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The history of the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty since 1951

Since President Duterte declared the “separation” of the Philippines from America, the whole country was very puzzled why suddenly the new president is rejecting a long time ally. Before US Ambassador Nicholas Platt and his wife Sheila left the Philippines in August 1991 for their next post in Pakistan, his office sent me a pack of leaflets narrating the basic facts behind the RP-US Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Security. Most inspiring was the comprehensive documentary, “In Our Mutual Interest.” In the foreword, Ambassador Platt eloquently appealed to our leaders:

“In Our Mutual Interest” appears at a critical juncture in our bilateral relations. As both countries look forward to the challenge of the 21st century, we are asked to re-evaluate the security and cooperation which has been one of the cornerstones of our relationship over the past 40 years.”

Filipinos – Heartbeat of the US military facilities in Asia Pacific Defense

The other brochures were a three-fold red, white and blue handout entitled 15 Facts About the US Military Facilities in the Philippines, and black and white brochure entitled 1998 Memorandum of Agreement on US Facilities in the Philippines. The magazine, Asia Pacific Defense Forum: Filipinos – Heartbeat of the US Military Facilities had information on the Filipino expert technicians, engineers, computer programmers, plant managers and medical personnel for just about everything from food to electronics and F-5 jet planes.

Since 1946, the US provided the Philippines with $3.3 billion in economic assistance. They are vital to the life of the nation and the global security of Asia.

Television, radio and print media barely focused on the fact that about 50 percent of Asia’s oil and 80 percent of its strategic materials pass through nearby straits such as Malacca, Lombok and Sunda. Of the oil used in the Philippines, 95 percent is imported by sea. Its security is reinforced by the Subic Naval Base.

The fact remains that US military assistance under the MBA permits the Philippines to have one of the lowest defense budgets in the ASEAN, despite an active internal security threat. It was only when the generals, led by Gen. Abadia revealed that 42 percent of the military budget had been sustained by America since she granted us our independence in 1945. At the same time, every year, the US military facilities purchase a broad range of services and supplies from nearly 2,000 local companies and Filipino entrepreneurs. This provides jobs for tens of thousands of other Filipinos. Since World War II, the US Veterans Administration has paid over $3.2 billion in benefits to Filipino veterans.

The history of American presence in the Philippines

The Philippines became a colony of the US following the Spanish-American War (April 21-Aug. 13, 1898) and the subsequent Philippine-American War (1899-1902). In 1935, under the terms of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth, the Philippine Commonwealth, with full independence planned for 10 years later. Delayed by World War II and the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines, the Philippines became fully independent on July 4, 1946.

Following independence, there remained in the Philippines a strong American military presence including a number of US military bases in the Philippines, all allowed by treaties between the newly independent Philippines and the US.

There were also a number of treaties that created a strong bond between the Philippines and the US which gave both countries rights not enjoyed by other nations. The Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty was signed on August 30, 1951 in Washington, D.C. between representatives of the Philippines and the United States.

After Spain, ceded the Philippines to the US in 1898, Fort Stotsenberg was established in Pampanga. This original site of Clark Air Base occupied part of 250,000 hectares of land in 13 provinces. It became the basis for the Philippine-US Bases Agreement.

The 99-year lease provided the US with more than 20 base sites. The MBA has undergone 40 amendments since its signing in 1947.

By 1979, all the bases reverted to Philippine control. Thus, American facilities were created on Philippines base lands greatly reducing them from 53,036 at Clark to 3,760, and at Subic from 14,800 to 6,303 hectares.

Preparing the Philippines for independence

Two centuries ago, America as a young nation was suffering from piracy in the open seas. To have a self-sufficient armed force and naval defense facilities were among their priorities.

To stand strong and free alongside the democratic countries of the world, the US felt the necessity for a self-sufficient military. As they prepared us for our independence way back in 1935, they gradually restored to us the 20 military base sites installed in 13 provinces of the Philippines.

First American Governor General of the Philippines Arthur MacArthur, father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur even helped establish the Philippine Military Academy of Baguio, Philippine counterpart of the US West Point to train Filipino military officers. Historically, this was contained in the 99 years MBA land lease agreement whose foundation President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid himself, in the dark days of December 1941.

On December 8, 1941, the US air force at Clark was decimated, the day after the destruction of the US fleet at Pearl Harbor by Japan. This event presaged the fall of the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma and French Indochina to Japan.

Some 80,000 Filipinos employed in Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base compose the second largest group of specialist workers employed by a foreign agency.

The US Base Facilities are the Philippines’ second largest employer. Total salaries amount to $110,590,000 (about P2.356 billion in 1988). It provides the second largest payroll in the Philippines.

Night club rows spark anti-US sentiments

The nightclubs and social hotspots rows surrounding Clark Air Force Base and Naval Base Subic Bay became the flashpoint of anti-US sentiment. This continued to grow and was reflected in the election of the Philippine Senate leading Pres. Corazon Aquino to sign the Anti-Base Manifesto Bill. Then the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo volcano damaged both US military bases. This created “Operation Fiery Vigil,” the emergency evacuation of roughly 20,000 people, all non-essential military and US military and defense civilians with their dependents from the bases and the last of them removed by November 1992.

However, with the unfortunate events surrounding the 9/11 bombing in New York, the US began restructuring and exercising its rights in the US-Philippine Defense Treaty as a part of its ”War on Terrorism” which included deployment of US forces to the Philippines in “Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines” to advise and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA)

On April 28, 2014, desiring to enhance cooperative capacities and efforts in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the Philippine and US governments executed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). This was intended to promote the following between them: interoperability, capacity building towards AFP modernization, strengthening AFP for external defense, maritime security, maritime domain awareness and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR).

The agreement allows US forces to access to and use of designated areas and facilities owned and controlled by the AFP at the invitation of the Philippine Government. It contains clear provision that the US will not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines and prohibition of entry to the Philippines of nuclear weapons. The EDCA has an initial term of 10 years, and thereafter will continue in force until terminated by either party after having given a one-year notice of intention to terminate.

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