Senators remember day when they rejected US bases treaty

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Friday, September 16, 2011


TWO things are certain about September 16, 1991--the day the Senate voted to close down US bases on Philippine soil: it rained heavily and the vote, for good or ill, changed the country's destiny.

Political activist Renato Constantino Jr., who was at Liwasang Bonifacio on that day, said the government brought a crowd of "more than 100,000" to pressure the Senate to ratify the extension of the RP-US Bases Treaty.

"But the rain chased them away. They melted away," he said at a lunch commemorating the historic vote. While this was happening, he said, the crowd picketing against the treaty swelled to around 40,000.

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He said that he met a mother and her daughter there, drenched in the rain but with warm smiles. "They were not there with any mass organization, they just wanted the bases out," he said.

The anti-bases movement had been agitating to close down the bases over fears that the US was keeping nuclear weapons in its bases in defiance of the Philippine Constitution. Activists had also been protesting against the basis because it supported militarization of the Philippines and American gunboat diplomacy in Asia. That, and the prostitution and other vices that the bases brought people to stand in front of the old Senate building, Ma. Socorro Diokno of the Jose W. Diokno Foundation said.

Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tanada III, son of former senator Wigberto Tanada, said the bases treaty gave US forces 500 hectares of what had been hunting grounds of the indigenous Aetas of Zambales.

"The Aetas were given the exclusive right to scavenge off the scraps," he said.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, one of the senators who voted against extending a treaty allowing the US to maintain military bases in the Philippines, called the decision struck a blow for national sovereignty.

"We collectively echoed the sentiment of the Filipino people to unshackle themselves," he said at a lunch commemorating the junking of the treaty.

Former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada called the vote "our finest hour," while former senator Victor Ziga said it was "one of my proudest moments" because the Senate had been able to resist "fancy rhetoric and cheap propaganda."

Former senator Agapito Aquino, brother-in-law to then President Corazon Aquino, said each of the 12 senators who voted against the treaty, paid a heavy price. Now called the Magnificent 12, they were derided then as the Dirty Dozen and accused of being out of touch with the rest of the country.

Aquino said he had to go against Malacanang, which had been pushing for ratification, because "I love my country more than I love my President."

Former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who was unable to attend the lunch but whose speech explaining his vote in 1991 was read to the crowd, said he voted against the bill even though it would have left the Philippines weaker militarily. "Go ahead. Do your worst and we shall do our best," he said then.

Former senator Wigberto Tanada said the treaty had to be junked
because "national freedom cannot be postponed and the dignity and honor of the Filipino people cannot continue to be trampled."

Former senator Orlando Mercado, who served as Defense secretary under Estrada, said "today, we have only ourselves to blame and to praise."

Representative Tanada, quoting his father on what the Philippines was expected to do when the Americans left, said, "the plan is that we will stand on our own."

He said, however, that the Philippines has not yet been able to do that. "Here I am, 20 years later, and our struggle continues," he said. He has filed a resolution at the House to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, which he said was the old basing treaty "dressed in new clothes."

He said the VFA "is not really an agreement," and that the US soldiers "are not really visiting."

Meanwhile, a group has challenged the Senate to cut military ties with the United States 20 years after it voted against allowing US bases in the country.

The Scrap VFA! Movement, in a press statement, urged the Senate to emulate 12 senators who voted against the RP-US Bases Treaty to do the same to the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US.

"The votes of the Magnificent 12 were a historic assertion of our people's sovereignty and a declaration that our territory will never more be used to advance US economic and military interests in the Asian region," the group said.

They said that despite the 1991 decision to close down the US bases,
American soldiers are back and have stayed since the VFA was signed in 1998.

The group said US soldiers are back in Mindanao under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines and through military training exercises involving "as many as 6,000" soldiers.

The US military presence, the group said, has led to abuses against Filipinos. Filipinos who lodge complaints against US soldiers have to contend with special treatment for American troops, they said.

"It is our responsibility as Filipinos to give primacy to our national interests. National sovereignty must always prevail," they said.

"We challenge our present senators to do what the Magnificent 12 did in 1991," Junk VFA! added.

The Magnificent 12 comprised then senators Agapito Aquino, Sotero
Laurel II, Ernesto Maceda Jr., Orlando Mercado, Aquilino Pimentel Jr.,
Rene Saguisag, Jovito Salonga, Wigberto Tanada, and Victor Ziga.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, former President Joseph Estrada, and former Vice President Teofisto Guingona III are also part of the
Magnificent 12. (Sunnex)

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