Junk the Visiting Forces Agreement!

Recently the Anti-Imperialist News Service (AINS) interviewed representatives of the Chicago Collective of the League of Filipino Students (LFS). The interview covered a range of topics including the on-going joint military exercises of the U.S. and Filipino armies, the Visiting Forces Agreement, and the broad opposition being organized against it in the Philippines. The LFS also provided some background information on the strategic and historical interests of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines.

AINS:  This month the armies of the U.S. and the Philippines are conducting joint exercises in the Philippines. Could you describe this situation for us?

LFS:  These are the first joint U.S.-Philippines exercises since 1995 when secret military maneuvers were held on Filipino soil. The current exercises are being held under the new Visiting Forces Agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines. A total of 8 war games are planned for the year 2000. The first exercise started on January 28 and will continue through March 3. Right now they are in the stage of preliminary seminars and briefings in which 67 top U.S. officials are participating. Between February 21 and March 3, they will begin air, land and sea exercises. A combined total of 4,773 Filipino and U.S. troops will be participating. Troops stationed in Okinawa, Japan and Hawaii under the Pacific Command
are also expected to participate. These activities will be taking place in Clark Air Force base in Pampanga and Subic airforce base in Zambales. Exercises are also scheduled to take place in Nueva Ecija (Fort Magsaysay, Laur), Cavite, and Palawan.

A lot of preparation for these first exercises has already taken place. President Estrada disclosed in an interview in January that an advanced party of CIA agents and other intelligence operatives had been sent to the Philippines as part of the security contingent to pave the way for the U.S. military forces in the country. Now while these exercises are taking place and there is already a huge resistance amongst the people who are opposing the exercises and the VFA, the government has tightened security. Counter-insurgency operations will be conducted in the above-named provinces as part of the joint U.S.-Philippines exercises under the guise of "civil action."

AINS:  Could you tell us more about the Visiting Forces Agreement?

LFS:  As you all know, in 1992 the U.S. had to leave its former military bases in the Philippines including the Clark Air Force Base and the Subic base, after the Philippine Senate voted against them in 1991. Since then, many attempts have been made to bring the U.S. military back into our country. In 1994, the U.S. negotiated with the Ramos regime (Ramos was a cousin of the former dictator Marcos) and tried to shove down the throats of the Filipino people an agreement called the "Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement" of 1994. When the Filipino people rose up in opposition to this, it was toned down and its name changed to the "Status of Forces Agreement" of 1997. After this also failed to get through, they came up with the Visiting Forces Agreement which itself went through 2 versions or transformations before being approved in May of last year.

It is important to note that the VFA is not a treaty but an agreement. Therefore, the U.S. government is not responsible for conducting a broad debate about the VFA nor does it require the approval of the U.S. Senate. Thus the news about the VFA and its effects on the Filipino people and its undemocratic principles are suppressed. Actually the U.S. government has over 100 agreements like this with countries around the world and the American people are kept in the dark.

The VFA, in particular, is based on the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. It allows the U.S. military to return to the Philippines by way of 22 land and sea ports. The U.S. is allowed unlimited access to these ports at any time. So the VFA is basically saying that U.S. military forces and U.S. personnel can enter the Philippines whenever they want for as long as they want, making the whole of the Philippines a U.S. base.

The VFA violates the Philippine Constitution of 1987. For example, the Philippines is a nuclear-free zone and the entry or use of weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons are restricted in our country. But, under the VFA, Filipino officials are not allowed to inspect the U.S. vessels entering the country. Right now, it is expected that U.S. vessels stationed in Okinawa will participate in the on-going military exercises and it is well known that these vessels have nuclear capability.

The VFA also gives special privileges to U.S. troops. The U.S. military has jurisdiction over Philippine courts and U.S. personnel are allowed to enter the country without visas, driver's licenses or other required I.D. Thus, the U.S. military are granted more privileges than Filipino citizens.

