US moves to restore its military in Philippines

By William Pomeroy, People's Weekly World 1 November 1997

All those concerned with human rights and free democratic development in the Philippines welcomed the vote of the Philippine Senate in September 1991 that compelled the removal of U.S. military forces from the country. The U.S. is now working to circumvent this victory by re-establishing the substance of such bases through less-direct but equally offensive agreements.

Currently being negotiated, at U.S. insistence, are two proposed agreements, the Acquisition and Cross-Service Agreement (ACSA) and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). They would restore the presence of U.S. armed forces in the Philippines under conditions that would threaten Philippine sovereignty and its constitution.

ACSA, as defined in a briefing paper of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, is a government-to- government agreement between the USA and the Philippines which allows for the exchange of logistics, support, supplies and services between the armed forces of each country. A central feature would be U.S. Navy access to as many as 21 ports along the islands. This means the U.S. Navy would once again possess most of the supply, services and repair facilities of the huge Subic-Naval Base it was forced to leave in 1991.

The proposed agreement also includes a scheme employed by the U.S. military to avoid nationalist protest against its land bases in foreign countries. It allows positioning of military equipment and supplies on ships stationed in Philippines waters, ready for use by troops airlifted from the U.S. Protesting Philippine organizations say that the ships could contain nuclear weapons, which the present Philippine constitution expressly ban from Philippine soil.

Lobbyists for ACSA contend that its provision for joint military exercises by U.S. and Philippine navies and armed forces would benefit the Philippine military by giving them access to U.S. logistics, supplies and services. In truth, this is a clever way of making the Philippines a dependent market for U.S. military equipment.

In attempting to justify ACSA, a compliant Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs claims there could be $400 million in business for Philippine enterprises selling various items to U.S. forces that visit. However, such business conducted with U.S. troops, supplied by subsidiaries of U.S. transnational companies, would have virtually no benefit to the Philippine economy. U.S. negotiators think of everything.

ACSA, in addition, provides for rest and rehabilitation facilities for U.S. personnel in ports visited, which to Filipinos are synonymous with sex tours and prostitution, and were a major issue in the movement against the former U.S. bases.

ACSA's detriment to Philippine sovereignty would be equaled by the indignities imposed by SOFA. SOFA would give partial diplomatic immunity to U.S. servicemen in the Philippines. In effect, it would allow blanket immunity from prosecution in Philippine courts to U.S. servicemen violating any Philippine laws.

Under the previous U.S. military bases agreement, which also had an immunity provision, over 50 major cases of murder, rape, physical assault and other crimes were committed by U.S. troops who were never brought before a Philippine court and were quickly shipped out of the Philippines by U.S. commanders under alleged normal troop rotation.

Pressure by the U.S. for ACSA and SOFA began immediately after the forced withdrawal from the previous bases, and intensified during the regime of President Fidel Ramos. On June 19 the proposals were secretly inserted into the agenda of the periodic meeting of the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Board, which set up the beginning of formal negotiation in Washington on September 30. In the Philippines, a campaign is developing against any ratification of negotiated agreements.

Propaganda in support of the proposals often paints the current conflicting territorial claims to the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoals in the China Sea as evidence of a Chinese threat to the Philippines. U.S. lobbyists peddle the idea that ACSA and SOFA are needed to provide the Philippines with a security umbrella against the threat.

U.S. military preparations for broadening their presence in the Philippines have an extensive background, starting with negotiation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in the 1970s and 1980s. With U.S. insistence, articles were inserted into the convention that redefined the character of the territory under Philippine sovereignty.

Since the Treaty of Paris of 1898, which transferred colonial possession of the Philippines from Spain to the U.S., Philippine territory was defined as embracing the islands and the territorial waters between and around them, with precise boundary lines around the whole. The U.N. convention, which went into effect in 1994 after ratification by 60 states (including the Marcos regime in the Philippines in 1984), included a new concept of archipelago waters. This opened up the internal waters of archipelagos like the Philippines and Indonesia to free transit by the warships of the U.S. and other major powers.

U.S. aircraft carriers, submarines and other warships with air arms can thus move at will through waters that have up to now been Philippine. The new ACSA and SOFA would allow them to stay, with access to the land as well, ready to deploy anywhere in Asia.