Philippine President Benigno Aquino (L) shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after their joint press conference at the Akasaka State Guesthouse in Tokyo June 4, 2015. REUTERS/KAZUHIRO NOGI/POOL

by Lady Michelle Jennifer Santos

08 June 2015, MANILA (TSR) –  Manila and Tokyo have agreed to start talks on allowing Japanese military aircraft and naval vessels to use bases in the Philippines for refuelling and picking up supplies, Philippine President Benigno Aquino has said.

The agreement would be a Visiting Forces Agreement, which would clear the way for the Japanese military to use Philippines’ bases on a rotational basis similar to the way the US does now, Aquino said at a press briefing in Tokyo at the end of a four-day state visit to Japan and meeting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

On Saturday at a security summit in Singapore, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter condemned China’s reclamation in the disputed area, and called for an “immediate and lasting halt” of its activities there.

This comes after the Pentagon revealed that China had put two artillery vehicles on one of the artificial islands it’s building.

Japan is considering joint air patrols with the US in the South China Sea, sources told the Reuters news agency in April, in response to China’s increasingly assertive push for influence as it builds air strips and other man-made islands in the disputed waters.

An ability to refuel close to the South China Sea would allow Japan’s airforce to keep their aircraft on patrol longer and cover a greater distance.

China says the criticism is baseless, and insists its activities are legitimate.

China’s Admiral Sun Jianguo dismissed the criticism on June 2 saying, “there is no reason for people to play up this issue”.

Unable to match the scale of the Chinese fleet, Manila is looking for allies in its territorial spat with China.

In 2011, Aquino and then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced a “strategic alliance”, which also covers political and security aspects, including “cooperation in the field of maritime affairs”.

Japan also has conflicting maritime claims with its regional rival China over Senkaku, or Diaoyu in the East Sea. Last April, Abe proposed new legislation allowing Japan to supply the US military in the South China Sea, also referred to by Manila as the West Philippine Sea.

While Japan and the US have no territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea waters, both have strategic interests in the area, which sees $5 trillion in maritime trade annually. It is important to note that US who is fond of sanctimoniously talking about rules but violating them, has so far refused to adhere to UNCLOS (the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea).

The twentieth century saw the Philippines subjected to the brutal colonial rule of two imperialist powers, the United States and Japan, both of which the Filipino ruling class collaborated with. Under the leadership of President Benigno Aquino, they are actively functioning as the proxies of the same imperialist powers. As Washington recklessly pursues its drive to encircle China, the Philippines is being prepared as the staging point for a global war.

The Philippine constitution explicitly bans all “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities.” This ban is being cynically circumvented by having the Philippine government maintain the base facilities, at which the foreign troops are stationed as so-called “guests.”

Irresponsible Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler comparison 

Aquino on Wednesday sparked ire in Beijing by comparing it with Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War II.

“If somebody said ‘stop’ to [Adolf] Hitler at that point in time, or to Germany at that time, would we have avoided World War II?” he said in a speech to business leaders.

President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) and his comparison of Nazi Germany and China is absurd and bears no scrutiny says an analyst expert on Asia.

Instead of giving irresponsible, inappropriate, inflammatory remarks and totally misleading historical speeches, Aquino should concentrate on making the ?Philippines?, like South Korea, an economic, social and environmental success story which its population so much deserves.

“Perhaps, President Aquino’s intention in making his inflammatory populist remarks was in the hope of distracting the attention of the Philippino people away from the poor economic and governance performance of the country’s leadership and elites over decades”, says Jean-Pierre Lehmann of Evian Group.

Quid Pro Quo

Japan invaded the Philippines during World War II. But following the war, the two countries have become allies, and Tokyo remains one of Manila’s biggest trading partners and financial aid donors.

Coinciding his state visit to Japan, the Philippine president, also repeatedly invited Japanese investors to put their money in the country, citing improved business climate.

Some 300 Japanese manufacturing companies operating in China and Japan have expressed interest to relocate their businesses in the Philippines in the next five years, as declining economic growth and rising wages there are making it difficult for them to continue doing business.

