An expensive and vital U.S. asset

Richard Vokey,Paul Quinn-Judge,William Lowther,3 more... September 5 1983

An expensive and vital U.S. asset

Richard Vokey,Paul Quinn-Judge,William Lowther,3 more... September 5 1983

An expensive and vital U.S. asset

A foreign military presence has been a day-to-day reality in the Philippines for more than four centuries. The 7,100-island archipelago was colonized by the Spanish in 1565 and taken over by the United States as its first colony after the Spanish-American war in 1898. In 1934 the U.S. Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act, setting up a 10-year commonwealth with Washington under which the Philippines gained internal autonomy, to be followed by independence. Then the Japanese invaded the islands in 1942, and independence could not be granted until 1946. Even then, the United States attached a vital rider to the independence accord—the Subic Bay naval base and the Clark air force installation would remain under U.S. control. Those U.S. military posts, the largest beyond the continental United States, are now the central focus of Washington’s involvement in and concern over the current crisis in the Philippines.

The bases are enormous. Clark, located 110 km northwest of Manila in central Luzon, covers 130,000 acres. It is the home of the 13th Air Force, the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing and the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing. More than 8,000 U.S. Air Force personnel are stationed at the base, and it employs more than 2,500 Filipinos. Subic, nestled in a deep bay at the base of the Bataan Peninsula 120 km west of Manila, spans 62,000 acres. It is the home port of the massive U.S. 7th Fleet, made up of 50 ships and 425 carrier-born aircraft. The complex

includes a ship repair facility with three floating dry docks; a supply depot stocking 160,000 pieces of military equipment, valued at more than $100 million; and a magazine storing $220 million worth of mounted guns, cannon and ammunition. The fleet has 50,000 sailors and marines, and the base, which employs approximately 2,000 Filipinos, has 6,000 on-shore naval personnel. On any given day, 10 to 13 ships of the fleet are in the Subic harbor.

Under the independence agreement

of 1946, the United States was granted a rent-free lease on the bases until 1991. But Ferdinand E. Marcos changed that. The United States has been paying rent, in the form of military and economic aid, for the past five years. Washington is keenly aware that only with the bases can it maintain its security commitments in the Pacific and extend its presence into the Indian Ocean. It is also from those bases that the United States patrols the Persian Gulf and counters the expanding Soviet naval activity from bases in Vietnam.

Nationalism is a potent force in the islands and, as with many U.S. allies, it can turn into anti-Americanism very easily. Marcos has not been shy about whipping up such feelings in order to exact increasingly stiffer rent terms. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter agreed to pay an annual fee of $100 million for five years. But Marcos flatly rejected Carter’s efforts to trade off human rights reforms in exchange for the increased aid. Then, last May, the Reagan administration signed a new accord which grants the Philippines $900 million over the next five years. The pact calls for $125 million in military assistance grants, $300 million in foreign military sales credits and $475 million in economic aid—an 80-per-cent increase over the Carter agreement, but $600 million short of Marcos’ first demand. The military sales credits come with a 10-year grace period and a 20-year repayment term as opposed to the twoyear grace and seven-year repayment terms of the 1979 agreement. The United States estimates that an addiattracted the greatest attention. Filipinos have suspected for months that Marcos is ill. And on television his face appeared puffy, his hand movements awkward and his speech slurred. Many analysts now suspect that the president is suffering from lupus, a disorder of the body’s connective tissues, which is not always fatal but produces such symptoms as painful joints, fatigue and pleurisy. Other experts suspect that he is suffering from a kidney ailment. Marcos’ sudden decline in health, likely to have begun in early July, seems to have coincided with Aquino’s decision to finally return from exile. “It would be interesting to know,” said an Asian diplomat last week, “whether Aquino knew that the president was about to have a

kidney transplant and planned to come home to be present should the president die.”

U.S. officials say that intelligence reports confirm that Marcos is suffering from a kidney disease and that it is getting progressively worse. They add that he will require longer periods of rest and that eventually—within the next three or four years—he will be forced to retire. But Marcos has not groomed a successor, except for Imelda, and it appears that he has no plans to do so. As a result, his supporters have split into factions, each hoping to succeed him. One, led by the military, is believed by many U.S. officials to be responsible for Aquino’s death.

Fearing a repeat of the mistakes and terrible consequences in Iran that followed the death of the shah, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz made an inspection visit to Manila in June.

