Renato M. Reyes, Jr. (pictured at right) is secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). He has been with the organization since 2001. He was also the founding chair of the youth group Anakbayan in 1998. He blogs here and was involved in protests when U.S. President Barack Obama recently visited the Philippines. I asked him about it.
Was Obama unwelcomed in the Philippines?
The PH government rolled out the red carpet for Obama. In the streets however, thousands marched to protest Obama’s PH visit. The protests were aimed at the unequal relations between the US and the Philippines, in particular, US military intervention and economic impositions such as the TPPA. The visit also coincided with the signing of a new agreement called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which would bring back US military facilities in the Philippines.
We had a two day protest, the first was a march near the Presidential Palace where we burned a giant effigy of Obama on a chariot and Aquino as his running dog. There were protests in different parts of the country as well. On the second day, we marched near the US embassy where we were met by a phalanx of policemen. The police used their shields and water cannons to disperse the protesters but we stood our ground. It was our indignation regarding the signing of the EDCA.
What agreement have the governments signed?
The EDCA is an agreement that allows US forces to use our PH facilities, to build their own facilities within these facilities and to preposition their equipment in PH territory. These facilities will function as bases where US forces can station troops as well as deploy troops and weapons systems such as armed drones. The EDCA is consistent with the US strategic rebalancing towards Asia, and is in furtherance of US economic and security interests in the region.
What do people of the Philippines think about it?
There are different opinions. Some welcome the EDCA thinking that it would help the Philippines against China’s incursions. They wrongly believe that the EDCA will result in the modernization of the PH armed forces. Those in the mass movement are very critical of the EDCA. Lawmakers from the Senate and Lower House have also raised serious objections. Two petitions have been filed before the PH supreme court questioning the EDCA. Lawyers, academicians, lawmakers, church people and activists have united to oppose the EDCA.
How is a dispute with China over some islands being used here?
The dispute with China is being exploited by the US to justify its permanent military presence in the Philippines. The US gives the false assurance that it would support the Philippines in the event of an armed attack by China. When Obama was confronted with this question during his PH visit, he avoided answering it and instead claimed that the US was interested in cooperating with China. The US is not likely going to war with the US due to the disputed areas in the West PH Sea. The US uses the Philippines as a footstool in Asia but would not come to the aid of the Philippines. The PH government meanwhile shows utter mendicancy and puppetry when it thinks that its sovereignty can be upheld through a foreign power.
I like to think of the Philippines, along with Ecuador, as a success story, a place that told the U.S. military to get out (in 1991) — how did that happen and what has happened since? How is this connected to U.S. military presence back to 1898?
The Filipino people have a long history of resistance to US colonial occupation and neo-colonial domination. The resistance includes armed struggle against US colonialism and currently, neo-colonialism.
The Filipino people struggled for decades against the presence of US bases and were finally successful in 1991 when the PH senate rejected a new basing treaty. The US basing agreement was so lopsided in favor of the US and constituted an affront to our sovereignty. The treaty rejection was possible only because there was a strong mass movement that campaigned for several decades.
Are you working with people opposed to bases in Okinawa, Jeju Island, elsewhere?
We are in solidarity with the anti-bases groups in Okinawa, Jeju, Australia and Korea. We have joined actions in opposition to the construction of new bases as well as the abuses of the US troops. We are part of the Ban the Bases global network which shares information and conducts campaigns on bases issues.
I’m speaking with the Mayor of Nago City, Okinawaw, who was elected to stop a base and is coming to the United States to try to stop it. What would you like me to say to him?
To the people of Okinawa, we are in solidarity with you. Never give up the struggle to boot out foreign bases. A nation cannot be truly free if foreign troops continue to be stationed on its shores.
What would you like to say to the people of the United States?
To the American people, do not let your taxes be spent for war and occupation, for US bases and intervention. Please support the campaign to shut down these bases and to get the US troops out of Asia and other continents.
Philippines climate chief Naderev Yeb Sano made a plea to the world? Is that effort connected with the effort against bases? Do these movements work together?
I met Yeb Sano when we were in the university during the 90’s. His plea may not be directly related to the bases movement. However, there are many environmental groups campaigning against the bases, including for compensation for the environmental damage wrought by US forces in their former bases in Subic and Clark as well as the recent destruction of a part of the Tubbataha Reef.
You are a musician: How does that fit into your activism?
I’ve been playing music since I was seven. I play the piano, guitar, blues harp or harmonica and the ukulele. Music is another outlet where we can express ourselves and help amplify the message to a broader audience. We did a series of recording two years ago when a friend got arrested in a remote province. We called it Prison Sessions, and we did videos of our sessions. We used the recordings to raise awareness of the plight of political prisoners and imprisoned artists. My friend was eventually released after two years of detention. We now play during events…outside the jail of course.