The question must be asked because hosting US troops is going to be a key topic of discussion between President Barack Obama and President Benigno Aquino 3rd when Obama visits Manila on Monday for an overnight stay.
The matter has been the subject of talks between representatives of our defense and foreign affairs ministries. And it has been bruited about here and abroad that an agreement was being rushed for possible signing when President Obama is in town.
The question rankles because Sec. 25, Article XVIII of our Constitution explicitly provides:
“After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning the Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting party.”
In 1991, the RP-US military bases agreement expired, and despite the herculean efforts of then President Corazon Aquino to get the pact renewed, our Senate decisively voted to reject the basing arrangement.
Since the historic vote and treaty termination, I do not remember any effort to consult with the people and Congress for the forging of a new treaty or agreement that would allow the entry of foreign troops and the reestablishment of US military bases in the country. Indeed, the idea seems so unthinkable and unpopular that no administration since Cory’s has dared to propose it – until now, with her son PNoy at the helm.
From what we can gather from the always imprecise and fragmentary statements from the Palace (its propaganda corps cannot write complete and cogent statements), Washington and Manila have been working double-time on the drafting of an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between our two governments, under which the Philippines will agree to host the “rotational presence” of US troops and military assets, and the US will provide increased military assistance to our government to help modernize the AFP.
As to why such presence is necessary at all, the administration has never explained. We the people are expected to deduce this from the recent gyrations of President Aquino.
A figleaf for Aquino’s boasting
If Palace communicators were more articulate and truthful, they would tell us that the agreement is being pushed by our government because of President Aquino’s open wrangling with China over shoals in the South China Sea or what he calls the West Philippine Sea.
Since PNoy has been very provocative in this spat, to the extent of calling the Chinese president a “Hitler,” it has belatedly occurred to him that his taunts could provoke aggressive moves by China. And he feels the need for ironclad assurances of US military support, beyond just the text of the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty.
If opening the nation’s gates to foreign troops is chiefly aimed at providing a figleaf on PNoy’s saber-rattling, this is irresponsible and unworthy of the President. The nation needs a more compelling reason for laying aside national pride and dignity.
US pivot to Asia
Our foreign affairs and defense secretaries should also come clean about the reason why the US is keen about basing troops and military assets on Philippine soil.
They must explain that the rotational scheme is a key component of the US pivot strategy and “rebalancing” of forces in the Pacific.
That pivot strategy does not include protection of Philippine rights over Scarborough Shoal, and the nine islands and reefs we claim in the Spratly Islands, our continental shelf, and our 200 Mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
While the US has assured Japan that their mutual defense treaty covers also the disputed Senkaku Islands, we cannot expect a similar assurance regarding our claims to the Spratlys. Then also, our public should be told that the pivot strategy has looked sluggish and shaky of late. With the problems ushered in by the Ukraine and Crimea crisis, Europe is now urging the US to re-pivot to Europe. And there are serious worries about US budgetary constraints. Obama’s budget seeks to shrink the military to the point at which it would no longer be able to fight more than one regional conflict at a time. The budget also proposes laying up half the cruiser fleet and the carrier George Washington, which, from its home port in Japan, anchors US power projection in the Pacific.
Meanwhile, China, steadily rising in power, is building the capacity to use its carrier forces in combination with cyberwar and military-space programs to destabilize American allies in the Pacific and make other nations—such as India—more reluctant to forge closer alliances with the United States.
Some in Asia are saying that Obama still has to shape a coherent message during his current Asian tour. A real “pivot” would be backed up with real power.
Before committing to an enhanced defense cooperation agreement or treaty, we should politely ask Mr. Obama: What’s in it for us? What do we get in return.
Aquino must make the case for US troop presence Aquino and his advisers will say that the agreement being proposed is only an executive agreement—in the view of both governments.
That will not void the constitutional requirement, which says that only a treaty with the other party can allow the entry of foreign troops, and then only if the Senate ratifies the treaty or if the people vote for the treaty in a referendum, should Congress require it.
To return to the question in my column title, we have not been asked to vote on hosting US troops in our country again. No treaty or agreement has been presented to our representatives in the Senate for ratification.
In the case of the new agreement being bandied about, there hasn’t even been a public discussion and debate of the idea. The President has not presented his plan to the nation. It’s no wonder that we are now seeing a loud public debate on the streets in the form of rallies and protests outside the US embassy.
It’s also to be expected that radicals will try to use President Obama’s visit as a not-to-be-missed opportunity to recharge their batteries and diminished brand.
It took us many long years of patient negotiation and relentless agitation to finally get rid of foreign military presence in our country, and to recover Subic Bay and Clark Field as part of the national territory and the national patrimony. Why would anyone of sound mind wish to undo this noble achievement of our people?