Monday, August 31, 2009

The spectre of U.S. military power on Philippine soil

A tribute posted on the Internet to American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan praising the sacrifices they have made to preserve and protect democracy has this line written about them:

“You criticize your government, and say that war never solves anything. He sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.”

This is obviously a very one-sided perspective about war and its destructive effects. It dramatizes the killings witnessed by American soldiers but not their own acts of murder. It is not surprising that American soldiers coming home from their military stints in Iraq and Afghanistan are usually troubled by their own horrid experiences of war. These wars have scarred the consciousness of these soldiers and they have to suffer the guilt and trauma left by their personal experiences while the U.S. government and military bureaucrats are conveniently spared of the burden of agonizing over the destruction of cities and villages and the deaths of hundreds of thousands that the wars had brought upon the people of these countries.

The continued presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines is one clear example of America’s folly in flaunting its military might, especially when the Philippines had already decided to end the military bases agreement with the United States in 1991.

America’s military presence in the Philippines started at the turn of the twentieth century under the pretext of protecting the Philippines as a colony and a friend of the United States. For nearly a century, the U.S. military had use of two major bases in the Philippines, one at Clark Air Force Base and the other at Subic Naval Station, representing for a time the United States’ largest military installation in Asia. This military behemoth crumbled after Mt. Pinatubo erupted and forced the Americans to abandon their bases. Local residents in the area where these bases were located thought that if Mt. Pinatubo had not blown up, the U.S. would have decided by any means to hold on to their military bases even after the bases agreement with the Philippines had expired. It took nature’s wrath to drive away the Americans.

But now under the veil of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, and the RP-US Mutual Logistics Agreement (MLSA), a complementary arrangement to the VFA, the United States has de facto established an informal basing arrangement that virtually extended and entrenched the provisions of the former military bases agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines. In particular, the MLSA allows U.S. troops to use Philippine facilities for whatever purposes during their stay in the country. Out the military bases agreement, but in the VFA and MLSA. So, nothing really has changed.

The government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo bears the full brunt of the blame for allowing the United States under then-President George W. Bush to export its bogus war on terror to Philippine soil, thus giving the American military free rein to directly intervene in local internal affairs. Originally intended to train local Filipino troops and leave after six months, the U.S. troops have been in the Philippines for almost seven years now and counting.

The return of U.S. troops in the Philippines is one of those opportunistic interventions made by the United States after 9/11, similar to its forays in the 1991 Gulf War which left behind large military bases in oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and basing rights in the other Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Permanently stationing bases around the Gulf in 1991 also helped the U.S. military in the second Iraq war that led to the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. military interventions in former Yugoslavia in 1995 resulted in new U.S. military bases in Hungary, Albania, Macedonia, and the sprawling Camp Bondsteel complex in southeastern Kosovo.

In the Afghan war, the U.S. military has used its new bases and basing rights in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and to a lesser extent, Tajikistan. Using the continued instability in Afghanistan as an excuse to station a permanent military presence throughout the region, the new string of U.S. military bases has become permanent outposts guarding a new Caspian Sea oil infrastructure.

Direct U.S. intervention in southern Philippines, thus, could be seen as the re-establishment of U.S. military basing rights which ended when the Philippine Senate terminated U.S. control of Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, after the Cold War ended and a volcanic eruption damaged both bases. The return of the U.S. military in the Philippines is also an effort to assert U.S. influence in East Asia, as China rises as a global power and other Asian economies recover from financial crises.

One political commentator wrote: “Much as the Roman Empire tried to use its military power to buttress its weakening economic and political hold over its colonies, the United States is aggressively inserting itself into new regions of the world to prevent its competitors from doing the same....The ultimate goal is to establish new American spheres of influence, and eliminate any obstacles—religious militants, secular nationalists, enemy governments, or even allies—who stand in the way.”

Admiral Timothy Keating, the chief of the US Pacific Command told a meeting of the Atlantic Council on June 29, 2009, that “we’re [the U.S.] not entirely sure that there are terrorists” in Mindanao.

Pressed by a New York Times reporter for an assessment of the Joint Special Operations Taskforce operating in the Philippines, Keating admitted that the Pacific Command was directed to provide forces in conjunction with the United States Special Operations Command to help the armed forces in the Philippines in their struggle against violent extremism principally in the southern part of the country—citing the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiya in particular.

This is what Keating actually said: “While there are still kidnappings, we’re not entirely sure that there are terrorists. A little bit of a blurry line in some areas of the Philippines between criminal activity and terrorist activity.”

The VFA and MLSA are worse than the previous U.S. bases agreement because of their vagueness. For instance, under these agreements an unlimited number of U.S. troops can stay in the Philippines for an unlimited time, even if there are no joint military exercises.

As Admiral Keating said: “We’re there for the foreseeable future and I think the benefits we gain in spite of significant tension on Special Operations Forces are important enough that we maintain our posture and presence in the Southern Philippines.” This only means that the U.S. military is gearing for a long-term presence in the Philippines, whether or not there are terrorists in the country.

Which is why Filipinos are up in arms against the continued presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines. The VFA and the MLSA violate the Philippine Constitution which bans the presence of foreign troops on Philippine soil. For Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to tolerate the unconstitutional presence of the U.S. military in the country is a blatant act of treason against the Filipino people.

At the rate human rights abuses continue unabated under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and abetted by the U.S. military forces, the more reason there is to oppose American armed intervention in the Philippines and for peace-loving citizens of the world to join and unite with all Filipinos in their struggle.

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