POSTSCRIPT / April 28, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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SC spokesman pokes finger into land deal?

STRATFOR THEORY DISMISSED: You can safely dismiss the scenario painted by Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), a Texas-based think tank, showing the United States transforming the rebel-infested island of Basilan into a forward US base in its global campaign against terrorism.

After the closing 10 years ago of Clark and Subic, the last of several US facilities phased out from strategic sites around the archipelago, it would be extremely difficult rewinding the tape of history and placing the Philippines back on that platform dotted with US bases.

The first and major obstacle is the Constitution with Section 25 of its transitory Article XVIII banning “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities” after the expiration of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement in 1991.

You might say that that is precisely the reason why we see recurring moves to amend the charter. Once opened for revision, the Constitution could be rid of its nationalistic provisions banning foreign military bases and limiting foreign ownership of strategic businesses.

If we talk of possibilities, such revisions are possible. But, everything considered, such amendments being adopted is quite improbable.

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U.S. PHASING OUT BASES: The plain fact is that the US has been closing its bases in various places, including the US mainland, for economic and other reasons. The worldwide network of its bases has been continually shrinking.

In light of present realities, if we want US bases back on Philippine soil that badly, we may have to beg for them and spend for them the way the Japanese do to keep US military presence.

As expected, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismissed the Stratfor analysis as pure speculation in his meeting with the Manila press yesterday,

He did not have to embark on an elaborate discussion of how farfetched was the Stratfor theory. He said simply and categorically that the US has no intention of establishing bases in the Philippines all over again.

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PRESENT PACTS SATISFACTORY: The current US military presence in Basilan, Zamboanga, Clark Field and other places in Luzon is in connection with the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement and the global campaign against terrorism (which the Philippines joined with alacrity right after the Sept. 11 bombing last year of Manhattan and the Pentagon).

In response to a question, Myers said that the US is happy with its present bilateral arrangements with the Philippines, implying there is no need at this time for the two allies to sign new or additional security agreements.

With a sympathetic Supreme Court in the background, the legal frameworks of the Mutual Defense Pact and the VFA have proved to be adequate for the present needs of both countries. The court recently upheld the VFA whose use as cover for the Basilan operations was questioned.

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CIVIC ACTION EXPLAINED: Myers downplayed suggestions that US troops were brought to Basilan to play an active role in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf terror group. He said that the mission of US forces on the island is to train and assist their Filipino partners.

Also in reply to a question, Myers said that the civic action component of the Balikatan exercise is not an afterthought or a later addition to the program. He said that looking after the residents and making life better for them has always been an original element of joint exercises.

While some of the roads, waterworks, airstrips and other facilities being put up on Basilan by US military personnel will be used by the Americans, Myers said they will primarily benefit local residents.

The military aid arriving in substantial quantities is part of the commitment of President George W. Bush made when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo went on a working visit to the White House in November last year. The aid is in addition to the usual assistance programmed under existing agreements.

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GMA WON’T SIGN IT: The declaration of President Arroyo, repeated the other day, that she would not sign the controversial $350-million incineration agreement between the government and Jancom Environmental Corp. has assured pro-environment groups that the money and influence of the project proponents would not prevail.

But still, the watch should continue. Having spent hundreds of millions pushing the deal through a corrupt bureaucracy, it is unlikely that Jancom would give up that easily.

Even now, compromise amendments to the contract are being suggested to jumpstart it. We should not underestimate the cleverness, and clout, of that Makati-based law firm known to have captured the inside lane to Malacanang.

The reported offer to reduce the contract price by as much as 30 percent only exposes the obscenity of the original deal as packaged by operators who thought they could get away with it. The hefty discount offered only confirms that the project was grossly overpriced from the very beginning.

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KHAN SIDESWIPED: Sorry to be still talking of garbage on a Sunday, but we were intrigued by the Supreme Court spokesman’s walking into the fray triggered by the tribunal’s upholding the validity of the Jancom contract.

Why did Assistant Court Administrator Ismael G. Khan Jr., the SC spokesman, cover up details showing that contrary to his claim Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was still Chief Presidential Legal Counsel when Malacanang was laying the basis for the Jancom contract way back since April 1994?

Khan started his reckoning of events only from May 2, 1996 (or after Justice Carpio had left the Palace) and blithely concluded that the erstwhile presidential counsel had nothing to do with the Jancom deal. He tried hiding telltale details before May 1996. Why?

Bantay Kalikasan and Bantay Kontrata, among the organizations questioning the Jancom deal, have disclosed documents that may explain Khan’s unusual interest in garbage disposal.

They have papers showing that Khan had been granted a power of attorney to sell 21 parcels of land with a total area of 1,510,000 square meters in San Antonio, Zambales, to FLB-Kabukiran Garden, a participant in the solicited Build-Operate-Own tender for the Metropolitan Manila Solid Waste Management Project in 2000.

Bantay Kontrata deplored that Khan, as attorney-in-fact of the owners, was pushing the sale despite his knowing that the land was classified as a military reservation and covered by an Industrial Forest Management Agreement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 28, 2002)

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