What is wrong with the US-PH defense agreement and the Obama visit?

In a rally, April 28, progressive groups cited five reasons why the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was signed yesterday by US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and Philippine Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin, is fundamentally wrong.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – “Like a thief in the night” — that is how Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares described the signing of “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement,” of which he said much of the contents were not disclosed to the public. “Sneaky is how you conduct yourself if you have evil intentions,” Colmenares told reporters in Filipino shortly before the brief program condemning Obama’s Philippine visit began at Liwasang Bonifacio.

Marching to Mendiola, Apr 28 (Photo by M. Salamat)
Marching to Mendiola, Apr 28 (Photo by M. Salamat)

Throughout the Philippines and in other countries with sizeable population of Filipino migrants, thousands joined protests as US President Barack Obama arrived in Manila for a two-day state visit this Monday Apr. 28. Hours before he arrived, patriotic groups’ fears that the Aquino administration was preparing a “welcome gift” for Obama in the form of a military basing agreement happened indeed. US Ambassador Philip Goldberg signed the 10-year “defense cooperation” agreement with Philippine Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin.

This is a “brazen display of treachery,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in a statement. At Mendiola close to Malacañang, the “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA) was tagged as “a mark of repression and shame of Filipinos,” according to Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.

An ‘agreement’ resting on spurious grounds

In the big, colourful mobilization of anti-imperialist activists and supporters from various sectors in Manila, leaders of different peoples organizations explained and denounced the “shameless puppetry” that propelled the signing of the EDCA. They enumerated and explained the baselessness of the justifications cited by Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and US President Barack Obama. These include the following:

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1. ‘It is military basing by foreign troops. It is worse than under the past US-RP Military Basing Agreement.’

“Semantics can’t fool us — it’s a de facto US military basing,” said Nathaniel Santiago, secretary-general of Bayan Muna, as he detailed the main known content of the agreement where the country’s military camps would raise the Philippine flag but certain areas inside it are being used as military bases of US troops.

The Aquino government has not divulged yet where US special operation forces would have bases inside military camps of Filipino soldiers, but it has confirmed that former US military bases would also be reused as such.

“EDCA is far worse than the defunct Military Basing Agreement (MBA), because the MBA was at least signed and approved by the Senate of the Philippines, whereas the EDCA is just an Obama-Aquino agreement,” said the representatives of Bayan Muna during the protest rallies.

The Military Basing Agreement, they said, had also “limited the territory in use” by foreign troops, as it defined the particular ports, etc., which the US government also paid rent for. Under EDCA, there are no predefined base locations – as all Philippine military camps and ports could be made to host US troops and their war equipment anytime. Worse, the Philippine negotiating panel has admitted before that because these are Philippine military camps, the Philippine government would shoulder costs for construction and for its upkeep.

Protesters are blocked by the 'first line of defence' among the police at the gates of Malacañang, Apr 28 (Photo by M. Salamat)
Protesters are blocked by the ‘first line of defence’ among the police at the gates of Malacañang, Apr 28 (Photo by M. Salamat)

“That is how thick they are in the face,” exclaimed Nathaniel Santiago. He used to chair the League of Filipino Students which played an active role in campaigning against US Bases and US troops in the Philippines.

Also, “The EDCA will make us vulnerable to attacks from enemies of the US, and BS Aquino, the ever-reliable puppet, is allowing it,” said Garry Martinez, chairman of Migrante International.

2. It means a huge increase in the presence foreign troops

News reports said EDCA will open the country to as much as 30,000 foreign troops. The Aquino government denied that it is “unlimited,” in reaction to criticisms by progressive groups. But 30,000 is still a big leap from the current, US-confirmed 600 to 1,000 constant presence of their special operations forces here, said Nathaniel Santiago.

Since the ‘negotiations’ for EDCA of a panel from the US government and a panel from the Philippines started in August last year, the Philippine panel had already announced that their goal was to increase the number of US military personnel in the Philippines and allow them to preposition war materiel and supplies.

All these bring with it additional dangers and vulnerability to Filipinos and the country, according to the statements of progressive groups.

Gabriela Women Partylist Rep. Emmi de Jesus said that for Filipino women, the historical experience with the US has been one of blatant rape and abuse. “From Rosario Baluyot to Nicole and Vanessa, no US soldier, not even one, has been made accountable for the violence that Filipino women and children are subjected to.”

