Protest against greater US role in Philippines
MANILA PHILIPPINE activists picketed the US embassy on Saturday and burned a cardboard American flag and mock stealth bomber, vowing to launch a campaign opposing a plan to allow more US troops in the country.
About 50 members of the leftist New Nationalist Alliance (Bayan) also held a huge effigy of Uncle Sam with another of Philippine President Benigno Aquino labelled as his “dog”, as riot police prevented them approaching the mission.
“If we allow more US troops to enter our country, the entire archipelago will be transformed into one military outpost for US hegemonic interests,” Bayan said in a statement distributed at the rally.
Philippine officials have welcomed plans for a greater presence from the military of its former colonial ruler, seeing it as a counterbalance to recent Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea.
China and the Philippines have territorial disputes over the South China Sea and Manila has accused Beijing of using intimidation to press its claims.
The Philippines previously hosted huge US military bases until the Philippine Senate, stirred by nationalist opposition of groups like Bayan, voted to close them down in 1992.
US and Philippine officials say they are not interested in new US bases but merely in more joint exercises and more US troops rotating through the country.
While Filipinos are largely pro-American, small but vocal groups in the media and influential Roman Catholic church are fervently opposed to a US presence.
International affairs specialist Rene de Castro said the Philippine government would have to carefully explain its decision to overcome such anti-American sentiment.
Meanwhile, the chief of the Pacific Command said that the United States wants a greater military presence in Southeast Asia but does not seek permanent bases anywhere in the region.
Despite impending budget cuts, the US wants to reinforce its presence in the Asia- Pacific, as its involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down.
That reflects the region’s growing economic importance and concern about China’s military capabilities and intentions.
Adm. Robert Willard said US forces – heavily deployed in Japan and South Korea – are now “biased” toward Northeast Asia. He said arrangements announced in recent months to station American troops in northern Australia and dock Navy vessels in Singapore would enable the US to rotate forces through Southeast Asia more easily, and without the cost of sustaining bases there.
He indicated the US was seeking something similar with the Philippines.
“We would welcome discussions with the Philippines along those lines but there’s no aspirations for bases in Southeast Asia,” Willard told a news conference.
In Washington on Friday, senior US and Philippine diplomats and defense officials completed two days of strategic talks. They agreed to increase cooperation in areas including maritime security, defense, commerce and disaster relief, a joint statement said.
Both sides have been at pains to say re-establishing the kind of permanent American base that was closed in the Philippines 20 years ago is not on the cards. But in Manila, Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario said in a statement the Philippines was considering more joint military exercises with the US and “a rotating and more frequent presence by them.”