Need to reestablish US bases in the Philippines

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(Part 3 came out last Sunday).

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But in regard to the Philippines, the US had lost a stable foothold with the abrogation of the Military Bases Agreement in 1991. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which after a time had been made to supplant the bases agreement, though effectively invoked by the US from time to time to deploy US troops in the country for ostensible exercises with AFP soldiers, certainly does not suffice US requirement for permanent military bases in the Philippines like Clark and Subic in the past. Such requirement becomes particularly urgent considering the need to re-deploy in the immediate term some 8,000 US troops from Okinawa, Japan.

Many of the Magnificent 12 senators who voted down the US military bases in 1991 have faded into the background of Philippine politics, but a number of the names in the dozen continue to form part of the senate roster: Pimentel (Aquilino, Jr.), Guingona (Teofisto III), Estrada (Jinggoy), though in their capacities as descendants of their heroic fathers, with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile still as himself today as he was in 1991.

The US should readily see from the present composition of the Upper House that it cannot dare risk another Senate voting on any US bases in the Philippines.

And yet it is imperative for its “Pacific Century” policy to counter China’s increasing assertion of its own century of power over what it contends to be its territorial waters, the South China Sea.

Essence of the Corona impeachment timing

On this matter, the timing of the Corona impeachment became the cause of great alarm.
It took place right after the East Asian Summit in Indonesia in which President Aquino joined other US allies in calling for a multilateral – meaning involving the United States – solution to their dispute with China.

The Corona impeachment, therefore, happens at a time when the Philippines begins getting warnings from China against advancing the United States’ agenda over the Asia Pacific region.

And, finally, the Corona impeachment explodes just as when the MILF and GRP panels in the peace process are about to enter into its 25th round of talks in which the sensitive issue of the MOA-AD and its attendant BJE is expected to be settled once and for all.

We must recall that the Mindanao peace negotiations had been going on since the Marcos rule began, pursued in various degrees through the administrations of Presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos, and then got stalled under the administration of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada who pursued an all-out war policy against the MILF. As attested by a newsman who got his info direct from President Estrada, on the eve of his assault against the remaining MILF stronghold Camp Abubakar, President Estrada got calls, first, from Jaime Cardinal Sin, and then, from US President Bill Clinton, asking him to stop the attack.

As history would have it, President Estrada declined the importuning of the two and proceeded with his onslaught of Camp Abubakar – reasserting Philippine sovereignty over territories over which for a long time Muslim insurgents flew the MILF flag. But as history also would have it, not long after came the impeachment of President Estrada.

In 2008 – a period that saw Mindanao getting pampered with USAID assistance in a comprehensive scope of socio-civic concerns side by side with it playing host to Balikatan war exercises by US and Filipino troops pursuant to the VFA – US Ambassador Kristie Kenney met up with MILF Chief Al Hadj Murad right in his camp and convinced him into resuming the peace negotiations with the Philippine government.

In the subsequent negotiations, the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was formulated, providing for, among other things, the establishment of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), otherwise alluded to as a sub-state, which would have dominion over most of Mindanao including Cotabato and Palawan. The BJE, for all intents and purposes, would be a state all its own – having its own government, its own legislature, its own courts, its own armed forces – with the Philippine Republic interest limited to only a 25% share of the natural resources of Mindanao.

The MOA-AD along with the BJE imbedded in it was definitely the pie up for grab by the MILF in the peace negotiations, but as to why the US, by encouraging the MILF to resume the negotiations, would desire the MILF to grab that pie can only be up for conjecture at the time.

The MOA-AD was ready for signing August 5, 2008, but the day before several local governments led by Cotabato and Palawan petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the signing, resulting in a ruling by the High Tribunal that the MOA-AD is unconstitutional. Meantime, wanting to avoid controversy, President GMA asked the government panel in the negotiations not to sign the MOA-AD even before the Supreme Court could make a decision.

In the decision of the Supreme Court, then Associate Justice Renato C. Corona adopted the position taken by Associate Justice Dante Tinga thus: “It takes no inquiry at great depth to be enlightened that the MOA-AD is incongruous with the Philippine Constitution.”

Now the Mindanao peace process is back on track and seems sent going on full throttle. Given his track record on the question of Philippine sovereignty, it takes no inquiry at great depth to tell that CJ Corona would not allow the diminution of Philippine sovereignty. which the MOA-AD would accomplish if allowed to take effect.

But as Presidential Peace Adviser Deles emphasized in her speech, the Mindanao peace process is the centerpiece of President Aquino’s administration, a position clarified as early as the presidential elections of 2010. And it is with urgency that President Aquino wants the peace process concluded once and for all.

Hence the US assertiveness as a Pacific power relates to President Aquino’s urgency to finish the Mindanao peace process, relates to China’s demand for a one-on-one solution to the South China Sea dispute to the exclusion of “outsiders,” relates to US desperation to get back the military foothold it once enjoyed all over the Philippine archipelago, relates to the final approval of the MOA-AD and the BJE, relates, finally, to the Corona impeachment.

And in this convergence of political phenomena, we can only raise alarm over the developments the Corona impeachment could be leading to. As former Senate President Maceda pointed out in the ANC interview, three senators are already committed in favor of the Chief Justice and it would be easy, given the expected lobbying from the GM Arroyo camp, for him to get the needed five more. On the other hand, it would be comparatively difficult for President Aquino to muster the sixteen required for a conviction, considering that there are only four Liberal (partymate) senators who could be expected to judge at his bidding, with the rest regarded as upright statesmen who would go by the rules.

For that reason, the trial by publicity needed to be pursued more aggressively than that by the impeachment court. In the event CJ Corona is acquitted – or a decision is made that would be perceived as bringing about such eventuality, like the non-opening of the second envelope in the impeachment trial of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada – the matter is brought for verdict by the mob. In this scenario, President Aquino enjoys a great advantage. As per SWS survey in November, he got a very high 72% trust rating – which could translate into millions of warm bodies in the event of an EDSA IV.

End of Part 4. Part 5 will appear tomorrow.

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