For Immediate Release
April 28, 2016
Natalie Agosto, Mass Campaigns Officer, New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines
Nina Macapinlac, Regional Coordinator, BAYAN USA Northeast
Defend Philippine Sovereignty! Flash Mob Condemns Return of U.S. Military Bases to the Philippines on Second Anniversary of EDCA
Protesters in Columbus Circle on the National Day of Action Against EDCA (PC: Roman Damaso)
NEW YORK – Filipinos and concerned allies held a flash mobilization on April 27 at Columbus Circle to condemn the return of U.S. military bases to the Philippines and to mark the second anniversary of the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Protesters unfurled a large banner at the feet of the Christopher Columbus statue to condemn unequal military agreements like EDCA and to call for the removal of all U.S. troops from the Philippines. The rally denounced the opening of five U.S. military bases in the Philippines, which was made official this past March, and called for the defense of Philippine national sovereignty.
EDCA is a supplemental agreement to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a controversial executive agreement signed in 1999 that led to the indefinite permanent presence of hundreds of U.S. troops; dozens of annual war games between U.S. and Philippine troops; and unlimited docking and travel of U.S. warships in Philippine ports and through Philippine land and airspace. EDCA, which was signed on April 28, 2014 in Manila by Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, expands the same military strategy set by the VFA. EDCA allows U.S. troops to use Philippine land and facilities without paying rent; to store arms including nuclear arms in the country; and to use the Philippines as a launching pad for U.S. military intervention and war in the Asia Pacific region.
Earlier this year, the Philippine Supreme Court ratified EDCA and confirmed its legality contrary to provisions set out by the Philippine Constitution that require treaties related to foreign troops, bases, and facilities be approved by the Philippine Senate. The Supreme Court disregarded Senate resolutions arguing the illegality of EDCA, effectively overturning the historical decision of the Senate in 1991 to kick out U.S. military bases and signaling the return of the bases. This past March, after conducting secret talks to identify locations for the U.S. bases, the Aquino government announced five U.S. military bases throughout the Philippines. This month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced plans to open up even more Philippine bases beyond the five bases forged in the midnight deal with President B.S. Aquino. The return of the U.S. bases and the ratification of EDCA mark a huge blow to the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines.
EDCA and the return of the bases to the Philippines are a central component of escalating U.S. intervention in the Asia Pacific region, which is part of a deliberate foreign policy strategy called the “U.S. Pivot to Asia.” This so-called “pivot” is a “rebalancing” of more than half of U.S. military forces abroad to the Asia Pacific in order to consolidate and ensure U.S. hegemony in the fastest growing economic region in the world. By taking advantage of the Philippines’ strategic location in the Asia Pacific, the United States is able to use the country as a launching pad to secure trade routes, markets, and territories as well as isolate its competing world power China through militarization and war. “EDCA gives the U.S. a closer vantage point in checking China as a world power,” said Rodrigo Bacus, a member of New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines who recently returned from an international solidarity mission to the Philippines with the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers to investigate the legality of EDCA. “It allows the US to reach new markets and military positions in Burma and Japan. This unequal treaty allows the US to assert its economic interests even in the Philippines itself. Yet, the people are not so lucky and the Philippines gets little in return.”
Indeed, U.S. military intervention has a proven track record of creating the conditions for rampant human rights violations and environmental destruction. Protesters at Wednesday’s rally spoke on an especially egregious example of violence under EDCA–the case of Jennifer Laude, a trans Filipino woman murdered by U.S. Marine Scott Pemberton, who was stationed at Olangapo City in October 2014. With chants of “Junk junk EDCA! Justice for J Laude!” protesters gave agitating speeches on the lack of justice for Jennifer Laude and on the facilitation of impunity for U.S. military abuse under agreements like EDCA. Even though Pemberton was convicted of homicide for Laude’s death, his sentence was recently lowered to a maximum of ten years. He is currently being detained under American custody at the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo despite the fact that the crime was committed on Philippine soil. “It is agreements like EDCA which allow for US troops to leave women brutally murdered in bathrooms,” cried Cole Carothers, chairperson of GABRIELA NY. “It is agreements like VFA which allow for conditions of violence to exist for Filipino women and children with little to no consequence.”
Arguments in support of increased U.S. military presence often cite the need to defend the Philippines from China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea. China was recently discovered to be creating artificial islands on tops of reefs or rocks, known as the “Great Wall of Sand,” in an attempt to strengthen territorial claims on the strategic waters. BAYAN USA Northeast condemns the encroachment of China into Philippine territory, but does not believe the solution is to welcome U.S. military intervention and occupation. As competing superpowers, both China and the United States are primarily interested in geopolitical power and resources. The U.S. and Aquino administrations propagate that the increase in U.S. military presence is a reflection of the two countries’ longstanding alliance. However, this alliance is one-sided in the favor of U.S.’ imperialist interests.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash speaks of helping the Philippines “modernize” its military equipment to defend against China. The United States has even increased its military aid to the country from $50 million to $79 million of U.S. taxpayer money, with nearly $500 million of military aid since 2002. Within that time, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has only increased its number of human rights violations against civilians, especially indigenous communities in Mindanao. The Filipino people did not benefit from U.S. economic aid and investment–rather, the Philippines remains one of the most impoverished nations in the Southeast Asia and income inequality only widened despite auspices of economic “growth”. Rather, the Philippines must resist territorial incursions from both China and the United States, and to assert its national sovereignty.
BAYAN USA Northeast calls on Filipinos and allies in the United States to demand for an end to unequal military agreements like EDCA and VFA, and to call for a stop of U.S. military aid to the Philippines. More than half of U.S. taxpayers’ money goes towards military spending which is money that could have been spent on jobs, housing, and education for people in the United States. Instead, the United States government is financing war and militarization abroad to bid for power and resources at the expense of working class and poor people in countries like the Philippines. As long as unequal military and economic agreements are allowed to exist, the people will continue to face human rights violations because of military occupation. Only through collective action and people power can the Philippine people assert national sovereignty and achieve genuine independence.
U.S. troops out of the Philippines!
No to the U.S. bases!
Defend Philippine sovereignty!
Holding signs calling for removal of U.S. troops from the Philippines and an end to militarization (PC: Roman Damaso)
GABRIELA NY Chairperson Cole Carothers calling for removal of troops and justice for Jennifer Laude (PC: Roman Damaso)Protesters with BAYAN USA Northeast hold a speakout on the steps of the Columbus Circle fountain (PC: Roman Damaso)