The people of the Philippines remember and are still suffering from the effects of the former U.S. military bases which existed up until 1992. For example, there is a group called the "Philippine Task Force for Bases Clean-up."  They have documented the relationship between the former U.S. bases and toxic and hazardous waste dumps which are causing serious environmental and health hazards, including very high cancer rates amongst new-born children and other inhabitants in areas around these former bases.

Also, before 1992, there was widespread prostitution in the areas of the former U.S. bases. There was also a high rate of sexually transmitted diseases and an alarming number of Amerasian orphans, abandoned by U.S. military personnel.

Already, these conditions are re-appearing. A new "red light" district is developing in Central Luzon with over 300 bars and "rest and recreation;" strips being built and reserved for U.S. military personnel.

AINS:  Why is the U.S. interested in military bases in the Philippines?

LFS:  In my personal opinion, there are two basic reasons.

First, there is the growing strength of the peoples' movement in the Philippines both in open mass movements and legal mass organizations in the cities as well as the deepening of the mass base of the New People's Army (NPA). The NPA now has 81 guerrilla fronts all over the Philippines. For the U.S., it is a bad example to have a national liberation movement in Asia that is gaining in strength. If the political situation becomes worse for the ruling class in the Philippines it may not be able to contain the situation and therefore U.S. troops need to be on hand to quell the threat of rebellion.

The U.S. is still the main imperialist power in the Philippines. They have their "high-tech" sweatshops in the Philippines. These sweatshops produce microprocessors and other parts and are owned by Microsoft, IBM, Texas Instruments etc., which subject Filipino workers, especially women, to extreme exploitation. Since the Philippines was a U.S. colony since the beginning of the 20th century, U.S. business is very much entrenched and completely dominates Philippine economic life.

History shows that at the turn of the century, after the Filipino people had waged a war against the Spanish colonizers and defeated Spain, the U.S. launched the Filipino-American war to defeat the Philippine revolution. The U.S. went on to directly colonize the Philippines from 1902 up until 1946 when the Philippines was "granted" independence by the U.S. government on July 4. But this has only been nominal independence and the Philippines has been kept in a backward state as a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society dominated economically, politically and culturally by U.S. imperialism.

The second point is that having a base in the Philippines is very important for the U.S. in terms of the whole of Asia because Asia is, at this time, where the U.S. multinationals are making some of their biggest investments. They need to protect their money. As you know, the official U.S. strategy is to be able to fight 2 or 3 regional wars at one time. So having a base in the Philippines -- this group of islands which is in a very strategic area in Asia -- is part of the worldwide strategy of the U.S.

AINS:  Can you tell us something about the opposition to the U.S. military and the VFA?

LFS:  Right now, in the Philippines the movement to "Junk the VFA," is conducting a very broad campaign against the current U.S.-Philippines joint military exercises. A caravan, including the LFS and many other organizations opposed to the VFA, is making its way from Manila all the way to Central Luzon (where the exercises will start). The caravan is mobilizing opposition to the exercises and the VFA. Danilo Vismanos, director of the caravan, has called to all people to declare "VFA free zones" in their workplaces, schools, regions, and provinces.

The anti-VFA movement is very strong and very multi-sectional drawing together many different sectors of Philippine society. The biggest workers union in the country, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), openly opposes the VFA. There is huge resistance by the women and women's organizations which have already organized protests at the U.S. embassy. Students and youth are coming out against the VFA and linking this struggle with their struggle against cutbacks in the budget for education in the Philippines.

Here in Chicago, the Philippine Anti-Intervention Network (PAI-NET) was formed primarily to organize a united front against the VFA. Since then, we have also adopted other issues to confront the problems of intervention in the Philippines other than militarization, such as economic intervention through the IMF, World Bank, and the WTO. Among the organizations within PAI-NET (other than LFS) are the Committee on Philippine Issues (CPI), Gabriela Network Chicago, Pintig Cultural Group, the Philippine Solidarity Committee, as well as other individuals and support groups. We plan on directing action against the VFA on the week of February 21st through the 25th. We encourage individuals and organizations to participate in these activities.