“As of now, there are about 1,700 Japanese companies in the Philippines. But we continue to receive inquiries from about 200 manufacturers in China, saying they want to relocate here,” Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines Incorporated vice president Nobuo Fuji responded to Rappler via text message on Friday.

Japanese companies that have set up their bases here in the Philippines include:

  • Cemedine Philippines Corporation, which manufactures and sells adhesive, ceiling, and related products
  • Bandai, the toy maker of Power Rangers and Gundam fame
  • Fujifilm Corporation, which makes optical lenses for digital cameras, projectors, and surveillance cameras
  • Murata Manufacturing Company Limited, an electronics components maker
  • Tokyo-listed bicycle parts maker Shimano Incorporated, which previously based in China, started building its first factory in the Philippines early this year.

Fuji said Japanese wristwatch maker Citizen and Mitsubishi Power Industries are some of the companies in China that are heading for the exits and move their manufacturing plants in the Philippines.

“In China, there are so many companies invested, but they face wage increase, historical problems, labor strikes, and so on. They want to relocate to other countries in ASEAN (Association of the Southeast Asian Nations), and the Philippines is attractive for them,” Fuji said.

According to a Nikkei report, minimum wages in China have almost doubled over the past 5 years. Labor-management disputes over factory closure have also become common in China, according to Nikkei.

Takashi Ishigami, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines Inc., said that some of the firms had already started moving their operations here last year, viewing the Philippines as a very competitive country. “And we will have more; it can increase by 200 to 300 easily,” he said.

Ishigami said on the sidelines of the Joint Foreign Chamber Networking Night that most of the companies were engaged in information technology while some others in automotive parts manufacturing. Ishigami did not divulge any planned investment details, but noted “it’s a big number. It depends on the companies.”

He said more Japanese companies were establishing their business presence in the Philippines, owing to the country’s investment and tax incentives given to foreign investors. “The Philippines has very good investment program and tax incentives for foreign companies particularly those offered by PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) and BOI (Board of Investments),” he said. “These are giving the Japanese firms opportunities to expand their business.”

He also cited other competitive advantages of the Philippines, including its well educated English-speaking workforce and good quality infrastructure.

“The business environment here is getting better. At first, only few Japanese companies had interest but now, many of them have interest to invest in the Philippines,” he said.

Labor disputes and rising wages are not the only reasons China is losing its competitive edge as a business destination for Japanese firms.

Many of the about 200 Japanese manufacturers, according to Fuji, are eyeing to set up factories in “PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) areas like Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon).”

“Another reason why they are interested in the Philippines is because of EU (European Union) duty-free entry,” Fuji added.

BACKGROUND: US-Japan-Philippines Alliance Long In The Making

Preparations to restore the basing of the US military in the Philippines have been long in the making. They were made public in January 2012, during the 2+2 meeting held in Washington between then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and their Philippine counterparts. The details of the basing arrangements are now becoming clearer. Manila is preparing a 70-acre facility at the former Subic Naval Base to house US warships and fighter planes. Upgrades on the site will cost some US$230 million. An airbase is being prepared on Cagayan de Oro, on the southern island of Mindanao.

On June 27, 2013 at a press conference in Quezon City, Philippines, Philippine Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin and his Japanese counterpart, Itsunori Onodera, announced that the Philippines would establish basing arrangements with both the US and Japanese militaries. China was the explicit target of this move allowing the US and Japan to station military personnel and equipment in the Philippines.

At the press conference, Gazmin called China “the oppressive neighbor” and the “bully at our doorstep.” He stated, “At this point in time, we cannot stand alone. We need allies. If we don’t do this, we will be bullied by bigger powers and that is what is happening now: there is China, sitting on our territory.”

Both Defense Ministers called for an increased US military presence in the region, and specifically for basing US forces in the Philippines. Onodera said that “both sides agreed that the US presence is a very important public asset in East Asia.”

Onodera also announced then that Japan would officially back the Philippines’ claim of territorial sovereignty, which is currently being adjudicated by the United National Commission on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). These statements constitute an unprecedented acknowledgement by Japan of the validity of the Philippine claim to the disputed waters.

There is an escalating US intervention to include US allies in the region in military alliances directed against China. Recent years have not only seen Washington back Japanese claims on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, but also develop military bases in Australia and basing agreements for US littoral combat ships in Singapore.

