The U.S. and Phillipines leadership would like to portray their new relationship as rosy, strategic and deep. On the street though, talking to the average Joe, one might get a very different impression.
Billed as the cornerstone of growing US and the Philippines strategic partnership and of the U.S. pivot back to Asia, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the U.S. and Philippines has been touted as the highlight of the meeting of President Obama and President Aquino in Manila this week. The official line is broadcast to the world even though many in Philippine vehemently oppose the agreement (see e.g. this response from BAYAN). Many Filipinos still remember the 1.5 million or so who died during the brutal US conquest of the Philippines in the early part of the 20th century, and they do not want the U.S. to have any military presence on Philippines soil again.
Adopting the ECA will require the Philippines government to circumvent Philippines’ Constitutional ban on foreign military bases and troops by characterizing America’s presence in Philippines as “authorised foreign temporary facilities.” Instead of going to the people regarding whether the Philippines should allow foreign troops in, the Philippines government has decided to hide behind a legal charade.
The EDCA is not the first time the U.S. secured with Philippines an agreement to have military presence inside the Philippines. The notorious RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, which the Philippines ended in the late 1980’s, allowed for US military forces to have a rotational presence in the Philippines for any length of time, ostentatiously to to train and inter-operate with the Philippine armed forces. The VFA allowed US military not only to use Philippines facilities but also to retain jurisdiction over criminal cases, including capital offences, involving US troops.
Unequal as the VFA was, the EDCA is arguably even worse as far as loss of Philippines sovereignty is concerned. Unlike the VFA, the EDCA does not limit the amount of increase in the rotational presence of US military forces and also explicitly allows for the building of US military bases and stations. While the American troops would putatively be limited to areas where the Philippine armed forces have a presence, the wording is such that Philippines presence can be technically established by something as trite as relegating Filipino troops to be perimeter guards (hired at the Philippines’ expense) of American bases. (see e.g. this aljazeera article)
Besides military incursion, many Filipinos are also outraged by the Aquino government’s promise to amend the Philippine constitution to allow foreign (e.g. U.S.) investors unlimited ownership of land and businesses. The constitutional ban exists because of Philippines colonial experience. Many – for good reasons – are very sensitive about it. The high-handed way by which Aquino has surrendered military independence make most Filipinos nervous about his ability to protect Philippines economic sovereignty in the aftermath of such a Constitutional amendment.
To top everything off, the Philippines government has also aimed “to impress Obama with the capture of alleged leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines as proof of the success of Oplan Bayanihan, a military plan aligned with the US Counterinsurgency Guide” (from the aljazeera article linked above). So on this trip, the Aquino government is serving Obama on a silver platter a triple cocktail of military acquiescence, land cessation, and political prisoners. No wonder so many are so pissed off…
Anyways, here is a dramatic video of people protesting against the U.S. in the wake of Obama’s visit. And below are some pictures of people protesting in the streets.