Through carefully managed news leaks, Shultz let it be known that the United States is very concerned about losing access to the vital Clark air force base and Subic naval base, the largest American military bases outside the United States, after Marcos relinquishes power. To that end Schultz quietly indicated that the Reagan administration was seeking to open lines of communication to Filipino opposition groups that might someday share or hold power. The U.S. Embassy in Manila has been instructed to establish links with those groups and to explore ways for the United States to retain the bases after a power shift. (Such links have already been established with the military, which is not expected to seize

power or attempt a coup until Marcos steps down.) U.S. diplomats say that while Marcos is aware that various factions are vying for power, he has been unable to control them and that he is particularly wary of the military. That has led many experts in Washington to suspect that the military orchestrated Aquino’s death—seeing him as the United States’ favored link. As a result, there is little likelihood that the investigation into the killing will produce any concrete results. And fear is growing in Washington that the Aquino assassination has signalled the beginning of the end for Marcos, heightening the urgency to forge new links with the contentious factions within the Philippines.

Those factions have roots deep in the history of the 7,100-island archipelago, with its 50 million residents. Only 462 of the islands are larger than a square mile, and therefore the country is predictably fragmented. Moslems are one of the principal minorities and they have been in a state of armed rebellion against the central government almost constantly since the Spaniards first colonized the islands in 1565. The Moslems constitute four per cent of the population, but Catholicism is practised by more than 80 per cent of Filipinos, a religious legacy from the centuries when the church exercised temporal as well as spiritual power on behalf of the Spanish crown.

The Spaniards were driven out in 1898 by U.S. troops, with the support of Filipino rebels, to whom the Americans had promised independence. Instead, the United States bought the islands from Spain for $20 million at the conclusion of the war. It took two years of war—the first American war against guerrillas—to subdue most of the islands. Still, the Americans were uncomfortable with owning a colony, and at the very beginning of U.S. rule, the Americans set to work with turn-of-the-century fervor to prepare the Philippines for U.S.-style democracy.

The period of American rule created high expectations on the part of Filipinos, and an educational campaign provided them with a knowledge of alternative government systems. Socialism, for one thing, became extremely popular under the Communist-led Hukbalahap group, which went on to become one of the most effective guerrilla forces against the Japanese from 1942 to 1944.

When independence was finally granted in 1946, most of the socialists were prepared to practise politics within the system. But since Marcos declared martial law 11 years ago, more and more people rebelled against his repression and formed underground resistance groups. The Philippines now has the largest active guerrilla war in Southeast Asia.

It was because of Marcos’ almost frantic urging that Reagan belatedly included Manila on his planned Asian tour in November. When the White House announced six weeks ago that Reagan would visit Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and South Korea, the Philippines was not included. But after re-

ceiving Marcos’ message that the snub could adversely affect future negotiations over Clark and Subic Bay, a second announcement was issued from Washington including Manila in the agenda. But immediately after the assassination, the White House announced that the situation in the Philippines was under close scrutiny and that if civil unrest or riots erupt in the next few weeks, Reagan’s plans will be reconsidered.

In the short term, the Marcos govern-

ment may benefit from Aquino’s death—it has been freed of a potentially dangerous opponent. But in the longer term, the winner may be the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) because it is the best-organized opposition group. The CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, have grown rapidly in the past few years. When the party was founded in 1968, it had a few dozen members and fewer guns. Now, estimates of the strength of the military wing alone place its numbers at as many as 10,000 fighters.

The CPP has established a sophisticated network of front organizations by recruiting farmers, workers, stu-

dents, professionals and

even church people. Priests and nuns are involved in political and armed actions—the best-known Communist Roman Catholic, Rev. Conrad Balweg, for one, leads a guerrilla unit in the main northern island of Luzon.

Underground cadres sometimes predict the outbreak of a swift mass uprising which will sweep the Marcos regime away. But more often they say that their fight will last for years, perhaps decades. “But we are in a better position than most revolutionaries,” said one cadre. “Many first-generation activists in other countries do not expect the change to come in their lifetime. Here, it will. It will come in our lifetime, and we already have people working on postrevolutionary policies.”

The post-Aquinos policies of the Marcos government and the future of the Philippines are less clear. Five hundred thousand mourners filed past his coffin last week, a despairing tribute to their latest martyr—and perhaps a cry for the passing of an opportunity to form a moderate opposition. “I feel it is my duty, as it is the duty of every Filipino,” Aquino had planned to say in his returning-home statement, “to suffer with my people, especially in times of crisis.” His growing legion of followers obviously believed that Aquino had done his duty—for seven years and seven months in confinement, in nearly three years of exile, and last week on the tarmac at Manila International Airport. Now it may be their turn.

With Richard Vokey and Paul Quinn-Judge in Manila, William Lowther in Washington, Peter McGill in Tokyo, David Halpin-Byrne in Toronto and Carol Goar in Ottawa.