Increased US troops is also feared to add to the killings and other human rights violations already being suffered by ordinary Filipinos.

The “US is as accountable as the BS Aquino government for the said abuses through its military aid, deployment of troops and a US-directed counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. The US is the main funder of the AFP’s war chest,” said Tinay Palabay, Karapatan’s secretary general.

Palabay said the increase in US aid ($50 million this year, on top of the $40 million pledge by US State Secretary John Kerry in December 2013, $23 million in 2012, $11 million in 2011) has emboldened the BS Aquino government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to go on a killing spree. It resulted in 21 victims of extrajudicial killings and 23 victims of frustrated killings for the first quarter of 2014 alone.

With the US-PH stress on intensified armed conflict, progressive organizations have been picketing Camp Crame to call for the resumption of peace talks and the release of peace negotiators, consultants and other JASIG-protected persons such as the revolutionary couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.

Obama and the US government is bringing his “war agenda” in their pivot to Asia-Pacific, but to dissipate resistance to it, Aquino and Obama are trying to hide it under the shroud of “anti-corruption, pro-peace and human rights” slogans, Palabay said in a statement.

With the foreseeable increase in PH government’s military spending, more funds would be spirited out of the budget for social services, Colmenares said in his speech at Mendiola. EDCA will pave the way for increased loans and anomalous arms sales, he warned.

3. ‘EDCA violates the Philippine Constitution.’

“Under the US strategic pivot, more US troops are coming and will be stationed here on a permanent basis despite the denials of the two governments,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes in a statement.

The newly-signed EDCA violates the Constitution in several ways, according to the peoples’ lawyers. Bayan Muna’s Colmenares explained that (1) the EDCA tramples on the Constitutional ban on foreign troops and foreign military basing in the Philippines. That is, except if there is a treaty allowing it; (2) EDCA disregards Philippine laws’ jurisdiction over erring troops, and (3) EDCA constitutes a violation of the PH constitution’s nuclear ban.

The Aquino and Obama governments are citing the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) as basis or mother of the Visiting Forces Agreements and EDCA, but since the 1987 Philippine Constitution became the primary law of the land, its ban on foreign military troops and basing has changed or disabled that facet of the MDT, Rep. Colmenares told Bulatlat.com.

Similarly, the EDCA cannot claim an extension or fleshing out of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which only allows for periodic military exercises and visits, not de-facto basing, said Nathaniel Santiago of Bayan Muna.

Colmenares said the Philippine Constitution also specifically spelled out that the Philippines is a nuclear-free zone. But “We are sure there are nuclear weapons in US warships,” he said.

As such, allowing their presence here is not just a violation of the Constitution, it is also putting in danger Filipinos and the environment, the progressive solon said. “If the Aquino government cannot even manage a disaster such as the super typhoon Yolanda, how much more the tasks of containing a possible nuclear disaster?” he asked.

As it is, there have been long-standing criticisms of the US government’s abandonment of the toxic wastes of their decades-long use of Clark and Subic military bases. Until now, the locals who continue to suffer ailments due to these wastes are still demanding justice. (Plus, there are newer cases of environmental degradation, like the Tubbataha grounding and dumping of wastewater off Subic which the US government still has not paid for up to this day.)

Green group as they listen to speeches at Mendiola, Apr 28 (Photo by M. Salamat)
Environmentalists listening to speeches at Mendiola, Apr 28 (Photo by M. Salamat)

Also, Philippine laws said the country’s courts have jurisdiction over crimes committed here. But according to Colmenares, erring soldiers from the more than 30,000 US troops to be stationed here are “outside our jurisdiction. They can commit crimes here but we cannot try them.”

4. Propaganda of the Aquino government to defend EDCA mostly illusory

Some of the most frequently repeated justifications in the Aquino government’s welcoming of increased US troops are aid in boosting capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, accompanied by the United States’ claims that it is “standing by” its ally in addressing China’s increased incursion. But all these are belied by experiences, said the protesters.

“When China seized the Scarborough shoal in 2012, where was the US? When China took position in Ayungin, what did the US do?” Nathaniel Santiago asked in a speech at Liwasang Bonifacio.

