Tue. Dec 7th, 2021
A platoon of American troops move into the Walled City of Intramuros on February 23, 1945. (National Archives). The devastation of Manila, which was declared an Open City by US General Douglas MacArthur  on December 26, 1941,  was not executed by the Japanese invading forces, but by the order of MacArthur himself as he returned to his promise “I shall return” to liberate the Philippines. As a result, the city became the worst devastated city after World War II, next only to Warsaw. An open city declaration means sparing the city and its inhabitants from damage and harm by demilitarizing it so that it does not become a target for any attack and violence. All military installations were ordered removed with only  local policemen left to maintain order. But American artillery almost levelled it to the ground.

Thirty years ago in 1991, after nearly a century of US abuses to our supposed independence, 12 senators voted to terminate the stay of US military bases in the Philippines.  Our Constitution clearly says foreign troops and military bases should not be allowed on our soil. 

But then-president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd allowed the US in again with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), this time at Philippine expense without paying rent on top of choosing to not allow inspections of the facilities and to not clarify any issues that the Philippine government may raise.

Our overarching objective should be a better life for our people, which requires stability, security and development of the economy and infrastructure as well as the enhancement of our capacity to govern ourselves for the better.

Will the EDCA or the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) let us realize this goal?  Not likely.  Beyond legal issues and conditionalities already put forth by others, let’s look at the historical track record.

The US will use its bases as it pleases, creates false or real situations, even if it increases risks to the interests of the host country.  Last year, it illegally used Philippine civilian plane hex code for spying missions on the coast of China, as well as the ID of Malaysia.  This could have caused an incident, possibly even getting these planes blown up in the air.  The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has not protested in any palpable way against the US actions.  Similarly, a base in Qatar was used by the US just a year ago to launch an assassination in Iraq of an Iranian general.

Filipino refugees make their way through the ruined city on February 12, 1945. (National Archives). American media romanticized the violence, justifying the violence of American artillery as flushing out of the city 17,000 Japanese forces under Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, who commanded the Japanese Manila Naval Defense Force. When the smoke cleared after a month of carnage – 1010 Americans and 16,665 Japanese killed but up to 240,000 civilian lives sacrificed.

If we allow ourselves to be used for foreign bases, we become a legitimate target for hostilities, a possibility that the Philippines can ill afford.  The US military bases in the Philippines made Manila the most devastated city in Asia in World War 2.  In contrast, our neighbors without any military alliance with the US suffered far fewer deaths.  Often untold, it was the Chinese who fought and died side by side with Filipinos in every war of liberation.

A Senate hearing on EDCA in 2014, where then-senators Sergio Osmeña 3rd, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Miriam Defensor-Santiago exposed the one-sidedness of our military agreements with the US, should be reviewed by Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan and former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio.

Will the US “negotiate better” for us, enhance our sovereignty?  The US recently recognized Sabah as Malaysian, totally ignoring DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.’s apparently unimportant request for retraction. Meanwhile, it wants the Philippines to go to international courts against China and put up US bases here. Then US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenny also tried to work out a separate recognition of Muslim Mindanao without Philippine government approval.  We either like being hoodwinked or we don’t just notice anything.

In the South China Sea standoff, Ambassador Albert del Rosario relied on US negotiations with China, without our presence!  Del Rosario did not learn from the lessons of when the US betrayed the Philippines out of negotiations with Spain; or maybe he did, and the resulting crisis still served his and the US purposes against China?  He followed US instructions to file a case against China despite China already withdrawing 90 percent of her boats, as negotiated, in the disputed area.  The actual contents of the US negotiation were never known to the Filipinos!

The US blocked our arms and munitions shipments, even from Europe, during the siege of Marawi City by pro-Islamic State forces.  Without Chinese and Russian help in arms, we might have become another Middle East with endless wars, but President Duterte was able to resolve the crisis in eight months.

