Us Bases In The Philippines INTRODUCTION The longest relationship between the United States of America and a Southeast Asian country has been the US military involvement in the Philippines. For almost a century, the US military had use of two major bases in the Philippines, Clark Air Force Base, and Subic Naval Station. It took a strong anti-nuclear, anti-imperialist mass movement and a majority vote in the Philippine Senate to finally end the long US military occupation. The 1991 US military withdrawal from the Philippines was expected to cause a “power vacuum” that would have adverse economic and political effects on the former US colony. Was this really the case in the Philippines? Did the U.S.
pull out cause economic havoc and wide spread political unrest or was the Philippine government able to compensate for this great economic and security loss? This paper will examine how the American Military presence influenced the politics and economy of the Philippines and what affect the eventual withdrawal had on the country. It will also examine what the Philippine government has done to compensate for the power vacuum caused by the US Base closures. Though I will rely primarily on outside sources, I will also present my own observations having lived in the former base area (Central Luzon) for two years (1994-1996) immediately following the U.S. base withdrawal. Historical Background to US Bases After the United States “liberated” the Philippines from Spanish rule, Subic Bay was designated as principal US naval station in the Philippines in 1901. A naval base was constructed and became operational in 1907.
It became the largest training facility for the US Marines prior to World War I. In 1902, Fort Stotsenberg, renamed Clark Air Base in 1947, was established in Pampanga province. After World War II, US and Philippine authorities signed a military bases agreement in March 1947, eight months after the Philippines obtained nominal independence. That same year, the Truman Doctrine was proclaimed and the US campaign to “contain Communism” began. Clark Air Base became the headquarters of the 13th Air Force and Subic became a forward station for the Seventh Fleet. Clark and Subic played a key logistical role in support of the US forces in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.
From 1965 to 1975, the US bases served as logistical fulcrums of the US war of intervention in Indochina. Air traffic at Clark reached as high as 40 transports per day, all bound for Vietnam . In 1966, the duration of the bases agreement was reduced from 99 to 25 years, with the treaty to expire on September 16, 1991. During the oil crisis of the ’70s, regular deployment of Subic-based naval units to the Indian Ocean began. Carrier task forces from Subic were deployed to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea during the Iranian revolution and North Yemen-South Yemen border war in 1979 and Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in late 1979 and 1980 . In August 1983, former Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated and the country was in crisis. The anti-dictatorial movement was gaining strength and was led by the slain senator’s widow, Cory Aquino.
Marcos called a snap election in 1986. The opposition led by Aquino called for the withdrawal of the US bases. After Marcos was deposed in a popular uprising led by Aquino, Ramos, Enrile and Cardinal Sin in February 1986, a new constitution was adopted a year later. It stated that after expiration of the bases treaty in September 1991, “foreign military bases, troops or facilities, shall not be allowed” in the country unless a new treaty was ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate . In 1991, President Aquino broke her election promises and campaigned for the bases’ extension but on September 16, hundreds of thousands marched outside the Senate as it voted 12-11 to reject the new treaty .
Economic Effects of the Bases The Economic impact of the US Bases on the Philippine economy was undoubtingly significant. The US military spent over $500 million a year in the country on salaries, the purchase of supplies and services, and other military and economic aid given to the Philippine government. One estimate claimed that the total amount of economic contribution amounted to as much as US$ 1 billion annually . In March of 1987 the Philippine News reported that the bases employed 23,168 full-time workers, 22,834 contract workers, and 444 concessionaires for a total of 46,446 Filipinos with annual salaries totaling $96 million . The US Information Service claimed that, “The U.S.
facilities create a great deal of indirect employment by doing business with Philippine companies – over 900 had contracts with the bases in 1985 .. .” The Bases seemed to be pumping in millions of U.S dollars into an impoverished economy. Yet these figures can be quite misleading. Direct Filipino employment on the U.S. bases only amounted to some 5% of the total 1.18 million Filipinos employed by the Philippine government at that time .
