Mar 152013

The American View on the bases in RP

US presence important


US Embassy, Manila

August 20, 1986

(First of a series)


The US military facilities at Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base have become the subject of considerable discussion in Philippine media. US government officials have stated on a number of occasions that the USG believes the US military presence is useful and important, not only for US interests, but also for regional security and for the external defense of the Philippines.

At the same time, we recognize that public discussion and debate about these installations is necessary for an understanding of the issues involved. It is as a contribution to that discussion that we offer the following answers to questions frequently asked.

Are these American bases or Philippine bases

There is some confusion ere, because in the press or in public discussion the term “American bases” is commonly used. Legally, however, there are no “American bases,” but rather “American facilities” located within Philippine bases. This is an important legal point, correctly reflecting Philippine ownership and sovereignty over the bases.

Following the MBA review of 1979, all base lands were formally placed under AFP jurisdiction, with portions of the bases set aside as “American facilities,” for use by the United States. Clark Air Base has a total land area of about 53,000 hectares. The American facility occupies 4,500 hectares or about 8% of the base area. At Subic, the base land area is about 14,800 hectares. The American facility occupies 6,300 hectares, or about 42 percent.

Do the American bases in the Philippines create a new magnet for nuclear attack?

The point at issue here is whether the bases are more likely to attract or to deter an attack. The evidence seems to support deterrence. If American military installations around the world are a magnet, they are a very weak one, in the 40 years since the end of WW II no country with US bases and a US mutual defense treaty has been attacked. Countries without such protection like Afghanistan and Cambodia are the ones which have been invaded and occupied by foreign powers.

Secondly, while American facilities in the Philippines play a very important role in the logistical support of regional US forces and provide security against conventional military threats in Southeast Asia, they are of little significance in a nuclear exchange between the superpowers. In the unlikely event of the World War III, the Soviets highest priority targets will be American missiles based in the United States and abroad submarines under the world’s oceans. Nothing at Clark or Subic threatens the Soviet homeland.

While the magnet of attack argument raises understandable concerns, history repeatedly teaches that weakness is provocative – it is a great temptation to strong neighbors. Governments of the 13 nations which host American forces around the world remain convinced that alliances which ensure a balance of power contribute to deter aggressive nations.

How can the Philippines be truly independent with the bases here? Aren’t they an infringement on Philippine sovereignty?

In the strictest sense, any agreement between individuals or nations is a limitation, or infringement, on independence. The question of whether military bases constitute an infringement of national sovereignty depends on the nature of the agreement. Is it mutual and voluntary, with benefits received in return for costs incurred? In the international relations such an “agreement of comity” is not usually considered an infringement on national sovereignty.

Surely, we would count Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore as truly sovereign and independent countries. Yet all have foreign military forces permanently based in their countries under mutual defense agreements.

American forces are guaranteed “unhampered military operations” by the bases agreement. Doesn’t this infringe on Philippine sovereignty?

While the 1979 amendment to the MBA assured US forces “unhampered military operations,” it was not intended to permit American forces to disregard the views of the Philippine government. The purpose of this clause was to prevent, for example the construction of a tower near a runway, or other interference with normal base operations.

The possible broader interpretation was discussed in the during the 1983 review of the MBA and in order to avoid any misunderstanding, both sides agreed to restate the earlier understanding of the Serrano-Bohlen Agreement that operations “shall be the subject of prior consultation with the government of the Republic of the Philippines, notwithstanding the provision of the 1979 Amendment to the Military Bases Agreement assuring the United States of unhampered military operations involving its forces in the Philippines.”


The American View on the bases in RP

In the mutual interest


US Embassy, Manila

August 21, 1986

(Second of a series)

          In fact, such consultation has long been practiced. During the Vietnam War, American forces acceded to Philippine desires that combat operations not be launched from the Philippines. As a result, B-52 missions were flown from Guam, adding 3,000 miles and several thousand dollars to each flight. The RP-US Mutual Defense Board, which meets monthly, assures continuous, close consultation between Philippine and American military forces.

Is the money paid to the Philippines aid or rent?

The text of the Military Bases Agreement states that the base shall be provided “free of rent, in furtherance of the mutual interest of both countries. “Beyond that, the United States pay no “rent” to any of the 13 countries where it has military bases. In the American View, any alliance is based on mutual assistance.

In the Philippines the United States provides economic and military assistance while the Philippine government provides territorial assistance – the base facilities. All countries allied with the United States are asked to assist with the partnership in appropriate ways. Those which can afford it contribute financially toward the cost of maintaining US forces in their countries – in the case of Japan, well over $1,000 million a year.

The US government pays “rent” only for strictly commercial transactions which carry no obligation to protect or defend an ally (e.g., a satellite tracking station in the Seychelles).

