Withdraw from the Philippines

By Peter Bacho. Peter Bacho is an attorney who writes on Philippine issues from San Francisco. | The Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 1990 | Go to article overview

Withdraw from the Philippines


Peter Bacho. Peter Bacho is an attorney who writes on Philippine issues from San Francisco., The Christian Science Monitor


ON May 14, exploratory talks on US military bases in the Philippines finally commenced. The bases are governed by the 1947 Military Bases Agreement, which expires in 1991. Postponed after the December 1989 attempted military coup, the talks are preparatory to actual negotiations on the future of the bases, and are designed to reduce significant areas of disagreement. If successful, formal negotiations will follow.

For the US, at stake are installations regarded as key components of the American defense perimeter. Historically, the bases have allowed the US to patrol the South China Sea and the Western Pacific, as well as the straits, critical "choke points," connecting the South China Sea with the Indian Ocean. The strategic import of the bases increased dramatically when the Soviets, following the Vietnam War, established a significant naval and air presence in Vietnam.

Unfortunately, the US has been determined to maintain the bases at virtually any cost, which in the past meant support for the pro-bases, and thoroughly corrupt, regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. This policy diminished other aspects of the US-Philippine relations. Not surprisingly, among Filipinos there is a residue of resentment from the Marcos years, which partly manifests itself as opposition to the bases and is particularly evident in the Philippine Senate, which must ratify a new treaty permitting the bases to stay beyond 1991.

The future of the bases in the Philippines is, therefore, uncertain. The difficult process of extending them beyond 1991 could unravel at a number of points along the way. This uncertainty is healthy because it has finally forced the US to examine alternatives, such as Singapore, to a Philippine basing strategy.

For Washington, the exploration of alternatives has not come too soon. A new treaty will undoubtedly contain terms requiring substantial compensation to the Philippines. At a time of extreme budget constraints in the US, and of increased US-Soviet cooperation - the lack of which formed the main rationale for costly foreign military bases - the timing appears right to move toward closing the bases.

Of greater import, President Corazon Aquino also faces serious challenges from a restive military, from Muslim secessionists, and from the Marxist New People's Army (NPA), which controls or influences significant portions of the impoverised countryside. …

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