EXCHANGE OF LETTERS BETWEEN FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT JOVITO SALONGA AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS SECRETARY BLAS OPLE ON THE ISSUE OF MLSA
|(As the United States stands ready to wage war against Iraq, Filipino leaders can no longer ignore the need to define and clarify the role that the Philippines ought to play in that event. Last Dec. 2002, former Senate President Jovito Salonga, who in 1991 led the Senate in rejecting the continued stay of the US military bases in the country, wrote Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople . Salonga proposed that US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone put down in writing, through a formal exchange of notes, his statement that the US does not want or need to have bases in the Philippines. What follows is the exchange of communication between Salonga and Ople.)|
|Dec. 23, 2002Secretary Blas P. Ople
Department of Foreign Affairs
ManilaDear Secretary Ople:Allow me to wish you and your family all the best in this season of love and grace.As an ordinary citizen and a former public official, I am deeply concerted about the seemingly endless squabbling among our high officials, rendering it difficult for the outside world to take our Government seriously, especially in the field of foreign affairs. I just wrote an essay, entitled, “Understanding Some Aspects of RP-US Relations in this Season of Peace and Goodwill,”and I have taken the liberty of sending a copy to you, along with this letter. I addressed a similar letter to Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, who received it last Saturday, Dec. 21, through his Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs.I pray and hope you will have the time, despite your hectic schedule, to read it carefully. There is a reference to you and an analysis of the MLSA Agreement on pp. 8 and 9, with which you may or may not agree. On p. 9, I made a specific proposal which should interest you and Secretary Reyes– for the sake of (1) protecting our own national interest; and (2) advancing the cause of national unity, based on principle, instead of expediency. The proposal is to request the U.S. government, through Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, to reduce to writing, by means of an EXCHANGE OF NOTES, the verbal disclaimers of the latter who reportedly told the media on or around Nov. 24, 2002–” We don’t want the bases, we don’t need them, and the MLSA has nothing to do with them.” These disclaimers are important to the nation, but under international law, these verbal disclaimers are not binding on the United States Government, especially and doubly so if they are merely reported by the media. I have indicated by footnote on p. 9 of the article, the meaning of “exchange of notes” in internaitonal law.Instead of challenging Vice President Guingona to go to the Supreme Court, which does not help anyone, including Supreme Court, I hope you will favor my proposal due to (1) the mounting criticisms here and aboroad of our dependency, neocolonialist status; and (2) the looming probability of a US-led preemptive war against Iraq in the New Year(2003), which could be in January, February, or a little later. Given the interpretation of the MLSA by the Executive Department, particularly the DFA and the DND, the bombing and/or invasion of Iraq, will involve the Philippines and probably kill and cripple thousands of Filipino OFWs and their children in Iraq, Kuwait and other places in the Middle East. When you were abroad last Dec. 5, I took up by phone this simple, common-sense proposal with Undersecretary Lauro Baja of the DFA. If I understood him correctly, he was apparently agreeable to the proposal and promised he would take it up with you upon your scheduled arrival that same evening. I was made to understand that he did so, as promised. But since I haven’t heard directly from you, I thought of writing this urgent letter. Whatever your reaction may be, whether positive or negative, kindly let me know in writing as early as possible, so there can be no possibility of miscommunication or erroneous interpretation.
Merry Christmas again, and may the New Year be a time of peace and goodwill not only for our family and loved ones but also for our people.
Republic of the Philippines
14 January 2003
Hon. Jovito R. Salonga
Dear Senator Salonga ,
I deeply appreciate your thoughtful letter of 23 December 2002, in which you shared with me a copy of your essay on aspects of our country’s relations with the United States. I respect your position on certain provisions of the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement(MLSA) which in your judgement run counter to some provisions of the Constitution.
Certainly, we both share the same objective in upholding our national interest when it comes to international agreements and this was the very guideline when the MLSA was drafted. In all aspects, the Technical Working Group took extra care in crafting the MLSA to be in form and in substance, an executive agreement.
With regard to your proposal for an exchange of notes between the Philippines and the United States on the MLSA which will contain verbal disclaimers of U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone before the media, it is my view that this may not be necessary. It has been mutually agreed upon by both parties in the Agreement and this is laid down clearly in the provisions that MLSA prohibits the construction and establishment of any United States military base or facility. Cognizant of the provisions of Article XVIII, Section 25 of the Constitution, the MLSA categorically states in its Part IV, paragraph (1)(a):
“No United States military base, facility,
Furher, I have clarified before Congressional leaders and the public that the MLSA does not contain any substantive obligations that would qualify it as a treaty — precisely because it simply is an administrative agreement to facilitate logistics support between the Defense Departments of the two countries. More importantly, there is no legal obligation in the Agreement to grant the logistics support. Merely a “best efforts” obligation to do so.
