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Opposition to Philippines-Australia military deal; No to 'visiting forces' military pacts with US/Australia/NZ!

June 12, 2012 -- Green Left TV/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Australian mining companies are already ravaging the traditional land of Indigenous peoples in the Philippines and now they are hoping to get ratified a military agreement that will allow Australian troops to enter the Philippines for "combined training, exercises, or other activities mutually approved by the Parties".

Protests broke out in Manila on June 6, 2012, as the Philippines Senate was deliberating on the ratification of the controversial "visiting forces" military pact with the Australian government, signed by the disgraced former president Gloria Arroyo in 2007. Anti-war groups in the Philippines are seeking Australian solidarity for their campaign to block the ratification. Green Left TV spoke to Reihana Mohideen, an anti-war and socialist activist in Manila.

June 14, 2012 -- Green Left TV -- The Philippines people are justly proud they forced the closure of US military bases in their country after they ousted the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. But Corazon Fabros of the Stop The War Coalition of the Philippines warns that US and allied militaries are attempting a "comeback through the backdoor". A "visiting forces" military agreement with the Australian government -- currently before the Philippines Senate for ratification -- is part of this process. Anti-war and progressive groups will be demonstrating outside the Australian embassy in Manila on June 20, 2012, and have called for solidarity from the Australian people.

Protests slam Australian military pact

By Peter Boyle

June 8, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- Anti-war and progressive groups in the Philippines have asked for Australian support against the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between Australia and the Philippines currently before the Philippines Senate for ratification.

On June 6, there were two anti-war protests against the VFA, which is seen as part of a US-led military build up in the Asian region aimed at China.

The US used to operate huge military bases in the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship. After Marcos was toppled by peoples power uprisings, these agreements were revoked.

However, subsequent Philippines governments have used VFAs to effectively re-base significant US military forces in the Philippines, particularly in and around the southern island of Mindanao. There, insurgent left and Moro national liberation groups say US special forces and even drones have been used against them.

Article 5, paragraph 1 of the Philippines-Australia VFA provides that the "visiting forces" may temporarily use such defined land and sea areas, air space or facilities, of the "receiving State" for "combined training, exercises, or other activities mutually approved by the Parties."

Philippines anti-war activists are concerned that a VFA with Australia will be used to help further repress liberation movements.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said each year Australia spends $4-4.5 million on “bilateral military cooperation”. These include “high level policy talks, training of approximately 130 Philippine defence personnel in Australia, and visits by senior officials”. The military relationship, says DFAT, is “focused on counter terrorism, maritime security and assistance to the Philippines Defence Reform Program”.

During former Philippines president Gloria Arroyo’s visit to Australia in May 2007, a bilateral Status of Visiting Forces Agreement was signed. This pact is now being considered for ratification by the Philippines Senate.
Reihana Mohideen from the Party of the Labouring Masses (PLM) told Green Left Weekly: “About 50% of the US war fleet is in the Asian region (it is projected to rise to 60% by 2020) and the anti-war movement here sees Australia as the major military partner of US imperialism in the region.

“The VFA with the US was signed in 1998. It has allowed a permanent presence of US military forces in the Philippines without having permanent bases like there used to be under the Marcos dictatorship.”

It has allowed a permanent US military presence, Mohideen said, especially in Mindanao under the guise of ongoing military exercises.

“We know they have participated with intelligence personnel in on-the-ground operations against Moro liberation movement. We have had reports, recently, of drone attacks very similar to those being carrioed out by the US in Pakistan. This is a stepping up of covert and overt military intervention in the Philippines.

“Another aspect is the question of who has legal jurisdiction over these ‘visiting’ military forces. And it has been found that the Philippines has no juridiction.

“There was a case of the rape of a young woman by a US soldier a few years ago where the US asserted its legal jurisdiction over the offender.

“In the light of this experience we now have a similar agreement that has been signed with the Australian government. It is only now that this agreement has come before the Senate that the movement has been made aware of its existence.”

Australia, added Mohideen, is the “number one military ally of US imperialism in the region”. She said Australia had its own direct interests, such as mining. “Australian mining companies are ravaging Indigenous communities in Mindanao and in central Philippines. This is a real concern.

“The Senate is now deliberating the ratification bill. It has been delayed because seven Senators now oppose it. If eight Senators oppose it this will block the bill when it is reconsidered in July.

“So we are calling for urgent solidarity from the movement in Australia in our struggle to block this military agreement which is going to be detrimental to the people of the Philippines.”

 

Comments

“There was a case of the

“There was a case of the rape of a young woman by a US soldier a few years ago where the US asserted its legal jurisdiction over the offender.Thanks

PLM statement on Status of Visiting Forces Agreement with Austra

No to Australian Military Presence in the Philippines!