Patricia A. Paez calculated that the bases only actually employed less than 1% of the total Philippine “non-agriculture workforce” . These statistics make the U.S. claim that it was the largest employer in the country, apart from the Philippine government, appear rather weak. Furthermore, the Philippines’ Jose W. Diokno Foundation (named after a well known Filipino nationalist) makes the point that bases’ contribution to the Philippine economy was actually consumption of “commodity items” and not “capital investment”.
“The bulk of base contribution are spent on labor – both legitimate labor and labor for entertainment purposes. Thus Filipino men, women and Children are transformed into commodity items” . In effect, base contributions did not actually assist in development of the Philippine economy. Also, U.S. Economic assistance regularly demands that the Philippines purchase only U.S. goods, which forced the Philippines into buying often higher priced goods than could have been bought on the world marketplace.
The Philippine Government Response Although some Government officials argued that the economic benefits of the bases warranted their retention, others argued that more productive uses could be found for the bases after the U. S withdrawal. The only question was how this conversion was to take place. As a result the Legislative-Executive Bases Council (LEBC) was created to formulate a comprehensive program to convert former and existing facilities into alternative productive civilian uses . The LEBC Mapped out the following alternatives to the economic activities that would suffer upon the removal of the U.S.
Bases: In Subic Naval Base, Filipinos could build and repair ships, cars, jeeps, buses, small boats, tricycles, utensils, hand tools and even build pre-fabricated housing. The huge jungle area of Subic could become a national park with its natural resources and wild creatures. Camp John Hay (a recreational USAF base in the Philippine mountains) could be converted into a tourist area. San Miguel Communications Station could be converted into a national and international communications enterprise, greatly contributing to the upgrading of the Philippine telecommunications network. Portions of Clark Air Base could be distributed into an international airport for passengers and cargo, and into an industrial center.
The estimated implementation cost of the programs was P158.5 billion for a ten-year period . It was purported that the private sector would finance half of this amount. It was then the active private sector participation was first conceived as crucial to the programs success. When the U.S. Bases pulled out, there was some initial upheaval as expected in North and Central Luzon. Not only did the withdrawal affect the economic life of the area, the 1990 earthquake and 1992 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo had laid waste too much of the area. About 42,000 people lost their jobs; not counting the estimated 79,000 additional jobs off base that depended on the US facility.
Business slowed down. Revenues dropped from US$13.8 million in 1991 to $5.8 million in 1992, reaching a low of $2.4 million in 1993. Subic and its adjacent city, Olongapo, were at a standstill. About a third of the city’s population packed up and moved to other parts of the country. Severe depression swept the area . It was in this turbulent time that the Bases Conversion Development Authority came into being by virtue of Republic Act No.
7227 signed by president Corazon Aquino on march 13 1992. The Sole Aim of the BCDA was to accelerate the development of the base conversions. Today, the former naval base has become the country’s first Freeport, hosting more than 170 companies dealing in manufacturing, retail, warehousing, transshipment, recreation and tourism. Next to Philippine firms, most of the investors are from Taiwan, followed by the US and Europe. As of September 1995, investments poured into the Freeport reached $1 billion, with companies employing about 30,000 people .
A number of factors account for Subic’s turnaround. The Americans left good infrastructure, including one of the best airstrips in Asia. Subic also has an excellent deep-water harbor, reliable power and communication facilities. Filipino workers in the area are skilled; they speak English and are easy to train. Clark Air Base, a sprawling 28,041-hectare prized property in the heart of central Luzon, was a major casualty of Mount Pinatubo.
After the volcano erupted in 1991, a large part of the air base was covered with ash, roofs caved in and all the eye could see was a vast stretch of gleaming, silver-gray land. The disaster hastened the departure of the US forces from America’s largest overseas air base. But it definitely slowed down the transformation of Clark into a civilian enterprise. Today, the former Clark Air Base-renamed Clark Special Economic Zone-is rising from the ashes, catching up with Subic Freeport. The government has since rehabilitated the power plant and telecommunications facilities and cleared the runways.
Offered incentives such as duty-free importation and waived local and national taxes, local and foreign businesses have set up shop with investments now reaching over $500 million. Most of these are industrial and commercial ventures; the rest are aviation-related and …