Over 25 years ago, Philippines already stood up vs US domination by kicking the US bases out

Elpidio V. Peria
30 October 2016



In our immediately preceding post, there was one treaty identified by Amado Guerrero as an example of US imperialism in the Philippines, and that was the RP-US Military Bases Agreement. The renewal of that treaty was not ratified by the Philippine Senate in a vote of 12-11, on September 16, 1991, a day that should be remembered as one of our collective efforts in standing up against US domination in our daily lives.

The lead negotiator of the Philippine panel that negotiated the treaty that laid the framework for the withdrawal of the US bases, Dr. Alran Bengzon, also a DOH Secretary during President Cory Aquino’s time, has kindly written a memoir of that period and its aftermath, and we are excerpting a part of his memoir of that tumultuous time in his book co-written with Raul Rodrigo, A Matter of Honor : The Story of the 1990-91 RP-US Bases Talks, in the exercise of our right to fair use, to recall that part of our history which should forever be etched in our memories as a collective assertion of sovereignty as a nation vis-à-vis the US.

This excerpt, in italics below, is found in pages 267-270 of the book.

The Moment of Truth

Finally, after all the sound and fury, September 16, 1991 arrived. The Senate proceedings began at 10:30 in the morning, and went on for a marathon 9 hours and 45 minutes. They were broadcast live on television and so I was able to watch the proceedings inadvertently, in between the demands of another busy day at the DOH.

The vote on Second Reading came quickly, and I was pleased to see that all the 12 senators had held the line. Salonga (the Senate President at that time-evp) declared : “With a vote of 11-11, and adding my own negative vote, the treaty is defeated.”

The Senate then moved on to Third and Final Reading, where each legislator voted in alphabetical order and delivered a speech of explanation.

Butz Aquino said : “By insisting on my stand of rejection, I have risked the contempt of my friends, lost the support of my constituency, and incurred the anger of the President, whose opinion and approval I value. But as I have already said, I love my country more than I love my President.”

I had often had political differences with Juan Ponce Enrile, but I had no complaint about his speech this afternoon. He said in part : “I cannot live with a treaty that assumes that without some 8,000 servicemen and some passing warships we shall fall flat on our faces. I cannot believe that the vitality of this country will be extinguished when the last bar girl in Olongapo turns off the last light in the last cabaret…I have a higher vision of this country’s importance than as a depot of diminishing importance of a foreign power.”

I was particularly touched by the speech of Bobby Tañada, who paid special tribute to his father, former Senator Lorenzo Tañada, who, he said, had taught him his ideals and nationalism. I had worked closely with the Tañadas when we were in the Convenor Group and striving to forge a principled unity among the opposition. I had grown fond of them both, especially the elder Tañada, who had served as a kindly mentor to me- a neurologist in the midst of an unfamiliar field – and taught me the ways of politics and strategy.

The elder Tañada, now 93, and badly ailing, had left his sickbed, against his doctor’s orders, because he could not permit himself to miss this moment. Now he sat in a wheelchair in the Senate session hall that he had graced for 18 years, listening to his son help write an end to the US bases. For Lorenzo Tañada, this moment served as the crowning point and vindication of nine decades of nationalistic struggle; for Bobby, it served as the moment when we came into his own- being both bearer of his father’s mantle and yet being more than equal to the task.

Finally, it came Salonga’s turn to vote. As Senate President, he had come last. He ended with these words : “ I vote no to this Treaty, and if it were only possible, I would vote 203 million times “No”. After a short recess, the Senate reconvened, and at 8:13 pm, in the evening of September 16, Senator Salonga announced the final result: “By a vote of 12-11, the treaty is defeated.”

There came a tremendous outburst of applause and rejoicing from the gallery. I could even recognize some friends in the stands, Noel and Mariel Tolentino, among others. Outside, some 30,000 rallyists also began to celebrate. Some people in the Senate session hall began singing “Bayan Ko” – which had been the anthem of the anti-Marcos protest movement and was the aptest song for this historic moment. And at the words “Pilipinas kong minumutya/pugad ng luha ko’t dalita/aking adhika/makita kang sakdal laya”, I began to grow misty-eyed with emotion.

As I sat there in my office, watching the rejoicing, I felt very proud to be a Filipino, and proud of the Senate. We had stood up for ourselves, against the pressures and blandishments of a superpower. Even more important, we had stood up TO ourselves- to our own weakness and vacillation, our own inability to believe in ourselves. Then I felt vindicated. I had told Armitage (the lead negotiator of the US side-evp) never to underestimate Philippine resolve and that any attempt at strong-arm tactics would backfire. It had taken a while, but 12 men had taken the first step toward a new future, once where much was unknown and even daunting, but one where we were finally masters in our own house.


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