May 18, 2024

G.I. Joe is back, or better ask, did they ever leave in the first place?
The United States Armed Forces left the Philippines in 1992 after the Senate rejected the extension of the 1947 Philippines-U.S. Military Bases Agreement.
The “Magnificent 12” dubbed as heroes were then Senate President Jovito Salonga and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Agapito Aquino, Sotero Laurel II, Ernesto Maceda, Orlando Mercado, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Rene Saguisag, Wigberto Tañada, Victor Ziga, Joseph Estrada, and Teofisto Guingona Jr.
Sidebar is the movie Sa Kuko ng Agila ( ”In the Eagle’s Claw”), starring Sen. Estrada with Sen. Nikki Coseteng depicting a true-to- life Olongapo when the U.S. bases were there. The presence American forces encouraged crimes, corruption, prostitution, and poverty.
Wikipedia says the movie showed a struggle between principle and practicality, a battle of healthy past and promising future, and the quest for freedom and nationalism.
The “big brothers” had a presence in strategic bases at Clark and Subic Bay in central Luzon, Sangley Point in Cavite and Wallace Air Station in La Union.
The John Hay Air Base in Baguio City was a rest and recreation facility where I and my siblings had Coney Island ice cream at the halfway house or 19th tee.
The exit was short-lived, however, because in 2014, we entered into an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) where “strategic areas” were identified for Americans to have access and to preposition personnel, equipment, and supplies in military bases during crisis, which would help protect the Philippines during times of conflict with you-know-who.
At present, the U.S. has access to five locations: Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, and Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
A few days back, Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Defense Secretary, has visited the country asking for four additional locations in “strategic areas”, not just about security but also for economic growth and potential foreign investments that EDCA will bring to their communities. Likewise, it will enhance the protection of areas that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and provide quicker disaster response and mitigation.
Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in principle agreed – two in Cagayan and one each in Zambales, Isabela, and Palawan, coincidentally allowing American troops closer to Taiwan and the West Philippine Sea, where tensions continue to escalate due to China’s assertiveness.
True to form, recently the Chinese Navy pointed a laser gun(s) at the Philippine Coast Guard cutter, which became an international incident and Marcos Jr. immediately summoned the Chinese Ambassador to the Palace, whose explanation was that our boat was in Chinese waters.
Back to the new sites. Of course, the polite but no violent reaction came from the coastal province of Cagayan in northern Luzon around 600 kilometers from Taiwan.
I remember the late Ilocos Norte Rep. Roquito “Alikabok” Ablan, with his incessant invitation to fly to Taiwan for lunch and be back in Laoag in time for an afternoon snack – so near, and not far.
The counter was put the EDCA in the island of Fuga, second northernmost island group under the jurisdiction of Aparri, which has access to both the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea, and not in mainland Luzon, but it seems a fait accompli already.
This morning, I heard the Army announcement that in the second quarter of this year, the biggest Philippine and U.S. live-fire military exercises of more than 8,900 troops shall be had. The Chinese are hurt, “We came as merchants, partner, ally, and friendly neighbor while they come to our shores as conquerors with their guns and canons and we can become a ‘modern-day’ Pearl Harbor for their enemies.”
All Juan can say march to the beat of your own drum.