“True friends do not take advantage of your weakness, violate your laws, dump toxic wastes on your territory and meddle in your internal affairs.” – Renato Reyes, Bayan
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – What kind of friend – or fool – is the Philippine government under President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to invite back more troops of its former colonizer? How could the Aquino government call US troops as “allies” or “partners” while they destroy Philippine protected parks, dump toxic wastes, rape women and arm local soldiers to kill fellow Filipinos? These, among others, are some of the questions raised by different leaders of progressive organizations to fellow protesters, bystanders and even members of the Philippine National Police who blocked their march to the U.S. Embassy in Manila on Thursday, July 4.
The date is marked in Philippine calendars as Philippine-American Friendship Day.
“Indeed, we unite with the American people in their struggle for a better life. But we reject the special relations being claimed by the US government,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), during the demonstration. Reyes particularly praised the likes of one American, Mr Edward Snowden, who is currently the object of US government’s international manhunt for his alleged “crime” of exposing the US government’s “internet abuses.” Snowden has leaked the massive surveillance program dubbed as PRISM being undertaken by the US National Security Agency.
US-Aquino myths, euphemisms at the expense of Filipinos
So many basic truths have apparently been turned on its head in the Philippines today that officials such as President Aquino, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin can mouth euphemisms and illusions as bases for selling out the country. This was discussed and condemned in speeches of national democratic activists during their protest action at Kalaw Ave, near the U.S. Embassy.
The following are some of these myths, illusions or guises which the progressive mass leaders took turns to expose on July 4:
1. The myth that US government is a “friend,” an “ally,” or a “partner”
“True friends do not take advantage of your weakness, violate your laws, dump toxic wastes on your territory and meddle in your internal affairs,” said Reyes of Bayan. He added that the US has long abused what it calls as ‘friendship’ with the Philippines to mean getting away with almost anything – from spiriting out of jail a convicted soldier-rapist to sailing their warships back and forth without taking responsibility for the grounding of its minesweeper ship at Tubbataha and the dumping of wastes at Subic.
“It is not a real relationship of friends, but of lord and master, as seen in our human rights situation, history of US plunder of Philippine resources, sins of US troops,” said Clemente Bautista, spokesman of environmentalist group Kalikasan-Peoples Network for the Environment. Bautista recalled the thousands of hectares of forest and mountain lands were denuded by US-led or contracted companies after they colonized the Philippines.
“It’s very infuriating that July 4 is marked in our calendar as US -Phil friendship day, when what the US and the Philippines have is an unequal relationship, the relationship of rapist and victim, the relationship of a master and a slave,” said Kamil Manangan, a PUP student and leader of Gabriela youth.
Manangan and Gabriela define rape broadly to include the rape of the Philippine economy and consequently, the damage it wreaks on the livelihood of Filipinos. She explained that the expansion of US troops’ presence is meant to force countries to adopt neoliberal policies which, in the Philippines, resulted to the likes of the Philippine Development Plan. Contrary to its name, the development in Aquino’s Philippine Development Plan goes largely to big capitalists including US TNCs and their local partners, Manangan and other mass leaders said.
These few big companies, said Manangan, benefit most (and still stand to benefit more) from Aquino’s drive to privatize social services such as health, housing, education, mass transportation, etc.
Gabriela warned that for as long as Aquino is obeying US dictates on how to run the country’s economy, beginning with allowing greater foreign control of the Philippine economy and resources, unemployment will only get worse. “More women would thus become vulnerable or forced to prostitution,” Manangan said.
George San Mateo, president of Piston (Pagkakaisa ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide), decried also this neoliberal policy being pushed by the US government with the expansion of their troops. Aside from imposing on the Filipino people the oil deregulation law and consequently, oil overpricing, he said that “everybody has been meddling in the Panatag Shoal, the US and China included, because of the rich oil reserves there. But we (Filipinos) won’t benefit from this. They will extract it and sell it to us at international market prices, like what they are doing with the oil and gas being extracted from the Malampaya gas field off the coast of Palawan.”
2. The myth that US troops are ‘just visiting’
“In 1991, we junked the US bases, but it was subverted by access agreements,” said Roger Soluta, secretary-general of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). Now, that the access agreement is to be expanded by the Aquino government, the activists, as well as some legislators, worry that it threatens to violate further not just the Constitutional ban on military basing by foreign troops but even the supposed letter of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Even before Aquino’s announced expansion of access granted to foreign troops here, there have been ongoing protests over the lie about these “visiting forces,” considering that US troops stay the whole year round in the country. The US government also reportedly has a de-facto military base in Mindanao, inside Camp Navarro of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The US government reportedly has 600 to 800 Special Forces regularly manning their military base in Mindanao, plus seeming license to treat other Philippine ports, installations and camps in the Philippines as their base.
In Congress, retired general Edilberto Adan, head of the VFA Commission, the body tasked to oversee matters pertaining to the “visiting forces”, defended the year-long stay of these “visiting” troops, saying these troops do so because the Philippine government has invited them here.