Block the Senate Ratification of the Philippine Australia “Status of the Visiting Forces Agreement”!

The Philippine-Australia military agreement, known as the Status of the Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), which was poised to be ratified by the Philippine senate on June 6, has now been postponed until late July for final ratification. The SOVFA will enable Australian troops to conduct military exercises and other related activities in the Philippines. The SOVFA, as with the US Visiting Forces Agreement, sets the guidelines for the treatment of visiting Australian troops. The SoVFA was signed in Canberra in May 2007. The moves to ratify it now coincides with the plans of the United States to increase its military forces in the Philippines under a rebalancing scheme which significantly increases US and imperialist militarization of the Asia and Pacific region. The containment of China, which is emerging as a direct competitor to the US and other imperialist countries economic interests, is a key and explicitly stated objective of this heightened militarization.

Seven senators voted against ratification on the day Senator Loren Legarda, the chairperson of the Senate foreign relations committee, still managed to gain the support of 13 of the 21 senators present. However, this means that she was still two votes short of the necessary two-thirds of the Senate membership of 23, to ratify the agreement. This gives the anti-war movement, left and progressive forces a few extra weeks, to step-up the campaign to block the passage of the agreement.

The Australian-US Alliance

Australia is an important ally of the US and its relationship with the US is sometimes described as one of a “junior partner”. As a “partner” it defends its own national interests and its foreign policy serves the interests of the Australian capitalist class, the 1%. Australian big business has worldwide interests. From the Congo to the Philippines and Chile, Australian mining countries destroy communities and pollute the environment. Being a relatively small country, Australia lacks the military capacity to project power globally, so Australia’s 1% protects its worldwide interests by tying Australia’s military to the major power of the day. A hundred years ago, this meant Britain. Today, it means the US.

Australia’s military engagement in Afghanistan is just the latest in a long line of US-led wars of aggression Australia has signed up to, which includes Iraq (twice), Somalia, Vietnam and Korea. In the South Pacific it is a regional imperialist power and Australia’s powerful mining corporations operate with impunity and little regard for local indigenous communities, workers or the environment. While in the Philippines there has been no direct experience of the brutality of Australian imperialism, the people of the Pacific region, such as the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, have suffered and continue to suffer under Australia’s imperialist yoke.

The Australia-US military alliance has also shifted into higher gear along with the US shift to the increased militarization of the Asian region. The US lease on its military base in the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia runs out in 2016 and the Pentagon wants to relocate at least some of the military functions of the base to various Australian bases in Western Australian, Darwin and the Cocos Islands. The US has used Diego Garcia to base nuclear weapons, marines, warships, bombers and spy planes. And it has used it as a transit station for political prisoners sent for “rendition” to other countries so they can be tortured, though this is officially denied. Diego Garcia is a strategic hub of the US war machine.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands, a part of Australian territory, was used as a military base by the British in World Wars I & II and now the US military wants the islands as a base for drones and other spy planes. The new Australia-US deal will allow for 250 US marines to be stationed in Darwin next year, increasing to 2500 by 2016. There will be increased US military ship visits to Darwin and other ports in northern Australia. There will be more US warplanes, including B-52 bombers, based in Darwin. Darwin, situated on the northern tip of the Australian continent, with its proximity to South East Asia, is strategically located. More joint US-Australian military exercises will take place on Australian soil. US military equipment will be stored in northern Australia, including cluster bombs. These weapons indiscriminately scatter explosive “bomblets” that remain deadly long after conflicts have ended and mainly harm civilians. The Australian Labor Government has fully backed and spearheaded these moves.

Even without the SOVFA, a small number of Australian troops have been deployed to the Philippines since 2001, to supposedly train Filipino soldiers. In July and August 2004, Australian Special Forces landed for joint training exercises. In 2005, there were press reports that the Australian police were conducting "covert operations" in the country. This was followed by reports that elite Australian troops had joined US and Filipino soldiers in operations against alleged terrorists in Mindanao. Even without the SOVFA, Australia can opt to continue sending troops to the Philippines, as long as the Philippine government consents. What Australia wants through the SOVFA is to secure the guarantees and exemptions that the agreement accords to Australian troops when they are deployed in the Philippines. Without the SOVFA Australian troops would be subject to the laws of the Philippines as ordinary tourists.

The Australian SOVFA and the US VFA

As with the US VFA, the Australian SOVFA should be scrutinized and exposed for its potential violation of Philippine sovereignty, its violation of Philippine laws on criminal jurisdiction and custody as well as the social and environmental costs of having foreign troops conducting prolonged and sustained military operations in our country.

