Time to Plan Orderly U.S. Pullout, Filipino Senator Says
A senator has called on a U.S.-Philippine committee to meet Tuesday to begin planning the withdrawal of the 93-year-old American military presence here.
Edgardo Angara, one of the minority 11 senators who supported a treaty that would have allowed the United States to maintain its bases here, principally the Subic Bay Naval Base, said the new agreement, the existing version of which formally expires on Monday, “is dead. There’s absolutely no way to reverse the situation. We must now activate on Tuesday the committee on withdrawal.”
U.S. and Philippine officials earlier had said the committee will meet immediately to draw up a program for the orderly departure of 8,000 American military personnel and the dismantling of Subic and Clark Air Base. They once were among the most important American facilities in East Asia. Clark, however, was heavily damaged in June by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.
Twelve of 23 Filipino senators voted this week to reject the new bases treaty, which chiefly would have allowed for continued operations at Subic. Opponents called the agreement inequitable and an insult to Philippine sovereignty.
Senate proponents of the bases treaty gave up their struggle Thursday to delay the final vote and expect rejection of the pact on Monday. They focused instead on steps to prolong the U.S. withdrawal for up to three years to ease the potentially dire economic consequences of the departure.
The prospect Thursday for a U.S. military pullout prompted the Communist National Democratic Front, whose guerrilla army is fighting a 22-year-old insurgency, to unilaterally declare a cease-fire. The group said in a statement last week that it would stop fighting with the government if a “clear trend” emerged for a U.S. withdrawal. Its statement Thursday urged the Philippine government to order its own armed forces to honor the cease-fire and agree to reopen peace talks.
The group also urged the Philippine Senate to reject the bases treaty in such a way that no other means could be found to allow a continued U.S. military presence, which the Communists’ 18,000-strong guerrilla army has blamed for the Filipinos’ economic and social crisis.
With the treaty all but dead, several senators said they will propose a resolution permitting a longer U.S. withdrawal period than the year that the constitution allows.
Sen. Rene Saguisag, a treaty opponent, suggested that the agreement’s apparent defeat is not linked only to the $203 million a year compensation that Washington had proposed to pay. “The issue is respect, not money,” he said. “It’s not ‘Yankee go home,’ but ‘Be my guest.’ We should part as friends.”
U.S. officials have said they are ready to relocate from Subic in less than one year. The volcano-ravaged Clark Air Base has already been all but abandoned.
Sen. John Osmena, a treaty proponent, said he hopes the U.S. withdrawal will be extended over a long time so that the likely Senate rejection of the bases pact can be challenged in court.
The treaty’s apparent demise was cruel and reckless, said Sen. Ernesto Herrera, secretary general of the umbrella Trade Union Congress of the Philippines. “It is cruel that a few senators should decide the fate of the people,” he said angrily. “The decision is very reckless because there are no alternative plans, no livelihood programs for these people.”
His union represents 80,000 Filipino workers directly or indirectly employed by the U.S. military at Clark and Subic. About 42,000 lost their jobs when the United States closed Clark. Another 45,000 face retrenchments at Subic starting next week.
Roberto Flores, president of the base workers union, said that of 6,000 workers affected when the United States pulled out two small radar facilities in March, only 200 have found other jobs. “What can the government do? Where are the alternative plans?” he asked.