Rebalancing Philippine external relations (2)

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Second of three parts

Nehru described the meeting as “part of a great movement of human history” signaling “the political emergence in world affairs of over half of the world’s population”. In the Bandung conference it was clear that dozens of developing countries tired of witnessing disastrous warfare among superpowers to steer a middle course. This ushered an age of neutralism in third world countries who sought to abandon involvement with the world’s superpowers.

Coincidentally in the same year as Bandung, as if to exercise to break away from the bear hug of its erstwhile colonizer, the Philippines renegotiated its political and economic ties with the United States under the Laurel-Langley Agreement signed in September 1955. This revised the infamous Bell Trade Agreement which granted “parity rights” to Americans in the development of the natural resources and public utilities in the country, abolished US control over the currency and cut down the timetable for the presence of US bases in country while taking back some of US installations in the country.

It is important however to make it clear that the era of neutralism following colonial rule did not advocate isolationism since most developing countries of the so-called non-aligned movement had opted to join multilateral grouping in the interest of world solidarity and pursue the so-called North-South dialogue among the countries of the globe.


Factors Behind Bases Abolition
The end of US basing rights in the Philippines was the result of a confluence of developments such as the increasing clout of leftist intellectuals, whose advocacies were muted under the Marcos dictatorship, after the EDSA revolution. The invitation of the Cory administration to the left to join her administration highlighted by the pardon of Joma Sison, head of the National Democratic Front and the cooptation of other left-leaning bureaucrats in post-EDSA administrations gave a fillip to nationalist clamor for the end of the basing agreements which they perceived was behind Washington‘s support of the Marcos regime and US interventions in local politics.

Despite last minute attempts of the Cory administration, which underwent strong pressures from the US to retain her bases in 1991, the Philippine senate by the narrowest of vote threw out the proposal to extend us basing rights in the country. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo completely covered the US bases with ashes and served as a gracious exit for the American government. The US was not exactly crestfallen however with the development given that it had already downsized if not dismantled some of its military bases at home and abroad in a Pentagon cost cutting strategy. Moreover the so- called “Visiting Forces Agreement” was considered a suitable substitute to previous basing arrangement since it served the economy drive of the US following its costly military adventures in past decades.

Enhancing Defense Agreement
Since the turn of the last century the US military bases in the Philippines had been the most forward projection of its power in the Far East. The US bases has indeed served as the forward deployment of its armed might – the heart of its political, economic and security strategy in all of Asia and the Pacific Rim. Today the Obama pivot to Asia reinforces this strategy. Indeed this forward deployment is meant to deter any encroachment by foreign powers in the sphere of US hegemony – its politico/economic sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific.

With the end of US basing arrangement in this country she has tried to continue to project her power in this hemisphere through the seventh fleet and basing arrangement in East Asia specifically in Japan and Korea which host together with US territories in the Pacific like Guam US air force contingents .In this country through its Mutual Defense Agreement and the Visiting Forces Agreement which supplements this arrangement she continues to make her presence felt in the region.

Today the US is offering to “enhance” our defense agreement by pre-positioning American “materiel” in local bases ostensibly managed by the Philippine government. Unlike other ASEAN countries which were offered the same deal, which was declined this government has eagerly agreed to such a proposition by signing an executive agreement with the US.

The reason for the hesitation of neighboring countries to the arrangement arises from the postwar environment and the desire of the people in the region to create the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality or ZOPFAN. Indeed ASEAN leaders are of the belief that these basing activities might be considered by China as provocative and an attempt to contain her in the same way that Russia became very sensitive to NATO attempts to put up an iron curtain around her in order to contain her. Asean leaders prefer to woo China instead of threatening her by inviting her to join the Asean nations as a senior partner in development. This invitation has not escaped that attention of China who has reciprocated by proposing the common development of Asean resources as well as the settlement of disputes particularly that of the China Sea bilaterally with the disputant countries. This country however has insisted on a multilateral approach to the settlement of the dispute.

To be concluded on August 2

[The first part of this three-part article by Ambassador Jose V. Romero Jr. came out last Saturday July 19. The third and concluding part will come out on Saturday August 2. Articles on Philippine foreign policy matters written by former ambassadors are contributed to The Manila Times by the PAFI (Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc.).]

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