THE LAST time US forces occupied several military bases all over the Philippines, among them Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, it took a decades-long campaign against their presence, a volcanic eruption, and over 40 years to get them out.
Anticipating the need to get and keep them out, the 1987 Constitution barred foreign troops and military bases without a treaty ratified by the Senate, which, despite then President Corazon Aquino’s advocacy, refused to renew the US lease in September1991. Not that the US was at the time still seriously interested in keeping the latter, the global projection of US power through its nuclear submarine complex and aircraft carrier tax forces being then seen to be less costly and more effective. The cleanup at Clark because of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in June 1991 would not have been worth the expense and effort anyway. The Senate action wasn’t as disastrous to US strategy as some thought at the time. But it did end a long period of occupation by foreign troops in places where they were the undisputed, non-accountable sovereigns.
But things change and so do US tactical perceptions, if not US economic interests and the political goals that are meant to protect and enhance them. The US war for oil, disguised as the “war on terror,” was the convenient excuse for the deployment of US troops in, and in the vicinity of, supposedly terrorist enclaves, and the 2002 implementation of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines that allows US troops to reenter the country on a “temporary” basis. US troops are still in Philippine territory, their “temporary” status being based on the fiction that because they’re rotated periodically, they’re not here on a permanent basis.
The US is currently the main advocate of the Code of Conduct the Philippines is trying to get the countries of Asia to adopt in response to the bully tactics of the Chinese behemoth. This is in the same category of irony as US support for the Marcos regime from 1972 to 1986 in behalf of “democracy,” or for that matter, its condemnation of Chinese expansionism while it itself keeps expanding — in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, for example — and extending its military reach across the entire planet. The US has never observed any code of conduct when dealing with the rest of the world. Its brutal conquest of the Philippines and the behavior of its troops in the country from 1947 to 1990 are among the indicators of conduct unbecoming of the self-proclaimed guardian of global liberty. Only its drive for full spectrum dominance in behalf of the interests of the corporations that run it — greed, basically — has ever guided it.
The US took advantage of the naiveté of the provincial gentry that had captured the leadership of the Philippine Revolution in the final years of the 19th century to grab the Philippines at the cost of nearly a million Filipino lives. In at least one instance mistaken for wild boar, dozens of Filipinos were killed by US troops during the decades they occupied Clark and Subic. The perpetrators of numerous rapes and other offenses were never punished. The need of US troops for “rest and recreation” metastasized into a huge drug trafficking and sexually transmitted diseases problem. Two generations of illegitimate children were abandoned by their US servicemen fathers in the vicinity of Clark and Subic.
The country was not even spared the insults in word and deed of the racists in uniform the US was deploying, even as US use of Clark and Subic to bomb Vietnam and to ferry troops to Indochina in the late 1960s and early1970s deepened Philippine involvement in the undeclared US war on the peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
As his mother was, Benigno Aquino III is an advocate of the “protection” Philippine experience has shown US troops can offer. He and his equally clueless military advisers seem to be merely playing the US card to gain some leverage against China, whose incursions into the West Philippine Sea he has correctly described as in violation of Philippine sovereignty. But his invitation — at the instigation of the US overlord — for US and Japanese troops to use Philippine military bases on a “temporary” basis because these “strategic partners” need “to know Philippine terrain,” raises the gravest questions about his judgment and understanding of what he and the country are up against.
Philippine sovereignty indeed has to be defended — but against anyone, whether China, the US, or any other country or entity. Are Philippine options so limited that the country can defend its sovereignty against China only by surrendering it to the US? Mr. Aquino and company are suffering from a serious malady. It is the delusion that, despite the demonstrated lessons not only of a hundred years of Philippine experience with the US, but also of the experience of such other countries as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, practically the whole of Latin America, parts of Africa, and more recently the Middle East and Central Asia, the US is still the benevolent assimilator, the guru of democracy it has been pretending to be since it conquered the Philippines a hundred years ago, and such a Philippine “strategic partner” the country’s interests will always coincide with its own.
A Code of Conduct for adoption by the countries of Asia could indeed be part of the answer to the country’s problems with China. But it should also protect the Philippines and the rest of Asean from every other power that’s seeking dominance in Asia, and that includes the US, whose “pivot” to Asia is driven by nothing more benevolent than to reestablish its hegemony in the region in behalf of its unchanged and unchanging strategic and economic interests, for which it has not hesitated to bully, bomb and destroy other countries into submission. The first principle in any Code of Conduct that will bind Asean as well as China and the US should be that of non-intervention, and real, not mere lip service, respect for each other’s sovereignty.