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Protesters Accuse US of 'Imperialism' as Obama Rekindles Military Deal With Philippines

A new deal marks the greatest access the US has had to bases in the island nation since the early 1990s, and many Filipinos are concerned.

by Leezel Tanglao
Apr 28 2014, 3:20pm

Photo via AFP/Getty Images

President Obama arrived in the Philippines today and was greeted by some the nation’s highest-ranking officials, along with thousands of protesters who say the newly signed base agreement is just another attempt to rekindle US imperialistic control in Asia.

The signing of the 10-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows US access to military bases and camps, comes during the last stop of Obama’s four-country Asian tour.

US President Barack Obama met with Philippines President Benigno Aquino III in Manila on April 28, as Obama began a two-day visit to the country.

"With the EDCA, the Philippines and the United States as sovereign allies have written a new chapter for our modern and mature partnership, firmly grounded on deeply-held democratic values, common interests, and shared aspirations," said Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert F. del Rosario in a statement today.

It also marks the greatest access the US military has had to bases in the Philippines since the early 1990s.

In 1991, the Philippines Senate voted not to renew the Military Bases Agreement and by 1992, the US Navy had pulled out of their large base at Subic Bay, ending almost a century of uninterrupted American military presence in the country. (A Visiting Forces Agreement ratified in 1999 did, however, allow temporary American access to bases, and joint counter terrorism exercises between the U.S. and Philippine military were held post-9/11.)

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“What the agreement is, is that it’s a framework that facilitates enhanced security cooperation between the US and the Philippines that will allow us enhanced rotational presence at facilities in the Philippines. It’s not a basing agreement,” said Evan Medeiros, senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.

Medeiros emphasized that the agreement would allow the US to “train and to exercise with the armed forces of the Philippines on a range of missions, including humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security, countering transnational crime, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

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But some Filipino politicians aren’t convinced.

“This will practically bring back US military bases in the Philippines without a treaty, without rent and without limits as the American may use all Philippine military facilities — an arrangement worse than the Bases Treaty rejected by the Philippine Senate in September 1991,” Congressman Neri Colmenares told the Inquirer.

And it’s that renewed American military presence that has some Filipinos concerned that this new deal will mark another era of “intervention.”

'The relationship is not favorable to the Filipino people at all. Not even, at the very least, to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.'

“US intervention and aggression in the Philippines has been going on for more than a century now. It has already cost hundreds of thousands of Filipino lives,” Axel Pinpin, one of the protesters participating in the anti-American demonstrations, told VICE News. “The resistance and struggle for national sovereignty has never been more just and it will continue to intensify.”

Miriam Defensor Santiago, a judge of the International Criminal Court and a member of the Philippines Senate, also criticized the intention behind the deal.

"The US should not continue to treat the Philippines as a satellite state, while aiming to remain on good terms with China,” Santiago told TIME magazine. “America cannot have it both ways.”

US and The Philippines’ Rocky Relationship

The long relationship between the Philippines and America runs deep.

It dates back to the Spanish-American war in 1898, when the US was embroiled in a months long battle with Spain.

This dispute concluded in the signing of Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, where Spain ceded control of Cuba, Guam, and Puerto Rico, and the US bought the Philippines from Madrid for $20 million.

Having fought off the Spanish in their homeland, the Filipinos were faced with another battle, with America, only a few months after claiming their sovereignty.

The Philippines had declared independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. However, this declaration was never officially recognized by the US or Spain. So after the US took control of the island nation, the Philippine-American war began in 1899 and ended in 1902 — with the cost of an estimated 34,000 to 220,000 Filipino lives.

It was not until July 4, 1946, after WWII and Japanese occupation that the Philippines was granted independence with the signing of the Treaty of Manila.

Decades later, the lasting impact of American influence is visible to this day. One of the two official languages of the Philippines is English and the country’s education system is based on the American model.

But for Filipinos like Pinpin, having the US military once again on Philippine soil evokes memories of past imperialism.

“The relationship between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America has long been that of between a master and a very obedient lackey,” said Pinpin, who is the secretary general of Kasama-TK (Federation of Peasant Organizations in Southern Tagalog), a regional chapter of the KMP peasant movement.

He explained that his organization contends that “US imperialism is one of the three main problems in the country, together with feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.”

“The relationship is not favorable to the Filipino people at all. Not even, at the very least, to the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Pinpin said. “The Philippines still have one of the most backward armies in the world that utilizes hand-me-down military equipment from the US.”

But analysts say the new base agreement actually serves as a deterrent against foreign attacks amid rising tensions with China — over the rights to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

“Obama’s trip is quite significant because of the current tensions over the South China Sea,” Patricio Abinales, a Philippines specialist at the University of Hawaii told McClatchy news wires. “The Philippines needs this visit if only as a symbolic act of support from an ally."

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Obama, however, insisted that the deal was not about countering China’s rise.

“Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected and that includes in the area of international disputes,” Obama said at today's joint press conference in Manila.

While it remains to be seen what the long-term impacts of this new agreement will have on the Philippines, US officials expect that it will be beneficial to both nations.

“I think it shows how far we’ve come in building out a very mature partnership based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” said US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “Clearly, for the Philippines, as they have built their democracy and taken significant steps to deepen their democratic governance, issues of sovereignty are very important to them. And we have a long history as an alliance, but we also have a complex history associated with some of those issues.”

Follow Leezel Tanglao on Twitter: @leezeltanglao