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Current U.S. Intervention in the Philippines*

by Bobby Tuazon Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2003 at 8:22 PM

Over the past century, the U.S. has been the leading interventionist power in the world often victimizing small independent countries and national liberation movements and using the military as its chief instrument. In many cases, U.S. interventionism leads to wars of aggression. Other methods used are: political and diplomatic pressures; economic pressures and trade sanctions; covert operations; media manipulation; and others.

1. What do we mean by U.S. intervention?

A foreign country – usually a power - engages in interventionism in another country in pursuit of its own national interests that include economic, political and military. The result is the subversion of the other country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity; the oppression and greater immiserization of multitudes of peoples and the destruction of their own economies.

Interventionism defines the power relationship between a big country (usually, imperialist) and a small, defenseless country (usually in the Third World) – thus, is one-sided, onerous, illegitimate/unlawful and inimical.

Over the past century, the U.S. has been the leading interventionist power in the world often victimizing small independent countries and national liberation movements and using the military as its chief instrument. In many cases, U.S. interventionism leads to wars of aggression. Other methods used are: political and diplomatic pressures; economic pressures and trade sanctions; covert operations; media manipulation; and others.

Interventionism, which is a higher form of meddling, should essentially be seen as an instrument that seeks to promote colonialism or neocolonialism, the domination of one country or region, or as an instrument of hegemonism. In the current world situation characterized by a single superpower (U.S.) interventionism should be understood as imperialist interventionism that seeks to promote the global interests of transnational corporations led by the ruling financial oligarchy in the U.S.

2. What is U.S. interventionism in the Philippines?

First, let us recall that the U.S. colonized the Philippines after Filipino revolutionaries proclaimed the country’s independence from Spain (which subjugated the Philippines for three centuries) in the revolution of 1898. American colonizers, led by President William McKinley, coveted the Philippines not only for its natural wealth but also as a staging base for colonial and extra-territorial claims in China and the whole of Asia. The U.S. waged a brutal pacification campaign against Filipino revolutionaries and the masses thereafter, resulting in the genocide of almost 1.5 million, based on independent historical accounts.

The colonialist drive of the U.S. in the late 19th century – which included the takeover of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and other countries – became part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s crusade to establish American hegemony in Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world in behalf of the rising monopoly capitalist power of America.

The U.S. colonization of the Philippines led to the establishment of military bases and the training and formation of military and police forces that would be forever beholden to, and would be under the control of, the U.S. Aside from the unilateral bases treaty that it would impose on the Philippines later in 1947, the U.S. state department also issued in February 1948 Policy Staff memorandum 23 (or PPS/23) – a top secret document that defines U.S. post-war military strategy in Asia-Pacific particularly in the Philippines and Japan.

Under PPS/23, the Philippines and Japan should “remain in hands which we (the U.S.) can control and rely on.” In particular, the Philippines would be retained as a “bulwark of U.S. security” in the region. In effect, the document affirmed U.S. pre-war designs to preserve the Philippines as a neo-colony that would serve America’s long-term and vital economic and security interests.

Consequently, even after the U.S. “granted” independence to the Philippines in 1946, the country has remained a neo-colony until today through the installation of or support for puppet governments from Manuel Roxas to Ferdinand Marcos to today’s Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and its tight hold and influence over the Philippine armed forces. Through the puppet governments, the U.S. is assured that laws, policies and programs enhance and guarantee U.S. interests. The latest of such neo-colonial policies is of course the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the secret Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and the July 2003 executive agreement granting American forces in the Philippines immunity from criminal prosecution.

The U.S. remains the Philippines’ biggest investor and trading partner. American domination of the country’s economy is guaranteed not only by onerous and one-sided bilateral agreements but also by the Philippine government’s blind adherence to the U.S.-initiated General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec); as well as economic preconditions dictated by the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other multilateral agencies.

3. If the Philippines remains a neo-colony or vassal state of the U.S., why does the latter need to launch acts of interventionism in the country?

The U.S. lost its military bases in the country in 1992 after the Senate, acting under pressure by a strong anti-bases movement, rejected in 1991 the proposed treaty extending the stay of its 24 military installations. Its two major military installations – the Clark airforce base in Angeles City, Pampanga and the Naval Base in Subic, Olongapo, Zambales were the largest military facilities in Asia outside the U.S. mainland and were vital to the U.S. drive for global hegemony and in launching wars of aggression elsewhere. The bases phase-out in 1992 was a big blow to the U.S. military strategy in the region.

Apart from the U.S. bases, U.S. interventionism in the Philippines has been shown over the past 50 years particularly in: a) the anti-Huk campaign during the 1940s-1950s; b) the country serving as host and forum for the U.S.-conceived Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (Seato), a regional anti-communist military alliance; c) the use of bases to launch air and naval strikes during the Indochina war and in other countries including Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War; d) unbridled support for the Marcos dictatorship and its successor regimes; e) support for counter-insurgency campaigns against local revolutionary forces including the NPA, MNLF and MILF; f) sabotaging of peace talks with the NDF to assure the primacy of militarist solution against revolutionary forces and patriotic organizations.

Since 1991, the U.S. has become the world’s only superpower and began to consolidate its global hegemony. The ultimate objective of the U.S. is to ensure its unhampered access to the world’s resources particularly oil and to further subject the world economy under its own domination. Since 1991 – and even decades before that – the drive for U.S. world hegemony has been pursued primarily through the use of armed force. The American economy, driven by monopoly capitalism, has been in periodic crisis and one of its main instruments by which it would find relief is the conquest and/or neo-colonization of new territories and markets particularly in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Central Europe, Central Asia other regions. Ergo, wars of intervention.

