The administration appears set to allow unspecified numbers of foreign military personnel into the country in early May 2009 for “disaster relief training exercises” despite the absence of treaties giving this legal basis as required by the Constitution.
IBON Features – This disregard for the charter’s restriction on the presence of foreign troops and facilities in the country clearly shows that removing this is on the administration’s Charter change (Cha-cha) agenda.
The United States (US) and the Philippines will co-sponsor the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Voluntary Demonstration of Response (VDR) to be held in Central Luzon on May 4-8. The ASEAN Secretariat reports that the activity is a “civilian-led, military supported” disaster relief training exercise with 12 countries “[providing] assets, personnel, and capabilities”: US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, European Union and the Philippines. At least eight other countries will participate as observers.
The ARF, which was launched in 2004, is projected as the “premier regional political and security forum in the Asia-Pacific region”. The ARF has the “war on terror” on its broad political and security agenda, and also includes so-called transnational crimes, disarmament of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction, etc. In line with US military doctrines and practice, disaster relief training such as in the ARF VDR is among the pretexts for advancing such security agenda.
The real intent of the VDR as pushed by the US Pacific Command (PACOM) and the Philippine government since early 2008 is a multinational/regional military exercise to improve interoperability among ARF nation militaries under the de facto leadership of the US. The ARF is seen to fulfill the strategic objectives of the US in Southeast Asia, which are to maintain its hegemony and prevent being excluded from the region by the big East Asian powers (i.e. Japan or China) or by any significant grouping of smaller countries, to preserve free access to major sea lanes in the region, and to expand trade and investment opportunities in Asian countries.
However that kind of overtly multi-country military exercise is prevented by the Philippines not having Visiting Forces Agreements (VFAs) with any other country aside from the US. Talks are still just on-going with Australia and Brunei for such pacts. But even the US-RP VFA has been criticized for, among other things, not yet having been ratified by the US Senate as required by Article XVIII, Section 25 of the Constitution.
Since the fundamentally political and security agenda of the ARF VDR will not be advanced by a genuinely civilian activity, the participation of foreign militaries will still be significant.
The VDR will include demonstrations of land, air and maritime search and rescue, medical assistance/evacuation, engineering reconstruction and public relations civil-military projects. It is likely that foreign military personnel and resources will be used for air lifts, sea lifts, and medical/dental missions. Subic Bay and the former Clark airbase in particular could be used as important exercise hubs by military vessels and aircraft.
Even if downplayed any such foreign military presence is however unconstitutional. The government is certainly fully aware of this because it has since 2008 been holding numerous interagency meetings to try and find ways around the constitutional prohibition. The government should then be categorical that there will be no foreign troops participating in the exercises in any way that would violate the Constitutional prohibition on their presence without the required treaties.
The planned entry of foreign troops shows that the Arroyo administration’s Cha-cha agenda is turning the Philippines into a country that does not only plead for foreign investments and employment abroad but also for military protection from other nations, particularly the US. This is even if the country has no known or declared enemies, unlike the US and the presence of whose troops in the country only increases the possibility of participation in wars not of our choosing and indeed of retaliation. All in all, the Cha-cha agenda further destroys the country’s sovereignty and our capacity to economically and politically stand for ourselves. IBON Features