Apr 102013

U.S. Policy in Asia and the State
of Philippine-U.S. Security Relations





Roland G. Simbulan


Professor III in Development Studies and Social Sciences, University of the Philippines
& National Chairperson, Nuclear Free-Philippines Coalition (NFPC)

(Lecture delivered at UP Asian Center during the Symposium of the Asian Peace Alliance, Asian Center Auditorium, 29 August, 2002.)

US Strategic Posture in the Asia-Pacific

Since September 11, 2001, as part of its international campaign against terrorism, the United States has made the Philippines its “second front” next to Afghanistan in its fight against perceived terrorists. With the attack against the very symbols of imperial capitalism (World Trade Center) and US military hegemony (Pentagon building- the US Department of Defense), the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has given the US the carte blanche to go full-scale in its efforts to renew American military presence in the Philippines and, possibly, even restore its military facilities and bases.

Any restoration of US military presence and facilities in the Philippines would have regional, if not international, repercussions. In the history of US bases in the Philippines, these have been actively used as staging areas for military intervention, strikes and attacks against other Asian countries as in the cases of Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. This is evidenced by US official documents that speak of the regional role of the Philippines in the fulcrum of US security interests in Asia and as far as the Middle East.

The United States sees the Philippines as a good location to restore its military forces in Southeast Asia in the light of threats from Islamic fundamentalist groups especially from Indonesia and Malaysia where the US finds it dangerous to deploy US forces.  The Philippines is also the gateway of the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf and would be therefore ideal for forward-deployed US forces in the Western Pacific.

From the 1900s to 1991, the Philippines was the Pentagon’s military stronghold in its economic, political and military linchpin in Southeast Asia. US bases in the Philippines provided important logistical support to US wars in Korea and Vietnam, and later in the Gulf in the war against Iraq. The Philippines also served as a regional center for the CIA’s covert operations against Indonesia and against the national liberation movements in Indochina.1

With the victory of the Filipino people’s struggle against the US bases in 1991, US military presence shifted to  Japan, which became the cornerstone of US power in the Pacific and adjacent areas thru the US-Japan Security Treaty. In Okinawa, US Marine Expeditionary units that now train regularly in Balikatan exercises in the Philippines, form the core of today’s interventionary forces in the Asia-Pacific, if not the entire world.

In our Asia-Pacific region, US military might is actually the largest land and sea military force overseas of a foreign power. As former US Air Force Pacific General John Lorber bragged in 1995, “We, the US, are a Pacific nation where command extends from West Coast of the United States to the eastern coast of Africa and includes both polar extremes. The US has 7 defense treaties worldwide, and 5 of them are in the Pacific region.”

Immediately after the Cold War with the demise of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist bloc, there was indeed a quantitative rolling back of US forces in some parts of the world, especially Europe. It became even more difficult to justify a cold war budget for the continuance of a cold war defense structure in a post-Cold War era.  But numbers can be deceptive, because what was reduced in quantity was actually enhanced in a qualitative sense. Capabilities have been expanded because of improvements in war-fighting technology, thereby enhancing lethality and mobility of US forces. The Pentagon’s budget has been steadily increasing after the Cold War despite quantitative reductions of US forces at home and overseas.  Everything seemed to be “rolling back” EXCEPT in the Asia-Pacific where US kept the status quo as far as its Cold War fighting infrastructure was concerned. To some extent, the US Pacific Command forces were even upgraded. In the 1995 East Asia Strategy Report of the US Department of Defense, it was noted:

“This report reaffirms our commitment to maintain a stable forward presence in the region, at the existing level of about 100,000 troops, for the foreseeable future.for maintaining forward deployment of US forces and access and basing rights for US and allied forces.If the American presence in Asia were removed.our ability to affect the course of events would be constrained, our markets and interests would be jeopardized.”

The exception was in the Philippines, for the historic rejection of the bases treaty by the Philippine Senate in 1991 signaled an involuntary retreat for US forces in the Philippines which, in the past, has been regarded as a formidable US military stronghold and enclave by Pentagon planners.