“The Americans fighting to the last Filipino” is demonstrated by the US control of Philippine politics and even Presidents.  In 2015, to neutralize terrorist Marwan who was on the wanted list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it was reported by a local newspaper that an operation to get the man was planned and directed by American advisers.

An aerial view of the destroyed walled city of Intramuros taken in May 1945 – a classic example of how Americans burn a “whole house” in search of a few rats.

Supported by then President Aquino, who appointed an already suspended general to head the task, the attack commenced despite ongoing peace talks already progressing, showing that US interests are more important than the Philippines’ again, just like the South China Sea boat withdrawal and PCA case filing.

Although the US denied involvement, real-time monitoring was provided by US drones.  A seaborne unit for the mission had been trained by US Navy Seals. There was no rescue attempt to save the dying Filipinos for hours, but a US helicopter appeared immediately at the site after the massacre to “evacuate” people, and a finger of Marwan that disappeared from Philippine possession appeared later at an FBI lab.

In earlier times, the US called for then-President Joseph Estrada to stop operations against the Mindanao rebels when he had already overrun the main camp of Abu Bakr.

The US has defied the Philippine definition of core territory, with its US warships regularly passing through the archipelago without informing us and with even Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana saying the Americans tell us that we have no right to even ask.

Philippine territory occupied by US personnel is sovereign US territory.  The Philippines never had actual custody under Philippine laws of US Marine Joseph Pemberton who murdered Jennifer Laude in a toilet.  Another American serviceman, Daniel Smith, who raped “Nicole,” was confined at the United States Embassy in Manila, despite the judge’s order that he be confined in a local jail.

The dark smoke from artillery fire wafts across the ruins of southern Manila on the morning of February 23, 1945, as American troops prepare to assault the Walled City. Pictured on the right are the battered General Post Office and the remains of the Santa Cruz Bridge. (National Archives)

Guns pointed?  When approached in Tubbataha in Palawan, a US ship that ran aground pointed its guns at Filipino coast guards and barred them from inspecting the damages.

There was no protest from the Defense or Foreign Affairs department under Aquino. Later when following up payment for damages, the Philippines was advised to stop following up.
China, on the other hand, allows arrests when its citizens in the Philippines violate Philippine laws.  China has even been asking for the Filipino fishermen’s tab (already paid once by Chinoys) on the damage to the fishermen’s vessel in the Recto Bank for over a year.

Better world image?  Sex tours?  A very friendly US ambassador felt it was okay to say that 40 percent of male visitors come to the Philippines for sex tours and apologized that “I should not have used the 40 percent statistic without the ability to back it up…”  Nice guy Harry Thomas married to a Filipina. If we had more US bases here, he would have more sex tours data to support his statement, and perhaps find that his country’s military facilities breed havens for prostitution.

Common assumptions that we need the US bases have a weak basis going by “evidence-based” reality.  Aren’t there more nations attacked by the US than by all the other nations combined?  Have US interventions benefited the countries that it invades?

Well, global surveys show Filipinos are one of the most ignorant of global issues but also among the most confident.  This question of VFA and EDCA is another test.  If fail, “repeat lesson”.

We should be very careful, alert and smart in engaging with the US, just like we should with all countries, since we continue to benefit from this superpower.

Despite the younger President Bush saying, “You are with us or against us,” the world is not black or white, the answer is not a simple yes or no.

Everything is negotiable, with everyone, and in stages over time.

Life goes on as Filipinos walk in front of the ruins of the Philippine Legislature  (now the National Museum along Padre Burgos Ave in Ermita, Manila. May 1945, National Archives)

Mario Ferdinand A. Pasion, CPA is a political analyst, director of Phil-Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Strategic Studies and the chairman of Nat-Fil (Nationalist Filipinos Against Foreign Intervention). This paper was written by Pasion for New Worldsof the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI) that aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities and attempt for common good, culture and spirituality (idsicenter@gmail.com).

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