For example, on the issue of criminal jurisdiction the SOVFA and the US VFA are similar. As with the US VFA, under the Australian SOVF, the Philippines cannot exercise primary jurisdiction if the Australian side claims that an action was carried out in performance of an "official duty." If, for example, an Australian soldier were accused of being complicit in the killing of innocent civilians or of other human rights violations, their Filipino victims would not be able to sue him or her in Philippine courts once Australian authorities claim, and Philippine authorities agree, that the action was carried out on "official duty”. Unlike under the US VFA Australia must "consult" with the Philippines on whether an action indeed falls under "official duty" and the Philippines apparently has the final say.

On the issue of custody, the SOVFA (unlike the US VFA) gives the Philippines custody of the accused during the trial period. Pending investigation, however, the Philippines would be able to detain the accused only if the soldier was already in the hands of Philippine authorities. If he or she were already in the hands of Australian authorities, however, they would remain with the Australians (though on Philippine territory). Upon conviction, on the issue of confinement to serve the sentence, the provision in the SOVFA is vague and lends itself to different interpretations.

Philippine experience with the actual application of the provisions of the VFA with the US was recently put to the test in the trial of US Marines accused of raping a Filipina in November 2005. US and Philippine government officials invoked the VFA's provisions to justify the holding of the accused under US custody upon arrest and in the entire duration of the trial. A Philippine court subsequently found one US Marine guilty and ordered him imprisoned in a Philippine jail in December 2006. US and Philippine authorities again cited the VFA to defy the judge's order. Under pressure from the US, which cancelled scheduled military exercises with the Philippines to express its displeasure with the Philippine Court's order, Filipino officials promptly spirited the convicted rapist out of the Philippine jail, to be jailed in a cell inside the US embassy complex in Manila, according to US officials. We have no reason to believe that the experience will be any different under the Australian SOVFA.

Despite the minor ‘differences’, however, the SOVFA essentially seeks the same objectives for Australian troops as the VFA does for American soldiers: to exempt Australian troops from being subject to the laws of the Philippines by according them a different legal status “to the extent negotiable”, i.e. Australia will push as hard as it can for its interests to prevail under the SOVFA. While Filipinos or other nationals who are accused of committing offenses in the Philippines will have to go through the normal judicial process that applies to everyone in the country, Australian troops covered under the SOVFA will not.

The Philippine government support for the SOVFA is a part and parcel of its support for US strategic interests in the region, under the extremely misguided view that this somehow coincides with Philippine national interests. The Philippine elite are still doggedly committed to clinging on to the coat tails of a bigger power, living off its benevolence and under its shadow. For a majority of them this power is still the US and along with it they also have an ‘open door’ policy to welcome and even subjugate the nation to the interests of key US allies such as Australia.

The Philippines government best serves its national interests by pursuing an independent foreign policy, in keeping with the Philippine constitution. Major developing countries are emerging with greater economic and strategic clout, pro-people’s governments are creating new regional blocs and alignments, such as in Latin America, and peoples’ movements in the Middle East are challenging the old pro-imperialist status quo. In simply lining up with the US, Australia and ‘old’ imperialism, the Philippine government has once again demonstrated its lack of foresight and absence of leadership in crafting an independent vision and path for the country.

Rei Melencio
International Desk
Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM)
June 12, 2012

Socialist Alliance solidarity statement

June 19, 2012

Dear friends and comrades

The Socialist Alliance in Australia stands in complete solidarity with you in opposing the ratification of the Philippine-Australia Status of the Visiting Forces Agreement, a military pact that seeks to allow the deployment of Australian military forces on your country’s territory for military exercises and "combined training, exercises, or other activities mutually approved by the Parties".

If endorsed by the Philippines Senate, this military pact will assist the drive for greater US and other imperialist militarisation of the Asian region.

This agreement is part of a series of military pacts between various imperialist governments and collaborating Asian governments that effectively allow the undermining of the freedom, security and sovereignty of the peoples of this region. These agreements subvert the Philippine constitution which provides in Article XVIII, Sec. 25:

“After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”

We have seen how similar military agreements have been used by the US governments to get around the popular closure of the giant US military bases that operated in the Philippines until the Filipino people overthrew the hated Marcos dictatorship. The objective of the Philippines-Australia Status of the Visiting Forces Agreement will further this process.

Australian governments have been the most loyal military partners of US imperialism for many decades. They have endorsed and participated in numerous imperialist wars of aggression, invasion and occupation led by US imperialism – from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.