I would like to allay your fears that the MLSA compromises Philippine security interests. The Department of Foreign Affairs and our colleagues in the Defense Department have studied the matter thoroughly and it meets constitutional standards.
Please accept my warmest personal regards.
Blas F. Ople
February 6, 2003
Secretary Blas F. Ople
Dear Secretary Ople:
I have your long-awaited answer dated January 14, 2003 to my letter of Dec. 23, 2002– a tardy answer which, by the way, was actually delivered to my Office by your DFA messenger only last Jan. 30, 2003, that is, 38 days since the delivery to you of my letter of Dec. 23, 2002. As you will kindly recall, the simple proposal contained in my letter, was for you to serve the national interest by requesting the US Government, through Ambassador Ricciardone, to reduce in writing by means of an exchange of notes, his verbal disclaimers published in the media on or around November 24, 2002, where he was quoted as having said — ” We don’t want the bases, we don’t need them, and the MLSA has nothing to do with them.” In international law as well as in domestic law, these verbal disclaimers aired in the media, are not binding on the U.S. Government. In my letter to you, I said that whatever your reaction may be, whether positive or negative, let me know in writing as early as possible.
Because of its importance to our people, I wrote Senate President Franklin Drilon about the same proposal on Dec. 29, 2002, which was delivered to him on the same date. In addition to enclosing a copy of my Dec. 23, 2002 letter to you, I reminded him of the Ramos-Rusk Exchange of Notes of Sept. 16, 1966, which reduced the duration of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement from 50 to 25 years. This Exchange of Notes enabled the Philippine Senate 25 years later (Sept. 16, 1991) to say NO to the further stay of US bases in the Philippines, ending in the meantime more than 400 years of foreign military presence in the Philippines. On January 7, 2003, Senate President Drilon wrote you his letter — received and stamped in your DFA Office on January 9, 2003 — stating that “I(Drilon) find merit in the Salonga proposal for an exchange of notes” as this “may well put to rest the apprehension that the RP-US Mutual Logistics Support Agreement(MLSA) would lead to the return of the US Bases in the country.”
Forgive me for saying that for one who has been in the business of writing on various subjects under the sun, whether in or out of Government, your long silence without any answer in writing, as I humbly requested, was not only incredible but out of character.
I do not presume to know whether you finally caused the delivery of your answer to me last Jan. 30, 2003 only after you listened to the Jan. 23, 2003 State of the Union address of President George W. Bush whom you promptly extolled in your Manila Bulletin column of Feb. 2, 2003 as the “defender of civilization”. You also paid homage to the U.S. as not just “the remaining superpower, but the preeminent moral power” in the world — an extravagant tribute which, in my view, borders on idolatry. In contrast, Nelson Mandela, the towering statesman of Africa who fought and was imprisoned for his convictions for more than 27 years, described President Bush as a “man with no foresight and can’t think properly,” one who wants ” to plunge the whole world into a holocaust,” all because of the desire of the United States “to gain control of the oil resources of Iraq, “which as you know, has the second biggest oil reserves in the world.
Your belated answer, to put it bluntly, either missed or ignore the first point I stressed in my letter — namely, that the squabblings among our high officials render it quite difficult for the outside world to take our Government seriously, especially in the field of foreign affairs. For example, when Vice President Guingona, who can more than speak for himself, differed with your view that the MLSA is “nothing but a set of accounting and administrative procedures to facilitate reciprocal exchanges of supplies ” — which is a half-truth — you publicly challenged him(Vice President Guingona) to go to the Supreme Court(Philippine Daily Inquirer, Nov. 24, 2002). Unfortunately, you even claimed that the Supreme Court would dismiss his petition outright because “there is no justifiable(sic) controversy”, as if you also had the authority to speak for all the Supreme Court justices.
I can understand why you said in your answer to me that “an exchange of notes with U.S. Ambassador Ricciardone” — whose view of the MLSA you have echoed — “may not be necessary.” Pardon me, but what may not be necessary to you may be necessary and essential to the rest of the nation, particularly the more than 1.4 million Filipinos in the Middle EAst, in such places as Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and other places. Which is why President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo felt she had to go to Kuwait and give Filipino OFWs there the assurance that no one among them ” will get hurt or dislocated from employment” due to the looming war in nearby Iraq — a promise which our cash-starved, deficit-burdened Government may not be able to fulfill. Likewise, what may not be necessary to you may be necessary to the many law-abiding, moderate Muslims and their non-Muslim sympathizers not only in Mindanao but also in various parts of the Philippines who are shocked and enraged by the US-led war of aggression on Iraq, whose oppressed people are not enemies of our own exploited people.