According to the 1997 Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. national defense and security policy implemented by 100,000 US troops deployed in the region, is intertwined with economic globalization such as “the protection of the sea lanes of trade”, and ” ensuring unhampered access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources.” Pentagon literature now treats the operational jurisdiction of the U.S. Pacific Command as “highways of trade which are vital to U.S. national security.”

The restoration of the Republicans to the US presidency under George W. Bush Jr. has indicated, even before Sept. 11, efforts to reverse the Cold War trend in all aspects.  Of course, the Sept. 11 attacks have practically given the US a justification to its people and its allies to unilaterally expand its borderless military in an already borderless world economy dominated by the United States and the G-7 countries. The US has established bases and military facilities in several former Soviet republics like Kazakstan and Uzbekistan.  Besides the former Soviet republics around Afghanistan, it has established a very large military presence in Afghanistan itself, while consolidating its control over the Pakistani armed forces thru more US military and technical assistance.  Likewise, a military presence in Yemen and other Middle East countries surrounding Iran and Iraq have been reestablished. All this shows the reversal of the post-Cold War trend in all aspects.

A recent STRATFOR Report, prepared by former CIA and State Department analysts, talks about US plans to re-establish “forward bases” in the Philippines as part of an American strategy against international terrorism.  As earlier pointed out, the US has, in fact, under the Bush administration, already reversed the post-Cold War trend of reducing or closing down of overseas US military bases and facilities.  Even Before Sept. 11, the Rand Corp. in an important policy strategy study titled, “The United States and Asia – Toward a New US Strategy and Force Structure” (May 2001), strongly pushed for the restoration of US forces in the Philippines through “future USAF Expeditionary Deployments.”2 Note the term “deployments” used. This study was prepared by a team headed by Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, who was later appointed senior member of the US National Security Council (NSC) and is now Bush’s chief adviser on Afghanistan.

The State of Philippine-US Security Relations

Since the 1900s, the Philippines was a colony of the United States. When the first US Visiting Forces trampled on Philippine soil in 1899, they undermined the freedom and sovereignty of our newly born Republic, waged a war of conquest and colonized the country so as to gain a market and military stronghold in Asia.  The bloody US conquest in 1899 caused the death of more than 600,000 Filipinos, mostly civilians, or one-sixth of our population then.  Historians have called that era of the Philippine-American War as “America’s First Vietnam in Asia.”

For its Asian colony, the United States not only created the Philippine Constabulary to assist in its pacification campaign against Filipino freedom fighters, but also established vast military bases all over the islands as staging areas for military operations for domestic and international missions. Both external defense and internal suppression of dissidents and Filipino “insurgents” were handled by the US armed forces until 1946 when internal defense was turned over to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Post-independence security agreements like the 1947 Military Bases Agreement which was terminated in 1991, the Military Assistance Agreement of 1947 (later amended as the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement of 1953) and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty allowed the United States to control the external defenses of the country while leaving to the Philippine Army and Philippine Constabulary the job of suppressing Filipino revolutionaries.3

The above treaties never gave the AFP the chance to take care and handle or build up its external defense capability as the US made sure that it would be totally dependent on the United States. The more than 40 years of US military supremacy over the AFP thru the above treaties from 1947  to the present have prevented the AFP from establishing its own self-reliant  defense system.  If the past is our teacher, our more than 40 years of closest “special relations” with the United States has only made the Philippine armed forces the weakest in South East Asia.  It has already been proven by past treaties with the US that the US is more interested in doing business at the expense of the Philippines rather than aiding the AFP in its bid to modernize.

If the US  was sincere in aiding in the modernization of the AFP, it should not have prevented the air force or Philippine Navy from acquiring modern crafts and equipment.  Money could not have been the reason for these major services vital to external defense not to develop; the US could have easily provided modern military equipment through loan with easy terms of payment. This would have provided the AFP with the capability to enable it to be external security-oriented and truly modernized.  Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy vessels and equipment , according to an AFP logistics expert that I interviewed have an average age of  44 years!