In Asia particularly in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is considered by the U.S. as being in a strategic location as it sits astride vital sea lanes and oceans and remains America’s staging base for its economic and military objectives in Southeast Asia and the whole of Asia as well. In the whole of Asia-Pacific – and possibly throughout the world – it is in the Philippines where the U.S.’s comprehensive interests find full support in puppet regimes and a proxy army, again another proof that the country remains a neo-colony of the U.S.

4. What are the recent major forms of armed interventionism in the Philippines by the U.S.?

Since the 1992 pull-out of its military bases, the U.S. has secretly negotiated for the reinstallation of the military facilities and was able to do so through the onerous imposition of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) by an executive agreement with then President Fidel V. Ramos in February 1998. The VFA granted the U.S. full rights to use the country’s ports, airfields and airspace for its naval, airforce and land forces and operations anywhere in the archipelago. It also allowed the scheduling of “joint war exercises” between the U.S. and AFP.

Together with other secret agreements, the VFA allows the U.S. to deploy forces as well as logistics and military installations in the Philippines on a rotational, “permanent-temporary” basis – all of which approximate the re-establishment of military bases.

In September 2001, Admiral Thomas Fargo, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC), said that Clark, Subic and other military facilities in the Philippines would be used in the “global war against terrorism.” Initially, the bases will be used for “transit and transshipment of materials and personnel” as well as refueling of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from Honolulu, Guam, the U.S. West Coast to the U.S. base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Including its former bases and other ports and airspace in the Philippines, these U.S. bases were used to support the recent wars of invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq and will also be used in a new U.S. war against North Korea, Iran and other members of the so-called “axis of evil.”

Aside from the VFA, the other forms and instruments of armed interventionism in the Philippines are:

1) the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA);

2) the retention of the outdated Mutual Defense Pact of 1951;

3) the establishment of the Defense Policy Board (DPB) based in Pentagon;

4) the retention of JUSMAG (Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group);

5) control of the AFP in the guise of military aid, war exercises, training of senior and junior officers and related;

6) the executive agreement signed by Macapagal-Arroyo granting immunity rights to U.S. forces in the Philippines in violation of the Philippine Constitution, the Rome-based International Criminal Court (ICC) Treaty and other international humanitarian laws and conventions;

7) continued intervention in counter-insurgency (now dubbed as “counter-terrorism”) operations through the deployment “military advisers,” trainers, Special Operation Forces (SOFs) and other forms of “military assistance” (such as intelligence, air support, etc.);

8) retention of a number of U.S. forces - along with their logistics, war equipment and other facilities – who are participating in so-called war exercises on a temporary or permanent basis;

9) covert operations by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence arms as well as by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), US Agency for International Development (AID) such as its clandestine and well-funded AGILE project, and other “non-military” forms;

10) tagging revolutionary groups, their leaders as well as legal organizations as “terrorist” in order to justify bigger armed interventionism in the guise of the “war on terror” and become “legitimate targets” of military, police and intelligence operations;

11) covert pressures on the Philippine government, through the DND, to scuttle peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)

By the way, one of the most recent acts of intervention by the U.S. is the replacement in 2002 of Vice President Teofisto Guingona, who has a record of anti-U.S. bases stance, by the rabidly pro-U.S. and former Marcos henchman, Blas Ople as foreign affairs secretary. In October 2003, the head of the VFA Monitoring Committee, lawyer Amado Valdez, was sacked by Ople for saying in a report that the treaty is onerous and one-sided in favor of the United States.

5) What are the economic, social and political costs of current U.S. interventionism in the Philippines?

a) Economic costs:

- heightening of the exploitation and plunder of the country’s natural resources including labor;

- the subservience of the whole Philippine economy to the U.S. economy and that of other capitalist countries like Japan and EU countries;

- the deterioration, underdevelopment and destruction of the country’s economy thus causing the greater impoverishment and oppression of the Filipino people particularly the poor;

- through their neo-colonial ties with and puppetry to the U.S., the continued domination of the country’s landholdings, trade and other wealth by the elite (the landlords, comprador-bourgeoisie and big bureaucrats in government)

b) Social costs:

- the exploitation of the people particularly women due to the proliferation of prostitution, entertainment and other forms of enslavement in the service of U.S. forces;

- due to increasing defense budgets in line with the U.S.-RP military alliance, the deterioration of public services including food, education, health, housing, social welfare and basic programs;

- increase in the number of internal refugees displaced by government’s total war policy and armed intervention by the U.S. in the guise of training exercises, humanitarian missions and others;

c) Political costs:

- a government and military establishment that is elitist, anti-people and blindly obedient to U.S. dictation;

- infringement of the country’s sovereign, independent and territorial rights;

- State Terrorism as manifested in the push for a “Strong Republic,” in anti-terrorism bills that threaten the people’s civil and political rights and in the increase in the number and scale of human rights violations;

- lack of an independent foreign policy that serves to reinforce the image of the Philippine government in the world community as a puppet of the U.S.

*Paper read at the conference of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines – National Capital Region on Oct. 21, 2003 at San Beda College auditorium, Manila. Author Tuazon is also a member of the Center for Anti-Imperialist Studies (CAIS).

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