Visiting Filipino activist warns of US military build up in region

Boyette Jurcales Jr. Photo by Peter Murphy.

Australians should be worried about the attempt to rush through the Philippines Senate the Philippines-Australia Status of Forces agreement visiting anti-bases activist Boyette Jurcales Jr told a Sydney meeting on June 7.

Jurcales is the coordinator of the Philippines-based Ban the Bases and the meeting was organised by the newly-established anti-bases network Keep War from Our Door – Wave of Hope.

Australians wouldn’t have been aware that the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) agreement was given the nod by then PM John Howard in 2007. It allows joint military training and cooperation with the Philippines and opens the way for US war fleet to situate itself more permanently in the Asia Pacific region.

Currently Australia provides military aid to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and trains more than 100 Philippines military officers a year here, some of whom have allegedly committed human rights abuses. Australia also supplies military equipment to the Philippines.

Jurcales said that the SOVFA would also allow for a greater US military presence in the Philippines – with all its associated dangers. “It’s a lie that the US bases bring development”, he said. “The Philippines had to carry the terrible social cost.”

The disastrous impact of the US military bases, in the Philippines from 1947, included the violation of territorial soverignty, nuclearisation, rapes and sexual assaults, land grabs and the US military’s immunity from prosecution under Philippines law.

A huge campaign to shut down the bases finally forced the government’s hand and the huge Clarke and Subic navel bases was closed in 1992. They left a terrible toxic legacy which the US has refused to clean up.

Since then, however, the US and the Philippines have signed off on other military agreements, including a Visting Forces Agreement in 1999 with President Estrada and with President Aquino a US-RP military logistics agreement in 2001 which, according to Jurcales, was worse than the bases agreement because it allowed the US to use any part of the Philippines whenever they deemed it necessary. Under this agreement, the US can station its forces in the Philippines for an indefinate period of time.

Yearly war games – euphamistically described as “humanitarian missions” – further violate the Philippines’ sovereignty, Jurcales added.

This year included Australia joined Japan, South Korea and the Philippines war games. Jurcales said that there have been cases of accidental bombings, and the US even forced closure of one hospital while it bombed the area.

Jurcales also described how the US is using its drones to gather intelligence and help map the economic reserves of the country – in particular minerals and gas.

The US plan to “re-balance” its forces to the Asia Pacific – the Philippines, Japan, Singapore and Australia – is a hostile gesture towards China and militarises the region.

Jurcales was optimistic, however, that given that public opinion is still largely against the US military presence, the Philippines anti-bases campaign may be able to pressure the Senators not to ratify the SOVFA in July. Already seven Senators have agreed to postpone the legislation. One more Senator joining in would block it.

Jurcales said that the peoples of the Philippines and Australia could make common cause in opposing their respective governments’ push to militarise the region. Meanwhile, many Australians are beginning to question the Gillard government’s agreement with the US for Darwin to play host to 2500 US Marines.

To get in touch with Keep War From our Door – Wave of Hope, contact Denis Doherty on 0418 290 663.

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