Militarization of Philippine-US Relations

The Visiting Forces Agreement of 1991 restored US troop activities in the Philippines after the rejection of the bases treaty in 1991. Various small and large-scale military exercises have since then been undertaken to justify the restoration of US military presence in the Philippines. These exercises are the following:4

  1. 1.  Carat – a specific amphibious exercise between the US Pacific Fleet and the Philippine Navy involving use of frigates, landing ships, helicopters and P-3C Orion aircraft.  Training includes lectures, demonstrations and shipboard tours during port training and highlighted by amphibious exercises between the two navies.

  2. 2.  Masurvex -this deals with RP-US maritime patrol, surface detection, tracking, reporting and training. It involves the use of maritime surveillance aircraft and P-3C Orion from the US Navy.  Activities for this exercise may include day/night surveillance, search and rescue exercise, anti-smuggling operations and maintenance lectures.

  3. 3.  Palah – this exercise is conducted between US Navy Seals teams and the Philippine Navy Special Warfare Group (SWAG) teams to improve individual and team skills as well as enhance “inter-operability” on a vast range of naval special warfare and skills common to maritime special operations forces of both countries.

  4. 4. Teak Piston – an airforce-to-airforce exercise which covers instructions on aircraft maintenance on areas such as corrosion control, airframe/sheet metal repair and aerospace ground equipment repair, sea search and rescue, special tactics training, air crew training and on jet engine instrument test equipment procedures.

  5. 5.  Balance Piston – an infantry exercise dealing with special operations.

  6. 6.  Handa Series – a Philippine-US bilateral table war game conceived to enhance higher level command and staff interaction between the AFP and the US Armed Forces to strengthen military-to-military cooperation and enhance links between the game and future exercises.

  7. 7.  Flash Piston – this is a navy-to-navy exercise similar to the Palah exercise using a 16-man US Navy Seal team and a Philippine Navy SWAG team.  Exercise includes training in the areas of underwater demolition, weapons familiarization, sniper training, direct actions and a field training exercise (FTX) to cap the training.

  8. 8.  EODX – specialized inter-operability training between the demolition and ordnance experts of the two armed forces. Exercise includes lectures and drills on day/night LIMPET and Improvised Explosive Devise (IED), underwater ordnance, demolition training and VIP protection.

  9. 9.  Salvex – this is a navy exercise designed to improve Philippine and US skills in ship salvage operations, usually requiring actual operations on sunken ships.

The current large-scale Balikatan exercises in the Philippines were started in 1991 as a navy-to-navy exercise sponsored by the US CINCPAC (US Pacific Command). The Visiting  Forces Agreement (1999) may have succeeded in reversing what the Senate did in 1991. Philippine courts cannot, under the VFA even assume jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers and try them for such crimes as rape, murder, or homicide, committed against Filipinos right here in our own country.  Under Art. 5 of the VFA, any offense committed by US soldiers or personnel, no matter how grave or heinous, may be considered “official acts” provided the US commander issues a “military duty” certificate.  This was how the US gave immunity to thousands of accused American soldiers from 1947 until Sept. 16, 1991 for their criminal acts on Philippine soil.

Although Balikatan military exercises have been going on since 1991, these were temporarily stopped after the Senate rejected the proposed bases treaty. The proposed Military Bases Agreement which  was rejected in 1991, covered transient US forces undergoing training. This was, however, resumed after the ratification of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement.  A shift in the orientation and implementation of Balikatan exercises, however, has occurred after Sept. 11, 2002. Balikatan in early 2002 was intentionally conducted in the Basilan and Zamboanga war zones, this time with live targets in actual military operations, during what National Security Adviser Roilo Golez calls “on-the-job training.”

