman Renato Reyes explained that “The growing rotational presence in the country of these US troops renders our marine protected areas highly vulnerable to destruction and degradation given the influx of military personnel, weaponry and naval and ground vessels. The unlimited access being given to these warships, without any clear environmental guidelines, reveals the fatal problems of the Visiting Forces Agreement.”
China threat a hoax
LFS condemned the Aquino administration and the Department of National Defense (DND) for what it describes as “deceiving propaganda about the proposed access agreement.”
“The US government has no intention of getting directly involved in the Philippines’ territorial disputes; they will not risk any open confrontation with China on our behalf. It is time that the Aquino government acknowledge this truth, instead of trying to spin the tale of the US as benevolent protectors,” said LFS spokesperson Isabelle Baguisi.
According to the youth leader, the US’s decision to station troops in Asia was prompted more by its desire to keep an eye on and restrain China’s growing economic power, contrary to Aquino government claims that the US is here to support the Philippines in its standoff with China.
In fact, the US has already repeatedly expressed, as well as hinted at, maintaining its neutrality in the dispute. The Mutual Defense Treaty the Philippines has with the US – the document touted by the Philippine government as basis for its faith on US military assistance should it become needed – does not expressly state the US will come to Philippine aid.
On the other hand, by hosting more US troops, the Philippines is rendered more vulnerable, youth activists said. “The US is muscle-flexing, showing-off power, and we are aiding them. In doing so, we become legitimate targets for nations with whom the US has issues with,” said Baguisi.
Add to that, in allowing dangerous arms and dangerous people into the Philippines, Filipinos are also put at risk. “The Tubbataha reef grounding was mere a shadow of the troubles that military presence brings,” added Baguisi.
The labor center said Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said Malacañang’s statement that the country is free to do anything within its territory is no reason for the government to swallow hook, line and sinker the US propaganda about the growing military strength of China.
“China’s military strength is still very meager compared with that of the US. The US merely wants to encircle China in order to force it to further privatize state-owned corporations and adopt US-style ‘democracy’ with regular elections,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, KMU chairperson.
While China is second to the US in terms of military spending, the gap between the two country’s military budgets is still enormous: In 2012, China accounted for 9.5 per cent of global military spending while the US accounted for 40 per cent. China has no foreign military base at all while the US has more than 1,000 all over the world.
China has only one aircraft carrier Liaoning and it is not even new, the KMU said. The said carrier is only a refurbished one since it was launched as a Soviet vessel in 1988. The US, meanwhile, has 11 aircraft carriers with full-battle groups.
“The best way to resolve the territorial dispute with China is to pursue peaceful and diplomatic means. Government officials should not speak like we have to go to war when they can only think of US support as our only hope,” Labog suggested.
In Congress a similar solution to the supposed “China threat” is being considered by progressive legislators. Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Colmenares urged the public and other lawmakers “to actively rally the international community against the bullying of China instead of once again resorting to the US which would love a war in the region so it will have the opportunity to gain more control of the oil-rich area.” He explained that allowing the US further control would be detrimental to the Filipino people. He asked support for the aim of some senators for a well-studied response to the territorial dispute with China rather than an over excited red carpet welcome to the return of the US bases.