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Commentary

We are a Guantanamo

/ 12:53 AM January 24, 2014

Not in recent memory has our government been subjected to intensely sustained political and diplomatic pressure on US bases except during the incumbencies of the first and second Aquino administrations. With regard to the latter, ranking US officials arrived late last year in succession: the secretary of defense, two congressmen, the new ambassador to Manila, and the secretary of state. US President Barack Obama would have come, too, but he was stopped by his government’s brief “shutdown.”

They have pledged support for the rehabilitation of Leyte, and recalled special relations and alliance. But their unspoken, urgent and strong message is: Finish negotiations on the “framework agreement.” Sign it. We need it for our “pivot” strategy.

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“Pivot” is, of course, a tactical shift of the United States’ forward defense posture. With its planned withdrawal from Okinawa and Afghanistan, and its desertion of Iraq, 60 percent of its navy will continuously police territories of America, Australia, the Philippines and Singapore in the Pacific. “Pivot” requires seaports, airports, facilities, “nonpermanent” bases. The “framework agreement” (FA) will put these in place. It will also render  de  jure  a factual anomaly under the Visiting Forces Agreement: Unrestricted access of US troops to our land has made the whole archipelago one big de facto US military base!

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin have repeatedly stressed that the Constitution will be respected, that there will only be “temporary rotational” or “increased” presence of US troops. Yet as experience has shown, those expressions are mere euphemisms for the indefinite, massive presence of US soldiers, and assurances are deceitful. If ever the FA expires, are there Salongas to kick US troops out?

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Some premises have to be restated. The FA is unconstitutional, reverses state policy, and denounces treaty obligations. It is superfluous and financially onerous.

Section 25, Article XVIII of the 1987 Constitution outlaws foreign military “bases, troops, or facilities.” This is a state policy. Unless the FA is “ratified” as a “treaty”—that is, with Senate concurrence, by the Philippines and America—US “bases,” “troops” or “facilities” are constitutionally forbidden. Del Rosario preempted his President and the Senate by announcing that the FA will be formalized as a mere “executive agreement,” meaning without Senate concurrence or vote. As conceived by Del Rosario, the FA is a patent constitutional nullity.

Again, the Charter lays down an absolute ban on the “presence” of nuclear weapons in our territory (Sec. 8, Art. II). Therefore, the landing, docking, overflight, or transit of warplanes and warships with nuclear weapons or components thereof are, unquestionably, unconstitutional. The recent visit of the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, taunted the Constitution.

Moreover, our former military bases, as offered by Gazmin to America and “other allies like Japan” are already within the context of the FA. Therefore, the FA reverses constitutional state policy, not to mention the Senate rejection of the Manglapus treaty in 1991. It violates obligations in the NPT (No-proliferation Treaty), NAM (Nonaligned Movement), 1967 Asean Bangkok Declaration, and 1971 Kuala Lumpur Asean Zopfan (Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality).

There is no question on the desire to avoid armed confrontation with China. Yet what serves as a legal and political deterrence is the 1975 joint communiqué signed by China and the Philippines, where they established formal diplomatic relations. China made a pledge, not found in its other communiqués: “non-aggression” and “no threat or use of force.”

Would China attack in the West Philippine Sea? In 1979, China attacked Vietnam on the issue of Kampuchea, even if Vietnam was a military ally of the Soviet Union. We are an ally of the United States. However, China may consider the Spratlys a “core interest.” But if China attacks, we are still protected by the 1951 RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty. The United States is bound to repel “common dangers.” So why sign a superfluous document, and assume enormous political and financial burdens?

In the event of a nuclear war in the region, America has admitted that the Philippines would have to be “sacrificed” (Marshall). In truth, bases merely serve as “magnets” to deflect or absorb nuclear attack against America (Recto). So why host the “pivot”? What for?

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Finally, it is assumed that the United States would not gamble with American lives and cities. When China bullied us in the South China Sea, we panicked and decided to hand an FA, on a silver platter (our former bases), to America. Now why should America—which, incidentally, owes China billions, if not trillions, of

dollars—strike at China, a true friend in deed?

Malacañang should be transparent. Who pays for the expenses of US soldiers as guests of Gazmin and Del Rosario? Yes—the Filipino people. Who picks up the tab for the construction, renovation, and maintenance of ports, facilities, and “nonpermanent” bases for “pivot” use? Not the Americans: They have even refused to pay fair rent or for cleanup of the bases, or for the damage in Tubbataha. So by what authority will the Philippine panel seal the fate of present and future generations of Filipinos to the FA—financially crippling and constitutionally infirm?

We are now in the second century of US troops, bases, or facilities. We are a Guantanamo. Had he come, Obama would have visited Oyster Bay in Palawan, which will become a “pivot” naval base. Is there collusion, if not conspiracy, in the FA diplomacy?

Oyster Bay presages the beginning of the end of pristine beaches, blue seas, and lush forests in, and the arrival of toxic waste, drugs, and stateless Amerasian babies to, the “last frontier” of this hapless land.

Nelson D. Laviña is a retired ambassador.

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TAGS: `pivot’ strategy, column, Diplomacy, Guantanamo, national security, Nelson D. Laviña, US bases, USA, Visiting Forces Agreement
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