In your letter to me, you cite two reasons for your stand, which I quote and refute point by point:
(1) “The MLSA states (Part IV,par. 1a) – ” No United States military base, facility, or permanent structure shall be constructed, established, or allowed under this Agreement.”
(2) Let me now quote your second point: ” I(Ople) clarified before Congressional leaders and the public that the MLSA does not contain any substantive obligations that would qualify it as a treaty — precisely because it is an administrative agreement to facilitate logistics support between the Defense Departments of the two countries. More importantly, there is no legal obligation in this Agreement to grant the logistics support. Meretly ‘a best efforts obligation to do so’ ”
(a) With due respect, the first part of this statement, namely that you “clarified before the leaders of Congress that the MLSA does not contain any substantive obligation that would qualify it as a treaty” is a non sequitur and is a crude attempt to elevate itself. Under the law of evidence, here and in the U.S., “when the terms of an agreement (such as the MLSA) have been reduced to writing, there can be no evidence of the terms of the agreement than the agreement itself”, in this case, the MLSA — not your so-called clarification.
Nor can a former Opposition Senator validly usurp the prerogative of the Senate, now dominated by the People Power Coalition, to determine whether an international agreement, purporting to be an executive agreement, is in fact a Treaty, which must, under the Constitution, be ratified by the Senate.
(b) The second part of the statement that “there is no legal obligation in the Agreement to grant the logistics support, merely a ‘best efforts’ obligation to do so ” sounds convincing, except that you did not tell us –(1) that “logistics support” under the MLSA includes “storage units” and “port services”. Oxford and Webster dictionaries define “port ” and “port of entry” as any city or town with a harbor — like Subic — or an airport –like Clark Field –“where goods pass in and out of a country or any place where travelers may enter a country;” (2) that your superior authority, President Arroyo, made an unsolicited offer to the U.S., on or around September 10, 2002, to make use of Philippine air space and refueling facilities — which, by the way, are conveniently located in Clark Field and Subic — an offer which Arroyo reaffirmed after Wall Street Journal, it its editorial a week later, castigated her for her attempt to renege on her offer, due to the well-taken criticism that her offer was a palpable violation of the Constitution. Section 3, Article II of the Constitution says that the Philippines “renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally-accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace…and amity with all nations.” Section 23(1) of Article VI provides, ” The Congress, by a vote of two thirds of both Houses in joint session assembled, voting separately, shall have the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war.” President Arroyo has no legitimate power and authority to commit us to the side of the United States in the event of the bombing and invasion of Iraq which appears inevitable due to the formidable presence of around 150,000 US troops surrounding Iraq and the dilemma that now confronts President Bush — he can no longer back out and demobilize what he had assemble to threaten Saddam into submission, which the latter refuses to do; Secretary Colin Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003 presentation of the incriminating evidence against Saddam before the Security Council which has just ended, did not seem to impress the other Council members –China, France and Russia– who have the veto power; and the time for the U.S. to begin and make a solo flight as the world’s No. 1 policeman cannot go beyond early March 2003 due to the harshness of the weather in Iraq with the approach of summer; North Korea’s advancing nuclear weapons program and the urgent need for the US to begin direct talks with its ruler before he gets more nuclear weapons beyond the two he may already possess; and finally, the amazing growth of the peace movement all over the world , particularly in the United States.
Like many Filipinos, I pray and hope that a shooting war does not occur in Iraq in the very near future, since the consequences of today’s war to our people and to the national economy will be devastating and disastrous, compared to the pittance in terms of financial and military aid we are supposed to get from the United States. I am not writing this letter simply to get you in a debate. Or even to make you feel the heavy burden of responsibility that will partly fall on you in the event of a real war which will surely cause tremendous loss of life and limb and unimaginable suffering among millions of our own people, here and abroad. Now that the President has decided not to run in the 2004 elections, my hope is that she will have the wisdom, the humility and the grace to retrace her steps in time and lead our people to the path of peace. For the hour is close to midnight.
I believe our greater responsibility, in a crucial time like this, is to seek and know the truth, for ourselves as well as for others, because in the language of the Gospel, only the truth will set us free. The good thing about truth is that no superpower here on earth can bomb the truth or shoot it down.
Jovito R. Salonga
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on Feb 11th 2003