By AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA
MANILA – Progressive groups said the Filipino people will not benefit from the increased US military presence in the country, urging the public to never forget the horrors that the American troops have committed under the lopsided military deals.
“We must not be fooled by American double-talk, which claims to side with the Philippines on the issue of the West Philippine Sea. Despite the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement, the US did not stop China from its aggressive acts in the West Philippine Sea. Yet the US keeps promising that their presence here helps our cause,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. in a statement.
Yesterday, progressives held a protest in front of Camp Aguinaldo in time for United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III’s visit to the country.
Austin and other US officials met with Philippine officials, including defense secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., for an “agreement for expanded military cooperation and greater access to Philippine military bases.”
Among the recent contentious issues surrounding the US visit is the increased number of US military bases that will be constructed as part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which was signed between the US and the Philippine governments in 2014 allowing the former to build structures within the Philippine military bases, placing troops and weapons as well as private contractors.
Among the lopsided agreements that have been signed between the US and Philippine governments include the Visiting Forces Agreement and EDCA, both stemming from the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which allows the presence of US soldiers in the country in order to supposedly “provide mutual support in case of foreign attack.”
In recent years, calls to scrap these agreements intensified, following the killing of Jennifer Laude in 2014 inside a hotel room in Olongapo City at the hands of US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.
Read: ‘Why did he have to kill her?’ – sister of Jennifer Laude
Pemberton was on a “rest and recreation” break after the PH-US military exercises under VFA. A year later, the Olongapo Regional Trial Court found Pemberton guilty of homicide, sentencing him to six to 12 years in prison; however, in 2016, his sentence was reduced to a maximum of 10 years.
Read: VFA and how perpetrators of murder, gender-based abuses got away with it
Other cases include the rape of “Nicole” and “Vanessa,” and the thousands of faceless Filipino women who fall into prostitution in areas where there US forces are stationed. An earlier study of Gabriela Women’s Party estimated some 50,000 prostituted women in the cities of Olongapo and Angeles in Pampanga for the “rest and recreation” of US soldiers stationed there.
Austin led bloody wars of aggression
In a statement, human rights group Karapatan said nothing good can result from the Austin visit, describing him as “a man whose career and fortune were built on the deaths and destruction resulting from US-driven wars of aggression.”
“Aside from being one of the top military commanders who led the US’ bloody wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan that claimed almost a million lives, most of them civilians, he is the face of the money side of US warmongering, the side that ravenously feeds off the suffering of the victims of these evil wars,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
Palabay said that there are reports that Austin profited from selling war materiel to the US government during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“At least $100 million in military assistance is already in the pipeline in exchange for the Marcos Jr. regime’s reaffirmation of EDCA and other military agreements with the US. With Austin’s background, we can expect more murder and mayhem against the Filipino people as the US intensifies its intervention in the conduct of the counter-insurgency war in the country,” she said.
Not for the fisherfolk
Fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, for its part, said that adding US military bases to the already militarized West Philippine Sea will not help them.
“Our territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea are already militarized by China; the last thing that Filipino fishers want is an expansion of the US military bases at the further expense of our sovereign rights and territorial integrity,” said Pamalakaya in a statement.
Read: Presidential candidates’ stand on the West Philippine Sea and beyond
In a statement, Bayan called on Filipinos to reject US military presence in the country and to never forget the abuses the Filipinos suffered with the US bases and the VFA.
“The matter of asserting Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights rests with the Filipinos, not any foreign power. It would be foolish to believe that the US, with its own geopolitical interests, is here to help us in asserting our sovereignty,” said Reyes. (RTS, JJE, RVO)