(The following manifestation was made by Rep. Walden Bello of the Party-list Akbayan! on the floor of the House of Representatives of the Philippines on August 13, 2009. It was prepared by Herbert Docena of Focus on the Global South.)
Yesterday, the USS George Washington aircraft carrier—a gargantuan ship measuring as long as seven Olympic-sized swimming pools in length and as high as a 24-storey building—docked at the Manila Bay. It carried with it over 6,000 US troops—or over a third of the number of US troops that used to be based in the former US bases in Subic and Clark. With a flight deck twice as large as UP’s Sunken Garden, accommodating over 80 aircraft, carriers like the USS George Washington have been described by US military officials as a kind of “floating base”—no less a part of the US overseas military presence as its ground bases.
It is no secret that the USS George Washington is nuclear-powered: two Westinghouse nuclear reactors provide the propulsion it needs for speed. Though the United States government would “neither confirm or deny” whether the ships actually carry nuclear weapons, what is known is that that these carriers were designed and built to have the capacity to actually launch nuclear weapons. In Japan, where the question has rankled the public for decades, a high-ranking US official has said that “responsible and thinking Japanese… accept the probability that at least some of our ships may carry.”
Responsible and thinking Filipinos could and should also therefore assume that some US ships carry nuclear weapons. But that we do not accept it, however, has been made clear when we overwhelmingly ratified—at the urging of the late President Cory Aquino—the 1987 Philippine constitution. Section 8 clearly states that our country “adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.” By forging the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone in 1995, we have been joined by our neighbors in rejecting what the Americans want us to accept.
USS George Washington is just one of an increasing number of US warships visiting the country. Since 2001, port visits have surged nearly 20-fold: from 7 in 2001 to 130 last year. And the government does not even seem to be keeping track. Just last June, a Chinese submarine hit a sonar array being towed by the USS John McCain off Subic Bay—and Filipino officials did not even know that the USS John McCain was here.
These recurring ship visits are part of the new kind of US military basing in the Philippines—one that is different from the kind the US had in Subic and Clark—but no less dangerous and illegal. Other dimensions of this include the permanent basing of the 600-strong US Joint Special Operations Task Force in Zamboanga City, the designation of “cooperative security locations,” a category of US bases, in unspecified locations all over the country. This is again a creeping and underhanded subversion of the Constitution and the Filipinos’ sovereign will.
This deepening US military presence reveals what it is that the US wants the Philippines to continue to do as the “coordinator” for US interests in the ASEAN: that is, as an open staging ground for US intervention in the region.
We in Akbayan! demand the immediate withdrawal of the USS George Washington from Philippine territory and call for a moratorium on all further US warship entries into the country. If the US insists on “neither confirming nor denying” the presence of nuclear weapons in its ships, we demand that a Congressional Committee be allowed to fully inspect all US warships in our territory. We also call for an immediate investigation on the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Mindanao and a freeze in further deployments by its troops. Finally we call for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. These should move us forward in redefining our relations with the US and bring us closer to an independent
self-respecting foreign policy.