Historic changes in using our military bases

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Historic changes in using our military bases

Topic |  

boholano-thumbConstitutionality of EDCA and U.S. access to our military bases. In its editorial on January 15, the Philippine Daily Inquirer said: “The Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement [Edca] was in essence a realistic recognition of the executive’s prerogative to enter into international agreements. That the Edca would allow more American troops to be stationed temporarily in more military bases in the Philippines as a counterweight to Chinese expansionism in the West Philippine Sea was only a secondary consideration.”

“The realpolitik behind the Edca, however, exactly has it the other way. The [B.S.] Aquino administration entered into the executive agreement [with the United States] precisely because, in its calculus, the country needed greater American military presence.”

“In the field of external affairs, the President must be given a larger measure of authority and wider discretion, subject only to the least amount of checks and restrictions under the Constitution.”

“As we have written in this space more than once, the [B.S.] Aquino administration has the public’s support for its multilevel approach to the Chinese government’s expansion into the West Philippine Sea. But the same public is aware that there are real risks to confronting China, whether in the international courts or in increasingly fraught encounters at sea. Or, indeed, in enhanced military cooperation with the United States.


“Given the risks, and the stakes, it would have been better for the Senate to have gotten involved, precisely as a means for the public to make itself heard. In fact, the Senate passed Resolution 105, affirming that the Edca was a treaty and that, therefore, and as the Constitution provides, at least two-thirds of the Senate must approve it before it can take effect.” Philippine Daily Inquirer. January 15, 2016.

Historic opposition to U.S. bases in RP. In December 1984, in an act of disapproval of U.S. support for President Marcos’ continuing martial law regime, and in an assertion of Philippine sovereignty and independence, Filipino opposition leaders, including Cory Aquino, called for the removal of U.S. military bases in the Philippines!

My role in peace-making. While I was still serving the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo early in 1987, our Ambassador to the U.S. Emmanuel Pelaez asked President Aquino to request UNU President Soejatmoko for my assistance in the Philippine peace talks with Nur Misuari (head of the Moro National Liberation Front) and with Conrado Balweg (head of the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army). I found this a challenging and successful assignment and an opportunity to know President Cory Aquino.

In July 1987 the U.P. Board of Regents appointed me President of the University of the Philippines upon the recommendation of the U.P. faculty consultative committee led by Economics Professor Jose Encarnacion. I had served the United Nations University for ten years (1977-87).

My role in the conversion of our military bases to peaceful uses. Our 1987 Constitution provided that “After the expiration of the [RP-US] Military Bases Agreement, foreign military bases shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate….”

In 1989 Congress adopted Joint Resolution No. 1 to prepare a comprehensive program on the alternative economic, social, and security uses of the military bases when these would be abolished as intended by the opposition leaders against the dictator-Marcos.


President Corazon Aquino appointed me Chairman of the Joint Legislative-Executive Bases Council composed of four Senators, four Representatives, and nine members appointed by President Aquino.


She also made me a member of her own advisory Committee on the military bases. My dual  assignments on the military bases was my intimidating challenge and great honor and responsibility as a scholar in political science and the U.P. President.

On 15 May 1990 at the exploratory talks between the Philippine and American panels, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Raul Manglapus surprised U.S. panel head Richard L. Armitage that the RP-US Military Bases Agreement would be terminated on 16 September 1991 and could not be extended.

On 24 October 1990, 13 months after we began our work for the Joint Legislative-Executive Bases Council, I submitted the Comprehensive Conversion Program of our military bases to President Aquino, Senate President Jovito Salonga, and House Speaker Ramon Mitra. Our report was entitled Kumbersyon: Comprehensive Conversion Program: Alternative Uses of the Military Baselands and the Military Camps in Metro Manila.


Our Joint Legislative-Executive Bases Council was guided by principles in our 1987 Constitution: national sovereignty, an independent foreign policy, national interest, a self-reliant economy, sustainable development, a balanced ecology, freedom from nuclear weapons, social justice, the rights of cultural communities, local autonomy, and the empowerment of the people.

In June 1991 Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales erupted with devastating effects on Clark Air Base and much of Pampanga that forced the U.S. Air Force to abandon the air base. U.S. interest now focused on keeping its use of the Subic Naval Base in Olangapo. This was the subject of ongoing RP-US talks on a possible new military base treaty known as a Treaty of Friendship, and Security agreed upon by Secretary Manglapus and Ambassador Frank G. Wisner. President Aquino and Speaker Mitra proposed a referendum to enable the people to favor the treaty.


On 10 September 1991 President Aquino held a large pro-Treaty rally at Rizal Park in Manila. Anti-Treaty advocates, including U.P. faculty and students, held a much smaller rally at Liwasang Bonifacio where I led the U.P. group.

On 16 September the Senate rejected the proposed RP-US Bases Treaty by a resolution of non-concurrence to the proposal that would allow the U.S. to remain at the Subic Naval Base for ten years. Senate President Salonga led the opposition to the Treaty.

As a political scientist, I found it very enlightening and also exhilarating to be involved in the strategic and complex planning process and the highly controversial and charged politics of the military bases. My chairmanship of the Legislative-Executive Bases Council afforded me a participant-observer’s view and the opportunity to make my inputs. My colleagues on the faculty and our activist students were also excited and gratified by their involvement. Faculty scholars contributed their analysis and recommendations regarding the conversion of the military bases and camps.

Look at the success of the bases conversion program that we have worked on. See now what has happened to Clark Airbase, the Subic Naval Base, and Fort Bonifacio in Makati and Taguig.

Transforming leadership. Let us recall the words of our great, transforming leader: Senate

President Jovito Salonga who led the anti-bases treaty: “I think all of us are engaged in a search—a search for the soul of the nation, a search for the best in the Filipino character, a search for the true Filipino spirit.

“We summon the memories of those whom we honor—from Jose Rizal to Andres Bonifacio, from Abad Santos to Ninoy Aquino.

“Their collective message, even on the eve of their death, was one of hope, not of fear, not of doubt; of confidence in the capacity of the Filipino to suffer and overcome, not of his unwillingness to withstand the rigors of freedom and independence.”

Now challenged by imperialist China. We are back to welcoming U.S. military presence and cooperation on our bases through Edca. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement [Edca] in recognition of the President’s  prerogative to enter into international agreements. The Edca would allow more American troops to be stationed temporarily in more military bases as a counterweight to Chinese expansionism in the West Philippine Sea.  (By Jose “Pepe” Abueva)

My email is pepevabueva@gmail.com

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