There’s the Rub



I’m glad Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Walden Bello have introduced resolutions calling for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in the wake of Glenn Defense Marine Asia’s dumping of toxic waste on the waters of Subic Bay. It’s way past due.

On the face of it, the connection between the two is merely tangential. After being accused of dumping untreated waste on the waters off the Bay, Glenn Defense, a US Navy contractor, said it could not be investigated, or castigated, by Philippine authorities as it fell under the umbrella of the VFA. And in any case, as retired admiral Mateo Mayuga, who has become their virtual spokesperson, argued: one, the waste wasn’t toxic at all, it had been pretreated before being unloaded; two, it was unloaded well beyond Philippine waters; and three, it had a permit to unload.

Not so, SBMA authorities protested, and the Senate subsequently confirmed. One, the unloading in fact happened well within Philippine territory. Rear Admiral Luis Tuason Jr., Coast Guard officer in charge, pointed out that the dumping took place within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), extending 370 kilometers, or 200 nautical miles, from the coast. Two, the unloaded waste was in fact toxic, the Glenn vessel having no treatment facilities on board, and the dumped waste proving on examination to have exceeded safety levels, threatening marine life. Three, Glenn Defense in fact never applied for a permit from the Coast Guard which, Tuason said, was mandatory for this.

“The VFA has nothing to do with it,” said Loren Legarda, who has led the investigation and castigation of Glenn Defense in the Senate. Glenn Defense is a civilian company that made the sole and reckless decision to poison another country’s waters and for that needs to be made to pay, preferably through its teeth.

I applaud all this, and am squarely behind the senators who want to go beyond protestation and bring this to litigation. The culprits must be punished. But I applaud Santiago and Bello even more for going beyond this and pushing the problem to its logical conclusion.

In fact, the VFA has everything to do with it.

At the very least that is so because the VFA is merely an extension of the US bases and the US bases have a history of dumping toxic waste, nuclear or otherwise, on this country. On the country’s waters in the case of the naval base in Subic and on this country’s land in the case of the air base in Angeles. Why should Glenn Defense balk at doing the same thing? Indeed, why should Glenn Defense not imagine it is protected as well, at least by the same tradition of Philippine authorities looking the other way in matters that have to do with the US military? You think the US Navy doesn’t know that one of its waste disposers is disposing more than biodegradable s–t on this country? You think it cares?

Far more than this, talk of toxic waste, the VFA, like the US bases before it, is a toxic waste unto itself. More toxic than anything Glenn Defense has dumped on Subic Bay, more toxic than anything dumped by the US Navy in our waters during the Vietnam War and after, and more toxic than anything buried underground by the American forces in Angeles as they retreated far more frenziedly, tail between legs, from the wrath of a mountain than from the Vietcong.

The VFA should never have been there. It’s a betrayal of the rejection of the renewal of the bases treaty several years before, and it’s no small irony that the president who passed it was one of the 12 senators who shut down the bases. Who was of course Erap. It’s an even bigger irony that the one president who presided over the country without US bases and without the VFA was a former general who was the head of Marcos’ dreaded constabulary—one Fidel Ramos. And who went on to see the country through its salad days economically, politically and psychologically.

The VFA may be a more benign version of the US bases, sparing the country as it does the miserable social ills that go with bases, but it is an extension of them nonetheless. Or it is an extension of the concept of mutual defense, of which the US bases were but the physical, though mightiest, expression, which is as pathological a delusion as you can get. There is nothing mutual in the defense. There is everything singular in the exploitation.

Mutual defense is the most toxic waste left behind by colonialism, which has lodged deep and wide in the crevices of this country. It has lodged in the crevices of the heart, the mind, the soul. It poisons them. It is all of a piece with “special relations,” “little brown brother,” and belief in a common destiny. It poses a mutuality that is refuted by fact. It poses an equality that is refuted by history. It poses a solidarity that is refuted by reality. Gaze at the veterans, and despair.

It is the linchpin of “colonial mentality,” though “colonial mentality” is something of a misnomer. It should really be the mentality of the colonized and not the mentality of colonials. Which is the one thing that has kept us from being independent, which is the one thing that has kept us from being free, which is the one thing that has kept us from seeing the world without blinders.

None of this is to say that we should not be friends with the United States. That would be stupid. But friends, not subjects, if only by a voluntary subjection. But friends, not vassals, if only by a voluntary servitude. But friends, not a hallucinatory Tonto to a very Lone Ranger, if only by a manufactured partnership. It’s time we got rid of the VFA, mutual defense and a colonized mentality the way it’s time we got rid of errant dumpers—but not before making them pay for the things they’ve left behind. Those things are atrocious.

Those things are toxic.

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Tags: Diplomacy , Environmental issues , Philippines , Subic Bay , toxic waste , US , Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) , waste management

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