This shift in Balikatan only refers to the open and publicly acknowledged role of the war exercise in current AFP counter-insurgency campaigns. In a TOP SECRET Memorandum to former President Joseph Estrada dated May 9, 2000, of the TASK FORCE BLACK CRESCENT which analyzed the TOP SECRET OPLAN MINDANAO II/BLACK RAIN operations against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the TF Black Crescent headed by former Secretary of National Defense Fortunato Abat  referred to the “Conduct of military advance training on anti-guerrilla warfare under the guise of ‘Balikatan 2000’ RP-US military training exercises, in consonance with the ratified Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) (p.5);   “the arming of the Alliance of Christian Vigilantes for Muslim-Free Mindanao and the Spiritual Soldiers of God in Mindanao to whom 20,763 units consisting  of M14s and M16s had already secretly been distributed.”(p.8). This TOP SECRET document WHICH I HAVE DECLASSIFIED for us all, clearly shows the wanton use of vigilantism against so-called terrorism in Mindanao, now reinforced by the rewards system for bounty hunters.

Perils of American Intervention

The US experience in Vietnam should be an eye-opener for those wishing to invite more US military advisors and trainors from the US Special Operations Forces.  When the first 400 Green Beret special advisors to South Vietnam were sent in 1961 ostensibly to train the South Vietnamese army in methods of counter-insurgency against the guerrillas of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, the US immediately clarified then that its soldiers were not in Vietnam to engage in combat, according to Stephen Ambrose, in his book, Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938.  With the increased success of the National Liberation Front guerrillas, however, the US eventually began to run covert operations directly to harass the Vietnamese people’s army.  In 1964, after an alleged torpedo attack by North Vietnam of the American destroyers USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin, the US decided to retaliate by conducting bombing raids in North Vietnam and blockading the Gulf of Tonkin. The Vietnam War eventually resulted in the deployment of no less than half a million US combat troops by 1967-70, the death of two million Vietnamese and injuries to three million civilians. Twelve million Vietnamese became refugees and thousands of children were orphaned. Millions of acres of Vietnam’s forests and farmlands were defoliated by Agent Orange herbicide, sprayed from planes whose pilots were eventually contaminated themselves. Millions of mines and unexploded bombs and artillery shells are still scattered in the Vietnamese countryside, posing constant danger to life and limb.

Operation Phoenix Laboratory

Is the Philippines now becoming a laboratory for a new type of militarization to be initiated by a borderless US military? Recent events in Southern Luzon, especially in the island of Mindoro, could show that an Operation Phoenix-type of operation may be taking place . Within a span of one year, 20 local coordinators of the Bayan Muna political party, including its provincial coordinator, were assassinated. The US-trained and armed Philippine military has intensified its counter-insurgency campaign against New People’s Army guerrillas and against the political infrastructure of the National Democratic Front (NDF). This is reminiscent of the most secret and deadliest US covert operation in Vietnam where the US launched a massive assassination campaign against what it believed was the political infrastructure of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam as well as local leaders and local officials known to sympathize with the Vietnamese resistance. Between 25,000 and 30,000 civilians in South Vietnam, mostly non-combatants, were later acknowledged by the CIA to have been liquidated in the US-directed Operation Phoenix which had the objective to “disrupt and destroy enemy assets.”

US Special Operations Forces

As stated earlier, next to Afghanistan, the Philippines has become the second front in the war against international terrorism, including the deployment of the elite U.S. Special Operations Forces which is a composite force and command by itself.   The SOF of the U.S. armed forces consists of  the Green Beret, Rangers, Special Operations Aviation, SEALS, Delta Force, etc. They are elite in the sense that there are only 47,000 members of such forces worldwide, including in the US mainland. They are part of the Central Command (formerly the Rapid Deployment Force)  with headquarters in Tampa, Florida, and are directly supervised by the US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC). Under Section 167 of Title 10 of the US Code which created the Special Operations Command, SOF operations are described as “direct action” (small-scale strikes), unconventional or irregular warfare, civil affairs and psychological operations (psy-ops to influence public opinion), foreign internal defense (arming and training paramilitary forces), and counter-terrorism training.  SOFs, together with CIA special hit teams, have also been known to specialize in political assassinations. The deployment of SOFs in the Philippines shows that in recent Pentagon strategy, the Philippines serves not only as the second front in the war against international terrorism, it also serves as a springboard for renewed US drive for geopolitical hegemony in Southeast Asia, against Philippine home-grown guerrillas (NPA, MNLF, MILF) and other Asian people’s mass movements.


The Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA) is the Pentagon’s logical follow-up to the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The MLSA is not just about logistics and other military hardware that the US wants to stockpile in the Philippines for use by American forces.  It is also about the setting up of facilities, structures and infrastructure to “house” US war materiel in the Philippines.  For the Philippine government, this is a necessary document to enable it to comply with the constitutional provision requiring an agreement to allow foreign military “facilities.” The VFA had already given the go-signal for the entry of “foreign military troops” under the guise of joint military exercises.  All these point to the full restoration of US military presence in the Philippines, but this time using the entire country as one big military base!

Under the former Philippine-US Military Bases Agreement (MBA), US troops and facilities could only be stationed or installed inside the bases which were limited in scope and area, all in Luzon island.  Now the VFA and the proposed MLSA would cover the ENTIRE Philippines, including southern Mindanao, noted for its close proximity to Indonesia and Malaysia.

While it is true that the MLSA does not specifically designate certain basing areas for use by US forces, it offers, like the VFA, the entire Philippines, all its islands, air space and territorial land and water to the US Armed Forces for use in the same functions as bases, namely: training, refueling, replenishment, resupply and possibly even the repair of US naval vessels.  But more important is the use of the Philippines once again as a staging area for US interventionist actions in Asia and other parts of the world, as springboard for unilateral actions of a superpower that is behaving like a mad dog after Sept. 11.  All our ports and airfields nationwide in all the islands can now be used by the US armed forces.  And if the Philippines and the US have stretched the interpretation of the 1999 VFA to include all kinds of military activities on Philippine territory, including actual counter-insurgency missions for US forces, you can imagine what they would do with a document like the MLSA in place.

Dilemmas in Philippine National Interest

In the US preparations to strike at Iraq, the Philippines is faced with a serious dilemma. It has diplomatic ties with Iraq as well as with the two other nations demonized by Bush’s reference to the “axis of evil” which also include Iran and North Korea. If the Philippines allows the active use of Philippine territory by US military forces against these countries, can we ask them not to take this against us or the Filipino contract workers on their soil?  On the local scene, the Philippine government is also faced with the prospect of completely scuttling the ongoing peace talks with the National Democratic Front after the US included this organization, as well as the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army in its “Foreign Terrorist List.”

Closing Ranks Against the Borderless US Military

The past victories of Asian anti-colonial struggles, including those for self-determination in Vietnam and elsewhere, the democratic movements against pro-US dictatorships, as in the anti-Marcos dictatorship struggle and the dismantling of the formidable US bases in 1991 in the Philippines, demonstrate the desire of the people of Asia to live in freedom, to run their country their own way, without foreign dictation.  At the same time, a strong movement for a nuclear weapons-free and foreign bases-free world has taken shape in Asia and the Pacific in recent years. Many countries now advocate nuclear disarmament and the establishment of nuclear-free zones of peace, as well as demilitarizing and denuclearizing the seas and oceans of the region, such as the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Treaty signed on Dec. 15, 1995.

The Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty signed by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should be given substance. The treaty has expressed the organization’s determination “to protect the region from environmental pollution and hazards posed by radioactive wastes and other radioactive materials,” and “to take concrete action which will contribute to the process towards general and complete disarmament of nuclear weapons.”

In the Philippines, even after the dismantling of the US bases in 1991, we continue to block any attempt to re-establish US military presence through the proposed MLSA. This is being done by defending and giving substance to the anti-militarist, pro-peace and anti-nuclear provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. We are also seeking the abrogation of the Cold War relics – the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1947 Military Assistance Agreement, as well as the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement.

Our experience in people’s struggles against foreign aggressors and dictatorships shows us that only by closing ranks and forging a broad united front can we defeat our militarist adversaries both in the Philippines and Asia.



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 2002




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