According to reports, the Chinese embassy in Manila responded by issuing a statement asking the Philippines and the United States “not to exacerbate tensions in the area.” Beijing’s response to the Filipino-Japanese talks was sharper. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi denounced them as the “path of confrontation,” stating that they are “doomed.” He added that countries that “try to reinforce their poorly grounded claims through the help of external forces” would find the strategy a “miscalculation not worth the effort.”

Some of these bases are now being prepared for Japanese troops and equipment as well. While the troops stationed in the Philippines would be rotated in and out of the country, this would constitute the permanent stationing the so-called ‘self-defense forces’ outside Japan. If carried through, this unprecedented move would mark the reemergence of Japan as a global imperialist military power.

This move is a further step in Tokyo’s long-standing drive to remilitarize Japan, with Washington’s backing. The Philippines have played a key role in this process. In December 2012, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told the Financial Times that Manila would support the scrapping of the so-called pacifist clause in the Japanese constitution, which has inhibited Japanese remilitarization, citing tensions with China as the justification.

Philippine Defense Minister Gazmin said that Manila would “allow the United States, Japan and other allies access to its military bases under the plan to roll back China’s expansive claims in the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea].” What other “allies” were also discussing basing arrangements with the Philippines was not disclosed.

During the meeting between Onodera and Gazmin, Washington launched a six-day joint military training exercise with the Philippines in the South China Sea. Five hundred US military personnel and an equal number of Filipinos are engaged in a series of war games of a calculatedly provocative nature.

The USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, and the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Philippine navy’s flagship, staged naval maneuvers in waters less than 50 miles from the disputed shoal where Filipino marines are occupying a facility surrounded by Chinese naval vessels. The exercise’s stated aim was “to intercept suspected enemy ships, board them and seize materials they may be carrying that could pose a danger to allies.”

The use of the terms “enemy ships” and “allies” is a marked escalation of rhetoric previously used to justify the war games. Previous war games allegedly targeted regional piracy, conducted rescue operations, or defended maritime trade. The 2013 Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises are now couched in the language of global war.

At Cavite naval base, six miles south of Manila, US military personnel trained their Filipino counterparts in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They launched and remotely guided Puma surveillance drones from a ship in the South China Sea. The Philippine navy also received training in naval gunnery.

Military Bases have Environmental Consequences

In the Philippines, there has been a long history of foreign military bases including Japanese military occupation during World War II.  Apart from this period of Japanese occupation, the US military has used the Philippines as a military stronghold in Southeast Asia since the Spanish American War of 1898. The main US bases located in the Philippines were Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base.  These bases were returned to the Philippines between 1991 and 1992.

According to Hayashi Kiminori, Oshima Ken’ichi and Yokemoto Masafumi’s “Overcoming American Military Base Pollution in Asia: Japan, Okinawa, Philippines” that even before their return, these bases caused environmental pollution through such routine uses as oil spills, the dispersion of pesticide, and the disposal of wastes and ammunition. The US military failed to properly manage and dispose of toxic materials and did not remove this pollution when the bases were closed.

The refugees who took shelter at Clark Air Force Base in order to escape the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 suffered direct and serious consequences from base pollution.  They were not notified that Clark Base was contaminated with toxic material and they used shallow wells in the base to get drinking water. This would later cause very serious health complications.  At Subic Bay, it has been reported that there were quite substantial numbers of victims, mainly suffering from asbestosis, among former workers at ship repair facilities.  According to “The People’s Taskforce for Base Cleanup,” a local environmental NGO, the total number of victims of pollution from both Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base, as of the end of April 2004, is 2,460.  Among those victims, 1060 have died; the health issues of surviving victims include leukemia, cancer, respiratory problems, and skin diseases.

The US military has not done any pollution cleanup nor provided any compensation to these victims.  A section of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between the Philippines and the United States in 1947 that relieves US military from responsibility for restoring bases to their original condition has been cited as justification for the failure to take any action.  Since so many have suffered from base pollution, it is critical to consider these incidents that took place in the Philippines.