Why do Spain and Greece get $400-500 million a year, as compared to only $180 million for the Philippines?

Criticism on this issue results from misunderstanding about the terms of the agreements. American military base agreements provide two major for of assistance – grant and credit (Credits are long term, concessionary loans.) The 1983 MBA review commits the United States to provide the Philippines $900 million over the period 1985-89, or an average of $180 million per year. For 1986 the US Congress approved for the Philippines $110 million in ESF grants, $50 million in military assistance grants, and $20 million in military sales credit, or $160 million grants and $20 million in credits.

In 1986 Spain will receive $412 million, Greece %501 million.

However, of Spain’s $412 million, $400 million is in credits of Greece’s $501 million $500 million is in credits. In terms of grant funds which need not be repaid – the Philippines receives $160 million, Spain $12 million, Greece $1 million. Of all the allied countries where the United States has military bases, only Turkey, on the Soviet Union’s southern border, receives substantially more grant assistance than the Philippines.

What about the social and moral issues associated with the bases – bare, prostitution, orphans?

These are clearly negative factors to be considered in analyzing the costs and benefits of the bases. US military authorities do not condone damaging or disruptive social behavior but such problems are an unfortunate bases reality near any military base – not just American bases. Until human nature changes these issues are likely to remain with us, but communities near the bases can count on sincere and continuing American cooperation with local governments and social organizations to alleviate the situation.

Could not the Philippines make better use of the land and facilities for its own development objectives?

As with any asset, there are always tradeoffs that a person, or in this case, a government must consider in order to decide what use brings the greatest benefit. The economy of the Philippines benefits in several ways from the bases. First, there are the substantial annual economic benefits created by US military spending in the Philippine economy. Second, US security assistance enables the Philippine government to allocate more its budget to non-military sectors of the economy, thereby assisting in economic growth.

Finally, the bases contribute to regional security providing the Philippines and its neighbors with a peaceful environment in which to concentrate on economic development. Given the limited size and specialized nature of the US facilities, it is difficult to imagine any realistic commercial alternative which could come close to matching the very large economic benefits presently obtained by the Philippines from the bases. Some examples:

In December 1985 the American facilities in the Philippines employed 20,581 full-time workers, 14,249 contract workers, 5,064 domestics and 1,746 concessionaries, for a total direct employment 42,265 Filipinos. Annual salaries for Filipino workers totaled $82,885,042 (or about $1,658 million), the second largest payroll in the Philippines after the Philippine government itself.


The American View on the bases in RP

$1-B infusion annually


US Embassy, Manila

August 22, 1986

(Third of a series)

          Employees at the bases represent a broad range of skilled and unskilled labor, from laborers to lawyers, machinists to meteorologists, typist to technicians. Wages, based on surveys of leading Philippine corporations, are apparently very attractive, producing an average of 40 applicants for every job opening and a very low annual resignation rate of 3 percent.

The following are representative samples of monthly wages paid by the bases, as of 1986 (pay rates include allowances but exclude the P2, 000 mid-year bonus and a Christmas bonus equal to 137 percent of monthly salary: to become 200 percent of monthly salary in 1987)

Janitor – P2,023-2,706, laborer – 2,485-2,921, sales clerk – 2,493-2,930, driver – 2,663-3,135, clerk typist – 2,920-3,440 painter/carpenter – 3,020-3,561, electronics mechanic – 3465 – 4093, supervisor foreman – 446 – 5868, attorney – 6,365-7906, and supervisory engineer – 7,200-8,565.

In addition to direct employment of over 40000 Filipinos, the US facilities create a great deal of  indirect employment by doing business with Philippine companies – over 900 had contracts with the bases in 1985. Overall, the US military directly added some 370 million dollars to the Philippine economy last year, spending the equivalent of P20 million per day.

Since 1980, the Economic Support Fund program associated with the Military Bases Agreement has funded some 2,000 furnished, typhoon-resistant elementary schools throughout the Philippines, more than 1,400 kilometers of local barangay roads, 28 large public markets, 4 hospitals, 5 slaughterhouses and 11 vocational/secondary schools.

On the military side, the Mutual Defense Treaty makes American forces available to assist the Philippines in the high cost areas of air and naval defense while the MBA security assistance package provides funding to obtain and maintain Philippine military equipment. As a result, the government of the Philippines is able to allocate much more of its budget to non-military sectors than would otherwise be the case.