More recently the Australian government has expanded its military ties with the US and entered agreements to effectively base thousands of US marines in Darwin as well as open all its military airfields and and naval ports to US military forces. In addition, the Australian and US military are discussing plans to develop the Indian ocean atoll Cocos Island into a US base for spy drone aircraft to conduct military operations in the Asian region.

There are already numerous US military spy stations and military communications facilities elsewhere on Australia territory. The existing US intelligence base at Pine Gap in central Australia has become more important as the US war machine becomes more technologically sophisticated. Pine Gap has long been essential to US covert communications and its capacity to wage nuclear war.

This close military alliance between Australia and the US is based on the common interests of two imperialist states that are determined to use their military right to protect the right of the global corporations to continue to exploit and rob the oppressed nations and peoples of the world. The militaries of both countries are geared towards foreign intervention (officially termed "forward military projection") towards neighbouring countries. These are not "defence forces" but forces of imperialist aggression.

Australian corporations have their own significant interests in the Philippines and the rest of Asia, which their militaries are used to protect. These include several notorious mining operations that are ravaging the tribal lands of Indigenous communities in the Philippines.

The Socialist Alliance condemns the increased US military presence in Australia as a setback for peace and the increased militarisation of the Asian region, of which the Philippine-Australia Status of the Visiting Forces Agreement is but one component.

The Socialist Alliance campaigns for an end to all aggressive military alliances and for the removal of all imperialist and military facilities from the region.

In this spirit we offer our complete solidarity to all the peace-promoting, anti-war and progressive forces in the Philippines now demanding that the Philippine-Australia Status of the Visiting Forces Agreement not be ratified by the Philippines Senate.

Susan Price and Peter Boyle
Socialist Alliance national co-convenors

Solidarity message from Sydney Top The War Coalition

Sydney Stop the War Coalition in Australia extends its solidarity the Philippines Stop the War Coalition and the other groups demanding that your country's Senate not to ratify the Republic of the Philippines-Australia Status of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

This is a military agreement, developed in secrecy by the governments and military chief of both our governments, that will allow the deployment of Australian military forces on Philippines territory for "combined training, exercises, or other activities mutually approved by the Parties".

This military deal is an attack on the peace, freedom and independence of the Filipino people, and the other peoples in Asia.

We understand that under this agreement, the Philippines cannot exercise primary jurisdiction over visiting Australian military personnel accused of a crime or other breach of the law if the Australian military claims that the action concerned was carried out in performance of an "official duty".

Under such an outrageous provision, if a “visiting” Australian soldier was accused of killing innocent civilians (or of other human rights violations), their Filipino victims would not be able to sue him/her in Philippine courts should the Australian authorities claim, and Philippine authorities agree, that the action was carried out in performance of an "official duty."

Australian governments have proved to be the most loyal military partners of US military foreign interventions in numerous countries over many decades, including Korea, Malaya,Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Sydney Stop the War Coalition continues to campaign against such military interventions by our government and its US partner-in-crime.

Last year, during a visit by US President Barack Obama to Australia, radically expanded military ties between Australia and the US were announced. These would allow the effective basing of significant numbers of US troops, warships and warplanes in Australia as well as the continuation of the US spy and military communications facilities which have long operated in Australia.

In an open letter to Obama and Australian PM Julia Gillard during the US President’s visit to Australia last year, the Sydney Stop the War Coalition charged them with complicity in war crimes and declared:

“We believe that the policies you jointly agree on undermine the security of our future and the opportunity for our children to live in a world free of war and violence; a world where economic equality, freedom of speech, expression and knowledge are sacrosanct.

“We are prevented from having that world because of the support you give to the military industrial complex, of which Australia is a loyal subsidiary. Those interests would have us believe that they wage war to bring peace and something they call 'democracy'...

“We do not accept that Australia’s foreign policy is best served by a war alliance with the US. “Signing a pact with the US government to allow joint command of military bases on Australian soil is not about preventing wars. Rather, it is about continuing the current illegal and unpopular wars, and being complicit in starting more.

“Australians overwhelmingly opposed the invasion of Iraq and, now, the 10-year long war in Afghanistan. Australia’s support for the NATO intervention into Libya, and the risk of such an intervention into Iran, will not help the democracy movements in these countries. Rather, these imperial interventions are about helping install compliant rulers with whom imperial powers, including Australia, can do business.”

With this understanding of the repressive role of the US and Australian military in the Middle East and Asia, we would like to offer Sydney Stop the War Coalition's solidarity to the anti-war movement in the Philippines.

Please add our voice to your upcoming protest actions demanding that the Philippine-Australia Status of the Visiting Forces Agreement not be ratified by your Senate.

Signed,

Pip Hinman & Anne Picot
for Sydney Stop the War Coalition

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