PHILIPPINES: Peace Camp opposes Bush's 'second front'



With the Philippines now the "second front" in the US "war on terrorism", Green Left Weekly's ALLEN JENNINGS interviewed Rasti Delizo, head of the general secretariat of the Philippines Campaign for Peace with Justice.

Can you give us some background to your campaign, and your view of the reasons behind the US military build up in the Philippines.

The Campaign for Peace and Justice, which is popularly referred to as Peace Camp, is thus far the Philippines' broadest anti-war, anti-terrorist and peace coalition. It was formed on October 10 and it gathers more than 50 national organisations from various sectors.

We were formed as a result of the September 11 attacks, and it took us about four weeks to undergo a process of consultation and eventual consolidation into a broad-based coalition.

Today, Peace Camp has not just one leader, but three. We call them co-chairpersons, and they represent the Muslims, the Christians and human rights activist movements. Representing the Muslims is Datu Haj Ansari Alonto, the chairperson of Maredeka, representing the Christians is Father Robert Reyes, and from the human rights movement is Dr Aurora Parong.

We view the latest US war of aggression as part of its agenda to re-hegemonise the international economic, social and political order in the interests of US transnational corporations.

The attacks against Afghanistan, Peace Camp viewed as a new war of racist aggression, as a new war of aggression against the poor peoples of the world, not just the Afghan poor.

We believe that war is not the solution to eradicating terrorism. In fact, war will only bring about more terrorism, and more terrorists. If you want to stamp out terrorism in the long run, war is not the solution. It can only be done through peace with social justice. That's why the name of our coalition is Campaign for Peace with Justice.

What strategies do you use to achieve these aims?

Peace Camp has undertaken several mass actions, big rallies. In fact, we had one as early as November 30 that involved more than 10,000 people from all sectors of Philippines society, who marched first to Mendiola Bridge (near the Presidential Palace), and from there we marched to the US embassy.

The next major project was a three-day peace concert, to which we invited 60 rock bands, the hottest today in the Philippines. We received live TV coverage. We declared the entire concert zone a peace zone, in fact, a peace camp, and for three days it was like Woodstock.

What was very political about this was that before any band got up to perform, various activists would take their turns at MC-ing, by explaining Peace Camp's political platform, and even raising the consciousness of the public by going into the Iran-Iraq war or discussing the latest bombing in Afghanistan.

After this we immediately continued with a series of mass actions, from lightening rallies, with a handful of militant activists, until February 6, which was the first anniversary of the death of the slain socialist leader, Fileman "Popoy" Lagman. Around 5000 workers, urban poor, youth, students, women, Bangsa Moro and peasants marched in the streets in front of the palace, and from there, again, we went to the US embassy to express our condemnation of the latest imperialist aggression in the Philippines.

Why is the United States so interested in the Philippines?

Our analysis views this latest US aggression in the Philippines — the "second front", as some have already named it — as part of their imperialist agenda to create regional "ramparts" to Fortress America. They are here in the Philippines to re-establish a forward-facing structure, not only militarily but politically.

Militarily, the Philippines has always been of geo-political significance to the US, after World War II, or even before that. That's one reason why they colonised the Philippines in the last part of the 19th century. We view their latest position here as part of that agenda to occupy their former military bases.

At the same time, both Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo — GMA — and US President George Bush have a mutual interest in this intervention. GMA needs the US to remain in power beyond 2004, the next presidential elections, and the US obviously needs a puppet in this rampart on whom they can rely.

The US is using the war against global and even local terrorist forces, like the Abu Sayyaf group, as cover for their agenda, which is aimed at wiping out the Bangsa Moro national self-determination movement in the south of the country, just like Israel is trying to wipe out the Palestinian movement. And also, using the close proximity to Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia as a possible staging point for future attacks on an emerging Islamist movement within these three countries.

Can you expand on the extent of the US military presence at the moment?

So far, based on official sources, as announced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the commander of the US Pacific forces, there are 160 US army special forces trainers, the socalled Green Berets, and around 660 ground and support personnel, for a combined force of more than 800. There are consistent reports of more forces arriving, with one report citing the expected arrival of some 2000 troops from Okinawa sometime in May this year.

How many Filipinos do you think currently support your campaign?

It is very difficult to cite figures at this point, but if you were to cite the pro-government figures that came out in the newspapers a few weeks ago, they claim that 84% of the people in the Philippines support the latest arrival of US troops. And these are the figures that the government is trying to use in its arguments against the Peace Camp. We will not contest the figures, because our main agenda is to educate in a massive and popular manner our people.

Even if that is their viewpoint now, we know that in the end they will see the true character of US imperialism and the puppet collusion of the GMA regime here, and view the government as really an anti-poor government.

Can you expand on the fact the US intervention violates the country's constitution.

Several provisions in the 1987 Philippines constitution say that no foreign country can deploy its military forces on Philippines soil without a treaty signed by both parties and duly ratified by the legislative bodies of the two states involved in the treaty.

At this point, US forces are already on Filipino soil and the Philippines government has yet to get its act together in terms of the paper work. In fact, various government agencies are tossing the blame on each other as to which agency or department or ministry actually has jurisdiction over this decision. Obviously, we put full blame on the president herself for having created this mess.

It is the president who is saying that the legal document that allows for this US invasion is the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, which, in essence, replaces the rejected 1991 US Military Bases Agreement. But again, this Visiting Forces Agreement was ratified only by the Philippines Senate, and has never been ratified by the US Congress.

So, if you want to go into the legal or constitutional finer points, this is one case that our Peace Camp legal committee and lawyers are now questioning. And, in fact, we have been at the forefront of coming up with a legal case that we will soon be bringing to the Supreme Court of the Philippines to question the validity of this matter.

But we know that the courts are on the side of the government, they have US backing, they have the resources, the mass media is on their side, and with 84% of the public giving support to the Americans, Peace Camp views the main focus of its struggle as being in the streets, in order to build massive political pressure against the state, and to link up our mass movement with the international mass movement.

We are thinking of calling for an international day of coordinated mass protest actions against US forces in the Philippines for May 1, in support of the other calls put forward by other progressive, left and revolutionary forces worldwide, such as the Porto Alegre World Social Forum, for such a mass action.

From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.
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