SF CHRP (San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines) is a San Francisco based human rights advocacy group. Latest news and views on human rights in the Philippines.
Nato Reyes, the secretary-general for the national democratic alliance BAYAN, writes an essay concerning the overwhelming presence of US combat troops and warships in the docks and waters of the Philippines in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan):
Many Filipinos seemed to welcome the arrival of US troops to aid in relief efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan, believed to be one of the strongest storms recorded in history. The devastation was just too extensive and the Philippine government was incompetent, disorganized and unprepared to meet the needs of the victims.
It was during the first 48 hours in the aftermath of the storm that US forces began establishing a presence in the Eastern Visayas region. In a matter of days, US air and naval assets were being moved from Japan to Tacloban City in Leyte. About 300 US forces were initially deployed. In the first week of the calamity, the US Department of Defense said it would ramp up its ground presence to 1,000 US troops. The USS George Washington also arrived from Hong Kong and was stationed off Samar Island. Some 8,000 US troops were reported to have been involved in the relief operations.
The US has a long history with the Samar and Leyte islands. It was in this region that Filipinos fought American colonizers, resulting in the Balanggiga massacre of US troops in 1901. In retalitation for the massacre, Samar was declared a “howling wilderness” by US Gen. Jacob Smith, who ordered the killing every male over the age of 10 capable of bearing arms.
Behind the humanitarian rhetoric and military show of force is a disturbing agenda by the superpower that calls us its “special friend”. Some have in fact openly praised the US humanitarian efforts as a brilliant way of reestablishing US presence in the Philippines more than two decades after the dismantling of US bases. They have pointed out how the so-called US humanitarian mission came just at the right time, when the US and Philippine governments were negotiating increased US military access to Philippine facilities.
In an eye-opneing op-ed piece on USA Today, Jonah Blank said that “deploying military resources for disaster relief is a remarkably effective — and inexpensive — investment in the future.”
Jonathan Bogais of the University of Sydney also situates the US deployment in Eastern Visayas within the onging negotiations for greater US military access to the Philippines. He cites the rotational presence of US troops in Mindanao, the setting up of a US private defense contractor in Subic to service US warships, and the tensions between China and the Philippines as current issues related to the expanding US presence in the country.
“In the midst of this humanitarian tragedy, Typhoon Haiyan has delivered the means for the US to show solidarity to its Pacific ally. It has also allowed the US to send a clear message to China that it has the muscle needed to intervene at short notice in the region to protect its national interest if it feels it necessary,” Bogais said.
Finally, we have Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario to confirm our suspicions.
“What [we have seen] in Central Philippines as a result of this typhoon, and the assistance provided in terms of relief and rescue operation … demonstrates the need for this framework agreement that we are working out with the United States for increased rotational presence. It accentuates one of the main purposes of this framework, which is to make humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and response one of the major aspects of this agreement,” del Rosario told the media.
Del Rosario is practically begging the US military to reestablish permanent bases in the country. After all, the Philippines is visited by typhoons every year, apart from being part of the earthquake belt. Disasters are almost a certainty in this country.
As de Luce said in his AFP article, the US relief mission saved lives, but in the process promoted US geo-political interests. Military deployment is not always about humanitarian assistance. The primary objective of military deployment is war, or the preparation for war, which is what the US is undertaking through its rebalancing or pivot towards Asia. The US is pre-positioning troops and weapons in Asia not because it wants to help the next country that would be hit by a storm, but because it wants to strengthen its position as a global power, capable of imposing its will on other countries.
With del Rosario’s latest statements, it now seems that the Philippines is close to concluding an agreement that would allow de facto US basing in Subic, Clark and other Philippine facilities. To make the proposal acceptable, the Aquino government will simply flash images of Haiyan and Tacloban. Never mind developing self-reliance and the capacity to prepare for future calamities. Never mind securing the people at the first instance, even before foreign assistance arrives. Never mind sovereignty.
Aquino merely has to invoke his government’s incompetence to justify its subservience.