Thousands of demonstrators marched the main thoroughfares of Manila protesting against US President Barack Obama in his 2-day state visit in the Philippines tagging the President as the ‘Imperialist Chieftain’ who would drag the Philippines into wars that the United States have been actively participating and according to the protesters, “being mongered into” by the most powerful country in the world.
Obama arrived in Manila at around 1:30 in the afternoon just after his state visit in Malaysia. The President on his Air Force One lands at Ninoy Aquino international Airport and travelled to Malacañan Palace where Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, his cabinet members, other Philippine officials and dignitaries welcomed him and gave a 21-gun salute. Shortly after Obama’s arrival in the Presidential Palace, he held talks and a joint press conference in the morning, and a state dinner attended by both Philippine and American dignitaries where Aquino conferred Obama the Order of Sikatuna, the national order of diplomatic merit of the Philippines with the highest rank of Raja (Grand Collar). Obama is in the country for the last-leg of his four-nation Asian tour sealing agreements that would ensure the swift implementation of the United States government’s ‘rebalancing’ of military forces, political and economic pivot in the Asia-Pacific region which includes the economic scheme: Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
While the Palace greeted the US President with grandiose welcome, Filipino protesters burned a mock flag of the United States at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila condemning the ‘imperialist plunders’ of US in the Philippines ever since the colonial relations of the two countries. Protesters started to gather at the Liwasang Bonifacio at around 6:00 in the morning where initially, delegates were mostly coming from the Southern part of the National capital and at 10:00AM demonstrators from all over Manila and of different organizations poured in the historic park dedicated to the Philippine hero,Andres Bonifacio. In an interview, protesters explained that they had their assembly at the park for it is Bonifacio who fought for the liberation of the country not only from Spanish colonizers but also from American imperialists during the Philippine revolution of 1896. At around 11:00 in the morning protesters lead by umbrella organization Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) commenced their march heading to the foot of Malacañan Palace at Mendiola Bridge.Highlight of the group’s protest is about the newly signed military deal between Manila and Washington that would significantly allow bigger US presence in the Philippines.
Hours prior the arrival of President Obama the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a new military pact has been signed by Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg at the Philippine Armed Forces General Headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo which protesters see as a “welcome gift from the Aquino puppet government to his imperialist master,” said Renato Reyes, Secretary-General of BAYAN. The10-year military agreement will allow the US to have greater access to military bases, ports, and airfields, and construct their own facilities inside Philippine bases, which Evan Medeiros, National Security Council Senior Director for Asian affairs called as, “the most significant defense agreement that we have concluded with the Philippines in decades.” It can be remembered that the Philippines once hosted two of the largest off-shore US bases until the Philippine legislature and a popular anti-US sentiment terminated the lease of the bases to Washington.
Bayan called the signing of the EDCA as “brazen display of treachery by the Aquino administration. It solidifies the status of the Philippines as the most important colonial outpost of the US in Southeast Asia. Under the US strategic pivot, more US troops are coming and will be stationed on a permanent basis despite the denials of the two governments.” The group also questions the legality of the agreement, as they believe that it violates the Constitution of the Philippines. A former legislator, then Bayan Muna Partylist representative Teddy Casiño in a statement said he believes that the Aquino government has opened itself to a host of lawsuits for its insistence on signing an executive agreement that would allow more US troops and ships in the country. “Both the US and Philippine governments are guilty of disregarding transparency and undermining our sovereignty. Because Aquino is so eager to please Obama, he ignored calls to bring the EDCA to the Senate. He insisted on fast-tracking the negotiations. Because of his puppetry, Aquino disregarded what the Constitution requires,” explained Casiño.
Some Philippine legislators though like neophyte Senator Grace Poe and Senator Antonio Trillanes are in favor of the new military accord seeing it as an advantage of the Philippines against the emerging super power China with the territorial row and related simmering tensions between the two neighboring countries. But Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago one of the senators in 1991 who voted to cease the Military Bases Agreement of 1947 effectively evicting US troops and their bases on Philippine soil believes that, “the U.S. should not continue to treat PH as a satellite state, while aiming to remain on good terms with China, which has been seizing the initiative in Asian maritime territorial disputes. The three top economies in the world consist of the U.S., China, and Japan. It is understandable why PH is being treated so shabbily. Anyway, the militant left will certainly bring the issue to theSupreme Court. For me, the constitutional issues are very interesting.”
Last Sunday, three former Philippine senators who also voted against a new bases treaty in 1991 called on Aquino to submit the EDCA to the Senate. The decade-long agreement is tailored to meet the US objective of moving 60% of its warships to Asia by 2020.
Manila and Beijing are currently at odds over particular territories in the South China Sea and most recently the Second Thomas Shoal. In recent months relationship between the two countries deteriorated with a more aggressive stance from Beijing on its claims. The maritime tussle has led to an anti-China sentiment in the Philippines, which the protesters see as an issue Washington exploits. “We stand for regional peace and stability. We oppose any kind of foreign intervention and violation of our sovereignty,whether it is by US troops and bases, or by China’s incursions and illegal occupation of our islets and shoal,” Reyes said.
Upon the arrival of the protesters at Mendiola bridge, attempts were made to forcefully enter the Palace complex removing several layers of concertina barbed wires but were still unable to pass through given the multiple layers of wires and the anti-riot police in full battle gear defending the Mendiola gates. Unable to enter, the protesters then held a program at the said bridge and tore a giant US flag with skulls and cross bones in strong denunciation of the new military pact. Demonstrators also burned a giant effigy of the two Presidents in the form of a dog as Aquino pulling a chariot where an image of Obama enjoyingly directs which signified the US pivot to Asia and the ‘subservient’ Aquino government.
After the program, protesters then held a vigil at Mendiola. And on the following day when President Obama boarded the Air Force One at around 11:30 in the morning and left the Philippines, protesters attempted to break through the high-level security leading to the US Embassy in Manila.