“Aquino wants to implement the one thing which his mother (former president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino) failed to force through in her term: to extend the contract of US bases,” San Mateo of Piston said. He reminded Aquino that peoples’ protests had foiled his mother’s pro-US drive at the time, and Aquino should respect that and learn from it.
Because of the Constitutional ban on military basing, protesters have repeatedly decried that the Philippine and US governments have taken to calling their basing as “temporary” access, or as a contractual access, or as a sort of leasing or sharing access within already existing local military camps. But these names are mere euphemisms, they scoffed. Whatever the US or Philippine government call it, the result is the same as having US military bases here. Incidents have shown that Filipino soldiers cannot even access these camps within camps of US troops, and that apparently extended to US warships caught violating Philippine laws. The minesweeper that trespassed into no-sail zone Tubbataha Reef is an example.
“People ask what’s wrong with granting allies like US access to our facilities? What’s wrong is the history of abuses that comes from the presence of US troops in our country, from the time there were formal US bases up to the time of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” as Reyes of Bayan said.
3. The myth that ‘friendship/partnership’ with US brings development
“Aquino defends this access plan, this renewal of US bases in the Philippines, in the guise that they will help,” Soluta said during the protest. But citing Philippine history and now, Soluta said “it is clear that the US will not lift a finger to help the Philippines, whether in the territorial dispute with China, or in other matters crucial to genuine Philippine development.”
“Their aim in seeking an access agreement is to advance their imperialist interest, to threaten China and pressure it to privatize its remaining state owned industries,” Soluta explained. He added that the US has huge trade and investments in the Asia Pacific region, hence its military pivot to the region to protect and advance this.
“They did not come here to aid Filipinos but to aid themselves,” Soluta said. But he warned that in doing so, the Philippines risks being dragged into US-instigated wars, on top of sustaining damages from the foreign troops’ increased presence.
In a statement, the KMU said “It is hypocritical for Aquino to say that he is not escalating tensions with China when it is clear that his pro-US actions and pronouncements are serving as provocations to China. He says he wants to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner, but what are the foreign military bases all about?”
True the US gives aid, but “this aid is used to militarize and kill the Filipino people. And Southern Tagalog people are witnesses to that,” said Diego Torres, youth leader of Bayan from University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna.
Torres recounted the experience of indigenous peoples who were forcibly driven away from their communities in Ternate, Cavite last year, for the US Balikatan war exercises. Along with the US war games in Ternate, Cavite, the US built a mini naval base in the area where indigenous peoples used to reside before the troops drove them away, Torres said.
The tale is similar to the history of bigger Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base in Central Luzon.
Torres said that until now, the said mini-naval base continues to be used for repair and maintenance of troop carriers and maybe, even destroyers. He said the people in Southern Tagalog suspect that the US troops are using the naval base not just for war exercises but also for various logistic needs of US ‘visiting’ troops.
During their war exercises, US troops used live ammunitions and caused numerous explosions in the area that the locals could not forget until now, Torres said. He warned that people from Southern Tagalog are prepared to march up to Mendiola and to US embassy “to express our disgust for Aquino who continues to allow entry of US troops. They give us nothing but poverty.”
4. The myth that there’s no future in protests and struggle
“Minimum credible defense posture” is the oft-repeated justification for “modernizing” the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with the aid of the US. Recently, Aquino has presided over the distribution of newly purchased guns to the Philippine National Police, and he promised that more new arms and equipment are forthcoming with the signing of the AFP modernization law last December.
But during the July 4 rally of progressive activists, a youth leader began his speech by asking what the columns of armed and shield-wielding policemen were doing, blocking the ralliers’ way to the US Embassy.
“Isn’t it the police’s job to arrest criminals, rapists, plunderers, lawbreakers?” asked Vencer Crisostomo, national chairman of Anakbayan. He then asked why the police were protecting the US Embassy, which, he said, represents the government and troops that historically have raped, plundered, violated Philippine laws?
“I urged you to turn back and stop defending the criminals, the puppet of foreign plunderers, the rapists,” Crisostomo told the police. But when the police continued defending the US Embassy from the march of the ralliers, Crisostomo declared that evidently, the police and their siblings in the Armed Forces are in service of these foreign troops and its puppet in Malacañang, and not of the Filipino people.
“We need to stop the intensified onslaught (of US troops and neoliberal policies). These combine to worsen our peoples’ low wages, high prices, lack of services, as demanded by foreign capitalists so they could continue to profit more,” Crisostomo said.
He urged Filipinos to “turn back the situation, where foreigners are living the good life in the Philippines, having unlimited access to its resources, while we are treated as squatters.”
Crisostomo reiterated the need for genuine agrarian reform program and national industrialization, which, he said, foreign monopoly capitalists such as the US do not want us to pursue as they would lose a bloc to exploit and plunder. He encouraged the public to join and support national democratic mass actions and the national democratic revolution, saying that is where there is life for Filipinos.