‘Fight not over’ 20 years after expulsion of US bases
They were called the “Magnificent 12”—or the “Dirty Dozen” by those who disagreed with what they did—but even after two decades the senators who voted to expel American military bases from the country in 1991 believe that was not the end of it.
“The fight is not over,” said former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., pointing to continuing foreign intervention, from the supposed US attempts to interfere in the Mindanao conflict to a 50-year-old defense treaty with the United States that could supposedly exacerbate the Spratlys dispute with China.
And there is, of course, the unfinished business of the vexing Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The 12, led by Guingona, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and deposed President Joseph Estrada, were honored in a commemorative lunch at Club Filipino Friday to mark the 20th anniversary of the historic 12-to-11 Senate vote that rejected the “Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Security” that would have retained US military presence in the country until 2001.
Only 9 make it
Only nine made it to the lunch: Estrada, who did not stay long, Guingona, Enrile, Wigberto Tañada, Ernesto Maceda, Agapito Aquino, Orlando Mercado, Victor Ziga and Rene Saguisag.
Absent were Jovito Salonga and Aquilino Pimentel Jr., both former Senate presidents.
The 12th member, Sotero Laurel, died in 2009, by coincidence on the anniversary of the Senate vote. He was represented by his son, lawyer Roberto Laurel.
“The way to honor the legacy of the Sept. 16, 1991 Senate vote is to carry on the struggle for self-determination,” Tañada said at the event organized by the Jose W. Diokno Foundation, the Lorenzo M. Tañada Foundation and the Renato Constantino Foundation.
“Foreign intervention comes today in a different guise. The spirit of united mass struggle that led to victory is needed now more than ever,” said Tañada.
People of all political persuasions packed the club’s Kalayaan Hall, among them party-list luminaries Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares; Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Etta Rosales; and Alexander Padilla, who chairs the government negotiating panel with the communist insurgents. Vice President Jejomar Binay was guest speaker.
Antibases spirit lives
Estrada said the spirit of the antibases movement remained strong. If the Senate had not voted the way it did, “we would still retain the image that we’re not an independent, sovereign country,” he said.
“But we should be cautious. We shouldn’t stop being vigilant” against foreign intervention, said Estrada who left even before the program could start.
“We’re commemorating today an event that has almost receded from the memory of the nation, and that is when 12 Filipinos, sons of this nation, stood at the floor of the Senate to ‘write finish’ to the colonization of this country by foreign troops,” said Enrile.
“Although we came from different political paths, articulating different political views and voices, but at that particular hour, we collectively echoed the sentiment of Filipinos to unshackle ourselves from colonization by voting out the American bases,” he added.
Threats to independence
Guingona said challenges to the country’s sovereignty and independence remained.
He noted what he called the US “hand shaping the future” in Mindanao.
“We have to find out the real interest of the Americans in Mindanao,” he said.
He wondered whether the country should invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US “to fight for our rights in the Spratlys.”
Guingona said he believed the Magnificent 12 would not relent in the struggle.
“Twenty years later, having grown wiser and better, I think, faced with the same challenge, they will again rally and fight as vigorously as 20 years ago,” Guingona said.
Out with MDT, MLSA, VFA
Ma. Socorro Diokno, daughter of the late nationalist Sen. Jose W. Diokno, called for the abrogation of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the VFA, and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) with the United States.
“On that historic Sept. 16, 1991, we held high hopes and trust that the US military bases would be gone. Sadly, the nation did not attain the freedom and sovereignty it dreamed of. Despite the removal of the bases, the US continues to rape the honor and independence of the Filipino people,” she said.
Her call was echoed by Tañada’s son, House Deputy Speaker and Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tañada III, who has been pushing for the abrogation of the VFA in the House of Representatives.
Since the fateful vote, the 12 senators have taken divergent paths. One would go on to become President (Estrada), however briefly, another rose to Vice President (Guingona), also briefly. Others would resume their law careers, while some remained in the Senate.
The Senate vote effectively ended more than four centuries of foreign military presence in the Philippines, although a differently orientated Senate would in 1999 ratify the VFA that allowed periodic visits of US troops and the holding of joint war exercises with Filipino soldiers.
“It was the culmination of a century of unrelenting struggle for national sovereignty and dignity,” said Tañada.
Pressure from Cory
The senators had been put under tremendous pressure by the administration of President Corazon “Cory” Aquino to ratify the treaty. A few days before the vote, Aquino, standing under the pouring rain in a yellow raincoat, tried to rally the masses to sway the vote in a massive demonstration at the Luneta.
Those who voted for the treaty’s ratification had warned of unemployment, investor flight, diminished US aid and a weakened Philippine economy resulting from the Americans leaving their military bases at Clark and Subic.
Those who voted against argued that the treaty should be rejected because the 1987 Constitution shuns the presence of foreign troops on Philippine soil.
The Senate was split, and eventually it was Salonga who broke the stalemate, settling the question of whether the treaty had violated the Constitution in a 12-11 vote.
The 11 senators who voted to retain the bases were the late Mamintal Tamano and Neptali Gonzales Sr., and Heherson Alvarez, Edgardo Angara, Ernesto Herrera, Jose Lina Jr., John Osmeña, Vicente Paterno, Santanina Rasul, Alberto Romulo and Leticia Ramos Shahani.
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