by Bernadette Ellorin and Azadeh Shahshahani, published in The Progressive, March 20, 2023
The Philippines remains the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the Indo-Pacific region, having received more than $1.14 billion in funding from 2015 to 2022. These bases were used in every major U.S. war in the twentieth century, as well as serving as “rest and recreation” sites for military personnel, in which an exploitative informal sex worker industry was made into an unofficial policy.
More than a century of systemic human rights violations—including gang rape, indiscriminate shootings and murder—have been committed by the U.S. military in the Philippines since the United States invaded and colonized the country in 1899. These crimes led in part to a nationwide social movement to close the Subic Bay Naval and Clark Air Force bases. By 1991, in an attempt to finally rollback U.S. colonial control, the Philippine Senate chose to not renew the U.S. military bases treaty.
Now, the United States is once again supporting an authoritarian leader by spending lavish sums of money on military aid.
The United States was key in propping up and emboldening martial law under the fascist dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. from 1965 to 1986. But last year, thirty-six years after the People Power uprising that ousted Marcos’s reign, the Marcos dynasty returned with the election of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Ferdinand Sr.’s son, as president.
Now, the United States is once again supporting an authoritarian leader by spending lavish sums of money on military aid. And with recent official visits by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, an agreement to build four new U.S. military locations in the Philippines was solidified.
Filipino-Americans and allies in the United States played a role in the defeat of the Marcos Sr. dictatorship in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The assassination in 1981 of U.S. labor leaders Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes by Marcos-hired agents in Seattle proves this; both were active in persuading workers to support the Philippine trade union movement’s opposition to Marcos.
Today, Marcos Jr. has fulfilled his campaign promise to beef up the budget for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, a Philippine government agency established by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte that conducts operations overseas to surveil and suppress Filipino activism, including in the United States, where Filipino critics of Duterte and Marcos are labeled as terrorists.
There is already a movement to pressure Congress to cut U.S. military aid to the Philippines via the Philippine Human Rights Act, which has widespread support from labor and faith groups. But there is still much to be done to end U.S. military support to another Marcos presidency that is continuing to embolden its fascist attacks.
Taxpayers should not be on the hook for these military deals in light of the resurging social movements to end U.S. military presence in the country. We should, instead, remember the United States’ brutal colonization of the Filipino people, whose demands for the withdrawal of U.S. military presence and military aid, as well as justice for survivors of crimes committed by U.S. troops, ring loudly and painfully to this day.
*Featured Image: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reviews an honor guard upon arrival at the Department of National Defense at Camp Aguinaldo military camp in Quezon City, Manila, Philippines, Feb. 2, 2023.
Rolex Dela Pena/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Bernadette Ellorin is the national spokesperson for the U.S. Chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or Bayan USA, an anti-imperialist alliance of thirty-three Filipino grassroots organizations across the United States.
Azadeh Shahshahani is legal & advocacy director at Project South, and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild.
This column was produced for the Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.