The 1985 Philippine defense budget was, among Asian nations, the lowest per capita, the lowest as a percentage of GNP at 1.1% (other ranged from Thailand’s 3.5 percent of Singapore’s 5.8 percent) and 5th out of 6 in total defense spending. Only Brunei spent less for defense. A comparison with other Asian defense budgets demonstrates this saving very clearly:

1985 Asian defense budgets – Indonesia – $2100 million; Thailand – $1,800 million; Malaysia – $1300 million; Singapore – $1090 million; and Philippines – $437 million (or P7866 million at the 1985 exchange rate P18/$1).

In summary, the economic benefits created by the American facilities in the Philippines are substantial. No professional study on indirect, multiplier effects as been published since a 1971 Rand Corporation report, but inserting current US military spending figures into this earlier analysis indicates that American military facilities in the Philippines probably account for 3.5-4 percent of Philippine’s gross national product, an annual infusion of over $1000 million (or P20000 million) into the Philippine economy and the direct or indirect employment of about 500,000 Filipinos.

Why aren’t Filipinos working at the bases paid in dollars at American rates of pay?

Salaries for Filipino base employees are covered by Philippine government regulations requiring all domestic obligations to be paid in pesos. Filipinos working at the bases receive Philippine wage rates (based upon a survey of wages paid for similar work by leading corporations in the Philippines) for the same reason that Japanese workers receive Japanese wages or Germans receive German salaries – the rates of pay depend on the economy in which the worker is employed.

Are the US forces involved in counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines?

No. The mutual defense agreement applies exclusively to external aggression against the Philippines. The US is not involved in combat, combat support operations, counterinsurgency operations, nor are there any American military advisory attached to AFP units. The sole functions of the small (23-man) JUSMAG group are the ordering f equipment under the military assistance program and instruction in the use and repair of this equipment. JUSMAG has no operational functions. As allegations of counterinsurgency activities by US forces are investigated, the United States is confident they will be found to be without basis in fact.



The American View on the bases in RP

If no longer welcome, bases will be pulled out


US Embassy, Manila

August 23, 1986


Are there nuclear weapons at the bases?

To avoid helping the Soviets and other interested parties, the US government has a standard, worldwide policy of neither confirming nor denying such information. However, the MBA also obligates the United States to inform the Philippines (confidentially, of course) about the numbers, equipment and weapons systems of US forces in the Philippines, and to advise the Philippines of any major changes in this status.

What about problems of legal jurisdiction? Doesn’t the United States transfer serviceman back to the US to avoid trial?

While there were problems in the past, very few complaints about legal jurisdiction issues have surfaced since the 1979 MBA revision. US military and civilian personnel have an express obligation to respect the laws of the Philippines.

American and Philippines legal authorities cooperate closely in the investigation of crimes and American servicemen charged with offenses are placed on “international hold” to ensure their presence in the Philippines until completion of judicial proceedings. US military authorities have no jurisdiction over Filipinos. If an offense is committed by a Filipino, he or she is promptly turned over to a Philippine law enforcement agency,

What is the present status of the military bases agreement?

Like the entire Philippine-American relationship the MBA has changed with the times, undergoing more than 40 amendments since its signing in 1947. The next formal review of the Military Bases Agreement will occur sometime before the end of the current 1985-89 five year period, at the mutual convenience of both parties. At that time the MBA will be reviewed and, if any difficulties have arisen that the MBA Joint Committee has not been able to resolve through its consultations, the issues will be formally raised for discussion and solution

In 191, the current 25-year base agreement changes to an indefinite term, an agreement which can be terminated by either party upon one year’s notice. This provision is similar to that in American military base agreements with NATO nations, Japan and Korea.

What happens if the Philippines asks the Americans to leave in 1991? Will they really go?

The US facilities at Clark and Subic are important to the United States. In terms of US interests, they support American air and naval operations in the Pacific Ocean, South China Sea and Indian Ocean: they offset the expanding Soviet military presence in Vietnam and elsewhere in the Pacific; and, by ensuring a balance of power; they provide a stable regional environment which contributes to economic growth and prosperity.

The United States has no wish to relocate its military facilities to other areas in the region. Other possible base sites are less strategically located, do not have the large and efficient work force which has developed at Clark and Subic, and will take a great deal of time and money to build. If, however, the government of the Philippines exercises its prerogative to terminate the MBA after 1991, the United States would certainly not, as some allege, insist on staying as an unwanted guest.

Over the years Philippine administration and American presidents have found the bases to serve the mutual interest of both countries. Reputable opinion surveys have consistently shown a majority of Filipinos favoring continued close ties with the United States and acceptance of the bases as a part of that relationship.

Our hope is that the mutual benefits arising from the current basing arrangements, reinforced by genuine American efforts to be a cooperative partner with the Philippines, will result in a continuation of the close and cooperative Philippine American ties which have roved fruitful and flexible over the past 40 years.


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 in Jan 28th 2012




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