In Japan and South Korea, exclusive right to the use of bases by US military is provided under Article 3, Section 1 of the SOFA.  The military is exempted from the environmental laws of both their host countries and the United States of America under this agreement.  Given this exclusive right of base use it is difficult to perform walk-in investigations of bases for the purpose of environmental study.  There is no section requiring the preservation of the environment in the SOFA and the US military continued to remain free from any rules and regulations until the time when regulations by US Department of Defense became meaningful in the 1990’s.

It is also set forth in Article 4, Section 1 of the SOFA that the US military is exempted from responsibility to restore bases to their original condition.  For US bases in Japan, the Japanese government pays any costs rather than requiring contributions by the US military.  Therefore, the US military has no incentive to control pollution.  Rather, the Japanese government relieves the US military of its financial burden.

Because of the disclosures of serious environmental destruction in the Philippines discussed earlier, and increasing awareness of environmental issues, the Department of Defense set forth regulations known as the “Department of Defense Policy for Establishing and Implementing Environmental Standards at Overseas Installations” on November 20, 1991. This directive officially outlines DoD policies for the disposal of toxic materials and wastes.  It stipulated the creation of two documents:  the “Overseas Environmental Baseline Guidance Document” and the  “Environmental Governing Standard,” which originated in the former document.  The Overseas Environmental Baseline Guidance Document stipulates the minimum standard for environmental protection in overseas bases.  On the other hand, the Environmental Governing Standard sets official standards for each base, according to applicable environmental laws of the United States and of the host country as well as SOFAs and other international treaties.  The Overseas Environmental Baseline Guidance Document provides a minimum standard; however, if a higher standard is set forth by host country, a comparable standard for environmental management will be established.  In Japan, the Environmental Governing Standard was created on May 1, 1995 and has been revised six times to September 2006.

However, these documents still present problems.  First of all, the Environmental Governing Standard is merely a guideline.  It imposes no obligation on the US military.  Military policy regarding the observance of environmental regulations is always an internal directive and never imposes any responsibility toward the host country, even in the case of violation of this policy.

Secondly, according to the Japan-US SOFA, the US military is not required to obtain permission from the Government of Japan to perform its activities.  The host country is also precluded from taking any initiative to conduct walk-in investigations, which prevents the host country from any direct research into environmental conditions inside the bases.  Therefore, it is necessary to revise the SOFA so that the host country will be able to understand and regulate activities conducted by US military.

Removal of Pollution

The Environmental Governing Standard mentioned above does not require the removal of pollution.  Any removal is considered “to be determined according to applicable international treaties, Status of Forces Agreement and policies of US government”.  This is why it is critical to consider the US military’s exemption from any responsibility to restore bases to their original condition in the SOFA.

On February 2, 1998, the Environmental Remediation for DoD Activities Overseas was issued. It stipulates measures for the comprehensive removal of pollution on both bases that are currently in use or have been closed. It broadly outlines expedited environmental governing standards that the American military is to follow when dealing with “known immanent and substantial endangerment to human health and safety.”

There are two important points in these regulations. The first is that the American military is probably authorized to hide the presence of pollution in overseas military bases by not declaring its presence. It seems likely that, if pollution was made generally known, the American military would have to implement the Environmental Governing Standard at vast expense.

The second is this: if the presence of pollution is clearly declared, the possibility exists that it would not actually be removed. That is, if it is determined that there is a “known immanent and substantial endangerment to human health and safety” of those outside the base, the pollution will be removed; otherwise, it might not be. The problem is that the specific content of these standards is not defined in the regulations.

In American law, a single standard exists for regulating the removal of pollution in domestic US bases. On the other hand, no laws exist for regulating the removal of pollution overseas.  The relations of power between the United States and the host nation come into play. Concerning American overseas bases, beyond Presidential orders, Congressional laws, the internal directives of the Department of Defense, and international agreements like the SOFA, relations of power between the United States and the host nation are mobilized over the issue of pollution. The removal of pollution from overseas bases is not an obligation built on regulations; rather, it takes on the character of a voluntary goal that the American military imposes on itself.  When the American military agrees to meet the demands of the host nation to remove pollution, any negligence in removal could damage relations with the host nation and create problems for the smooth use of US bases.  That is, pollution is removed in order to avoid damaging the mutual security policies that depend on the effective operation of the bases.


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