From the Daily Tribune (Jul 3): Senate to block US access to bases deal
The bases access agreement that the United States government wants to clinch with the Aquino administration would face rough sailing in Congress as senators appear united against it with even the President’s own cousin Sen. Bam Aquino opposing it. The senators were not keen on relaxing access to the country’s military facilities to foreign troops even on a temporary basis, as they were unanimous in citing the unconstitutionality of the proposed arrangement that would have American forces stationed in the country on rotation.
The senators instead want a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to secure from the United States government a firm commitment on military support in the event of an armed conflict with China over the territorial disputes.
“I think when we voted (for the termination of) the (US) bases (agreement) out in the 90s, that was a good decision. And we should stick to that,” Senator Aquino said.
“We already have the VFA and we have some gains through the VFA. Let’s keep to amending that or supporting that as it is even more responsive to our needs,” he added.
Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito also underscored the need to review the provisions of the VFA to make it more attuned to the times and secure a more firm commitment from the US government in fulfilling its obligation in providing military defense to the Philippines against external aggression.
“We have to review probably the VFA if it’s still beneficial to us. As we have experienced last year, at the height of the conflict with China and now with Taiwan, when support from the US was needed there was none given,” he said.
“One of the provisions or conditions of the VFA is that, if one ally is in conflict with others, the other one would (lend) support. So we need to review it,” he said.
However, Ejercito said there’s a necessity in seeking a clearer commitment from ally-countries insofar as military aid is concerned.
Senator Aquino agreed on the need to amend some of the provisions of the VFA.
“I think we can keep it at that level first and let’s see. Hopefully, we can learn from our partners and from our allies and maybe get their support but to the point of having...you know, temporary os difficult. Temporary one year, temporary two years, temporary 10 years or 25 years?,” he said.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara is of the opinion that Malacañang may have a hard time defending its proposal especially if it will involve the return of permanent military structures for foreign troops.
“Obviously, there may be constitutional or legal issues and whether it’s embodied in a treaty or an executive agreement, then the Senate would have to play a role. But again, the details would determine the extent of our involvement,” he said.
Angara shared Senator Aquino’s apprehension on the matter of period within which the temporary access will be put into effect, especially if it will outlive the Aquino administration.
“Our Constitution says we must have an independent foreign policy so you must balance that with the needs of your defense imperatives,” he added.
“I’m sure they (Executive) will brief the Senate when the time comes. When we resume (Congress’ sessions), we expect to get a briefing from the departments involved,” Angara said.
Environmental activists and militant groups also filed an urgent motion to the Supreme Court for a series of Temporary Environmental Protection Orders (TEPOs) against port calls of American military vessels.
The motion is part of an earlier petition for the writ of kalikasan regarding the USS Guardian grounding in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park that was led by Palawan Bishop Pedro Arigo.
“We urge our Supreme Court justices to expedite the hearing on the Writ of Kalikasan to protect our marine environment particularly the World Heritage Site, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park from further risk of destruction from US military exercises and manoeuvrings in our territorial waters,” said Clemente Bautista of environmental group Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE).
The urgent motion comes in the wake of news that the Philippines is now considering different modalities that would allow greater US military presence and access to PH facilities including former military bases such as those in Subic.
The Aquino government through its Solicitor General said that there is no relation between the VFA and the environmental issues raised in the Kalikasan petition.
“This is wrong, because US military forces such as the USS Guardian would not be transiting Philippine waters but for the VFA-Mutual Defense Treaty(MDT) regime.
More importantly, there are no existing guidelines under the VFA-MDT regime for the protection and rehabilitation of the environment in relation to U.S. Armed Forces activities or operations in the country,” lawyer Edsel Tupaz, head legal counsel and also a petitioner in the case, said.
“Continued use of our national ports, all at the cost of the national government, for so-called ‘routine’port calls by US vessels, without having to pay for prior liquidated extraordinary environmental damages caused by a call of their very own, is an unfair situation,” Tupaz said.
Renato Reyes, Bayan spokesperson said that the growing rotational presence in the country of these US troops renders our marine protected areas highly vulnerable to destruction and degradation given the influx of military personnel, weaponry and naval and ground vessels.
Part of the P75 billion modernization fund of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be used to upgrade existing military bases, a top official of the Department of National Defense (DND) said yesterday.
DND Undersecretary Fernando Manalo, during a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo, said that portion of the P75 billion AFP modernization fund for the next five years will be spent in upgrading military facilities in Cebu and Palawan.
“These are base support facilities,” said Manalo. He identified the Naval Base Rafael Ramos in Cebu as among the military bases to be upgraded.
Manalo explained that upgrading military facilities, like hangars, will just complement the acquisition of modern military hardware programmed under the AFP modernization.
It will be noted that the DND is eyeing a squadron of FA50 lead-in fighter jets for the Air Force for P18.9 billion.
The DND official, however, said that as of the moment there is no definite plan as to the former United States naval base in Subic Bay, Zambales.
It was not clear, however, whether the military facilities considered for upgrade are those being offered for use by the United States and Japan under the still being discussed access agreement.
President Aquino admitted he wants greater access for US and Japan to Philippine military bases.
The militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said that Aquino is “escalating tensions” in the region based on the “false assumption that the US will automatically help the Philippines in any conflict”.
Datu Tungko Saikol, Sultan of the Dikaya Clan from Kabuntalan Sultanate, also told the descendants of the couple Datu Watamama Kudanding and Bai Laga Unggo Jalani to strengthen attachment and love among the relatives as practiced by the ancestry of the Moro people.
Saikol and Hassan were guest speakers during the 1st Grand Reunion of Datu Watamama Kudanding Descendants held in Barangay Ligaya, General Santos City on June 23, 2013.
The gathering was attended by more than seven hundred members of families Kudanding, Tondog, Canacan, Panayaman, Bentaib, Dambong, and Kinjo which all descended from Kudanding and Jalani.
Sultan Saikol related the Tarsila (genealogy) and explained the connection of Datu Jalani with the royal families of Kabuntalan, Maguindanao and Buayan Sultanates.
Imam Mantil Kudanding, Watamama sa Sugoda Buayan and Vice-Chair of General Santos City Council of Imams, spearheaded the activity which was aimed to let the younger generations of his clan know each other.
He said the occasion is one way for the relatives to know each other. “It sadden me that only we old fellows know how we are connected to each other, but the young ones do not know who their relatives are,” he added.
Representatives from the different families were grateful for the opportunity that their children were able to meet their kins.
Members of the clan planned to form their families into an organization.
Other plans discussed was to put up directory of prospect blood donors who can donate blood for their relatives whenever needed and how they can help those who will be hospitalized.
The clan also gathered family trees that will be used to continue the Tarsila that will be book-bound and shall be launched next year.
Kudanding clan is one of the biggest Maguindanaon clans in Sugoda Buayan.