Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Back to Subic Bay


US warship being serviced yesterday at the former US Navy base at Subic Bay
By Bruce Gagnon
Organizing Notes
My wonderful host and guide Corazon Fabros organized another great day for me on Sunday.  Five of us loaded into a van and headed northwest towards the beautiful green mountains near the former US Navy base at Subic Bay.
Once on the MacArthur Highway we again passed miles of rice paddies and I saw many workers planting the rice in the wet fields.  As we got further into the rural areas thatched roof houses became more common alongside those with the rusty tin roofs.
I learned that the Catholic Church currently owns many of the rice fields.  One veteran activist told me that after the US defeated Spain and took control of the Philippines in 1902; one negotiated point was that the Catholic Church could hold onto their vast land holdings they had obtained during Spain’s 300-year rule.
The US had replaced one colonizer with another.
Writer Mark Twain was one of the most prominent opponents of the Philippine-American War and an outspoken anti-imperialist - an aspect of his biography that is rarely mentioned in high school English classes.  In 1901 he wrote about the US-Philippine war: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.”
The US bases at Subic and Clark were finally returned to the Philippines in 1991 when a majority in the Filipino Senate voted to force the Americans out.  By 1992 the US was gone.  But things are rapidly changing back to the old ways.
Today, under Obama’s “pivot” of 60% of US military forces into this region, the port at Subic Bay is getting up to five US Navy warships a week making port calls under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries.  During an interview with a newspaper reporter while visiting Subic he told me that the VFA allows the US to even avoid paying any docking fees.  In a way it’s a better deal, he said, than when the US had to maintain the huge Navy base at Subic.
An American ship maintenance corporation is now permanently stationed at Subic to service the US destroyers, supply ships, and frigates that are regularly arriving.  Just last November there was big controversy after one US warship dumped human waste into the bay rather than pay to have their on-board sewage tanks emptied.  Fortunately they got caught.
During our tour of the enormous former Navy base at Subic our guide, a long time security official at the port, took us to the far side of the bay to see the former Naval runway that will soon be buzzing again with US military aircraft. 
Near this spot, where we saw monkeys and fruit bats hanging from the trees in the thick jungle, were more than 300 weapons bunkers that the US had used to store their nuclear weapons and other ordinance.  One of the former bunkers has been converted into “Bob’s Bunker Restaurant” and we couldn’t help but stop in to take a look.  Just inside the door was an orange steel drum marked “Agent Orange” that is used to hold the menus.  Just a reminder of the massive toxic legacy the US left in Subic Bay after 50 years of occupation.
Our next stop was to pick up three activists near the former US Clark Air Force Base that left a similar calling card – massive toxic contamination – so much so that children and adults were catching cancers and other diseases at alarming rates during the years of US control. 
Today Clark has been converted into an international airport and foreign investors are moving in big time to build casinos, call centers, plastic and steel factories, and garment and electronics factories – all in pursuit of cheap labor.
I learned that the average monthly wage at a call center is about $500.  At wages like that you can see why the greedy corporations have left the US and moved overseas.  Even Korean corporations like Samsung are exiting their countries due to the presence of strong unions and setting up profit-enhancing production in the Philippines.
It was just getting dark as we headed back toward Quezon City last night.  As we approached the urban center we noticed an incredibly long line of police trucks, full of well-equipped men, stopped at a highway tollbooth.  I asked Cora what was going on.  She replied that police are being brought in from the outside provinces for the big protest that is set on Monday in Manila.  President Benigno Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) will be delivered then and the police will set up along the highway to turn activists away who try to come to the protest from the rural areas.  They will be easily identified she said because they will be riding in the converted “jeep” taxi vehicles that are seen all over the country crammed full of people.
The Filipino judicial system has denied the request of the protest organizers to have a permit to rally near the Congress building where the speech will be given.  Instead the march and rally will have to be held in the middle of the hot paved street that leads toward the government center – but we will be kept a good distance away.
Cora also told me that the presidential address would be a high fashion show.  The wives of the elite will present themselves to the nation in their most expensive gowns and jewelry.  They consider themselves royalty and have used their powers to keep the unruly rabble far away while they celebrate their control over “democracy”.
The protest march will be addressing the growing economic disparity between rich and poor.  The protest will also highlight the return of colonial status for the Philippines as the US military returns to Subic and drags the Filipino people into the coming US conflict with China.  The US wants the Philippines to spend more on “modernization” of its military so that it can be “interoperable” with US forces. 
In this age of space satellite directed high-tech war that means that the US would ultimately control the military forces of the Philippines.  (The Filipino military has no satellite capability to direct the "modern" weapons they would purchase from the US.)  The days of Filipino national sovereignty will be over if the US can pull this charade off. 
During my time here I’ve tried to plant some seeds about how the US Space Command coordinates all warfare on the planet on behalf of the corporate interests.  Activists and organizers have appreciated the information.  They seem to understand the connection.
Time will tell if the people here can hold onto their democracy – what little of it that still exists.    

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