POSTSCRIPT / September 30, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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We favor giving US access to Subic, Clark

ONE CONDITION: If our President formally declares that we will allow American forces to use Subic and Clark for the servicing of their warships and aircraft, we will go along with the idea — provided base facilities are not used as launching pads for direct attack missions anywhere.

That’s our only condition. If visiting American air and seacraft are enroute to attacking an enemy target, we should require that they stop over or land first in another port outside the Philippines before proceeding on their mission.

We believe that such service stops on Philippine bases by US warships and jetplanes are amply covered by the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement that has supplanted the old military bases pact.

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CONSTITUTIONAL BAN: Some sectors are objecting to the use of Subic and Clark by American forces being deployed in connection with the anti-terrorism campaign of the US. The objectors’ main legal argument is that the Constitution bans foreign troops on Philippine soil.

They cite Section 25 of Article XVIII (Transitory Provisions) of the charter that says: “…(F)oreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting party.”

They point out that the VFA is only an executive agreement and not a treaty contemplated under Section 25. The VFA is not a treaty because, according to objectors, it was not submitted to a referendum and the US itself does not regard it as a treaty.

The VFA not being a treaty, they conclude, it cannot be used under Section 25 to justify the proposed presence here of American and other foreign troops.

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PERMANENT BASING ONLY: These arguments of those opposing American military presence have long been answered, but we will comment on them because they are being brought out again.

The main point that should be brought out is that the transitory Section 25 refers to and bans only the permanent basing or stationing here of foreign forces — not the temporary or passing presence of foreign military personnel whose naval and aircraft stop over only for servicing.

If we give the constitutional ban on foreign forces an all-encompassing application, it would result in the absurd and unwanted situation where all vessels of friendly nations (other than the US) can no longer make port calls or stopovers, even in emergencies, just because they are manned by or they ferry foreign military personnel.

We read “servicing” to refer to repairs, rest, gassing up, taking of provisions, and similar technical and necessary contingencies. We take such servicing as a business transaction similar to that of foreign airliners stopping over, sometimes staying for an extended period, for similar commercial purposes.

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BUSINESS TRANSACTION: Introducing the term “transaction,” we assume that before President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allows such service stops, she will first negotiate the best business terms with the Americans and others who want to avail themselves of the space, services and provisions on Subic and Clark.

We don’t want to see our President and her advisers being carried away by emotions, a favorite tack of Americans dealing with Filipinos. Our long history of friendship with the US should not blind us into accepting just any payment offered.

We had been suckers in previous negotiations, accepting peanuts. We had given away valuable assets, including part of our sovereignty, in exchange for antiquated planes, ships and other military materiel whose depreciated value in the US books is virtually zero.

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LET’S BE REALISTIC: This time, we want to see our President striking a good deal before she gives in. That’s not being materialistic, but being realistic. And Americans, hard-nosed businessmen that they are, understand it.

Hindi po nakakahiya ang humingi o mag-demand ng tamang kabayaran. Nararapat lang. Lalo na’t matagal na po tayong niloloko ng mga iyan.

Look at what Pakistan is reportedly getting in return for allowing American military movements (but no permanent basing, as in our case) within its territory. Its getting in return a write-off of Islamabad’s overdue $30-billion foreign debt is not bad.

We have always fought alongside American, but look what Japan got and what Vietnam is now getting after their respective wars against the US.

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WHAT’S THE DEAL?: We heard that in exchange for unhampered access to Subic and Clark we would get a couple of mothballed planes, some leaking tubs and soon-to-be junked heavy weapons — plus a state visit to Washington, DC, for our President.

(Don’t look now, but to some of our military planners, acquiring a few used planes and naval vessels and piles of Vietnam war surplus is the acme of the “modernization” of our destitute armed forces.)

If Americans think we’re that cheap anyway, why not throw in a parade and review at Annapolis honoring our presidential security adviser and Annapolis champion boxer Roilo Golez — like they staged a parade one time at West Point to massage the ego of visiting alumnus Fidel V. Ramos?

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OTHER ISSUES: Going back to the temporary presence of American war materiel and personnel on Subic and Clark, we hope that our describing it as a commercial transaction did not give the wrong impression that it is a simple matter.

It is not. There many questions and many problems that American presence would raise aside from the matter of compensation. (Actually, the most contentious issue would be that of criminal jurisdiction, but that is already taken care of by the VFA.)

For US naval vessels and their crew, probably a good model of how they should be handled and billed is nearby Singapore, which is raking in substantial revenue from its shipyard facilities.

For aircraft, a good basis for comparison would be the commercial rates for airliners being serviced at our international airports.

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BACK TO PRE-VFA DAYS?: One basic question is whether US access to Subic and Clark would mean a return to the pre-VFA status when the Americans had virtual control of what were technically Philippine facilities.

It should not mean that Filipinos would again have to apply for passes to be able to enter Subic or Clark, or that American GIs and their sentry dogs would make their overbearing presence felt along the perimeter fence.

The almost extraterritorial character of Subic and Clark in the hands of the US military in pre-VFA days was a source of irritation. On the level of the man in the street, the question had been reduced to: If the Americans required a pass of Filipinos entering the base squatting on Philippine soil, why were US servicemen not required to get passes before being allowed to cross the base gate to enter the civilian community outside the base?

What would the arrangement be this time?

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TOUGH SECURITY KNOT: On the practical side, we see a frightening security problem arising once we allow American military presence in connection with a campaign seen by some Islamic quarters as a holy crusade or an American “jihad” in reverse.

American warships, jetplanes and other equipment on Subic or Clark would be sitting ducks for terrorists or plain anarchists. Getting to them or the US personnel assigned to them would be relatively easy, especially for Clark which is sprawled over an unprotected flat area.

Mortar fire alone, from a mobile location outside the perimeter fence, would be enough to give the authorities a king-sized security problem. American servicemen going on R&R (rest and recreation) would also be easy targets once they step out.

An obvious solution to this R&R problem, of course, would be for the mountain to go to a horny Mohammed if Mohammed chooses not to go to the mountain, but that is getting ahead of the bedtime story.

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CONG DADONG AIRPORT: The top-class air terminal built by Americans on Clark Field has been renamed Diosdado Macapagal International Airport after GMA’s late father who hailed from nearby Lubao town.

For a while there, we thought that GMA should have held in abeyance the renaming of the airport after her late father until the fate of Clark’s airport is ascertained.

In the juicy contract for the building and operation of the $350-million Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport complex in a 65-hectare section of Villamor airbase, the government has agreed not to develop other international airports for the next 25 years after Terminal 3 absorbs Terminal 1 (old NAIA) and Terminal 2 (now being used exclusively by Philippine Airlines).

This ban, extracted from Malacañang by the Terminal 3 contractor Philippine Air Terminals Co. Inc. (PIATCO), also affects Clark. While PIATCO is riding high for two decades, the development of the Cong Dadong hairfort will have to wait?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 30, 2001)

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