The US has more interests with China than to engage it in war for the Philippines, Santiago said. US trade with China, at $579 plus billion, is 30 times bigger than its trade with the Philippines, which is only $17.6 billion, Santiago said. Some 515 big US companies are located in China, where they are manufacturing products for export all over the globe. The US is also heavily indebted to China, with China being the biggest holder of US treasury bonds outside the US.

To use the Philippines as it pivots to Asia-Pacific, the US is only using the China-PH conflict as leverage, Santiago concluded. In truth, the pivot is one of the ways in which the US is trying to contain the rise of a perceived would-be rival in global hegemony, said protesters yesterday. Add to that, the US is also advancing the interests of its war industry, which Santiago said has seen increased sales in the region related to the US pivot.

As for modernizing the AFP, it has spent billions in public funds to modernize in the past but, in facing external threats, it has failed to modernize over the years, geopolitics expert and UP Professor Roland Simbulan has previously told Bulatlat.com. He said the modernization of local troops is in fact being hindered by the US military, which, he said, wants to keep it dependent on the US. He added that the only aspect of the local military seemingly allowed to develop by the US is that for counter-insurgency. As for battling external threats, the country’s troops continue to be ill-equipped and ill-prepared.

Given these attributes of the EDCA, yesterday’s protesters highlighted a larger than life effigy of Obama, whose eyes are depicted as blood-red. He is wearing a US star-spangled flag on one side and military fatigue on the other side, he is laden with nuclear weapons on a chariot being pulled by a rabid dog that is PH president BS Aquino.
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Protesters also tore and burned US flags and tiny images of nuclear rockets.

5. ‘EDCA adds to top-ranking list of anti-people policies that should be junked.’

“It is true we must attend to our visitors,” Colmenares said, in response to top officials of the Aquino government who were irked by the nationwide protests unwelcoming Obama. Colmenares stressed that Filipinos do not have a row with the American people, only with their government.

Obama is an unwelcome ‘guest,’ Colmenares told Bulatlat.com. “Obama comes here to impose agreements that would all the more impoverish and repress us. His government is interfering with ours,” he said.

The calls of most leaders of progressive groups who protested Obama’s visit, as echoed by Colmenares, include opposing anti-people policies. “This currently signed agreement is one of those anti-people policies.”

What the US pivot wants to accomplish, too, is maintaining its record of intervention and invasion of countries, said Palabay. With that comes US efforts to further open up the economies of Asia, for their investments and trade. And that is also what the current moves to change the Constitution is all about. Like the EDCA, chacha is being railroaded in Congress, according to critics.

“Imagine, the proposal was approved at the committee level in four meetings!” Colmenares said.

“Chacha proponents want to open the economy to greater participation of foreign investments. They want to sell land to foreigners, public utilities, access to natural resources, too,” Colmenares said. Chacha should be opposed, he said, and in its place, “we must invest on our own national industrialization.”

What is to be done now?

Regarding the conflict with China, the solution offered by yesterday’s protesters is going to multilateral agencies, and not to bilateral agreements with the likes of US whose “aid always has strings attached,” Colmenares told Bulatlat.com. He cautioned the Philippines against the example of Iraq, where the US supposedly aided the Iraqis in ousting Saddam Hussein, but the US continued to maintain troops there to control its oil resources even after Saddam had already been killed.

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap said the problem with China cannot be solved by “calling a bully to fight our cause against another bully.” Even as China’s action is highly unacceptable, Hicap said, the Aquino administration should not pass its obligation to defend its territory to the US.

The environmentalists led by Kalikasan PNE, meanwhile, also suggested strengthening our claim through diplomatic means, like what we have filed with the UN’s arbitrary tribunal or the UN Convention on the law of the sea [UNCLOS].

Regarding the constitutionality of EDCA, Colmenares said Bayan Muna will study and question in court the legality of EDCA. The agreement and how it was crafted are “very un-transparent, and it was signed without its contents being disclosed,” Colmenares told Bulatlat.com.

He said their resolution is to call for an investigation on what exactly does the Philippines get out of it, and what the US government has gained from it. Colmenares also clarified that “the arena of struggle is not just in court and congress, but also in the streets.” (http://bulatlat.com)

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