Protesters question independence
US military presence in Philippines:
By Dyan Ruiz and Joseph Smooke
On the eve of Philippine Independence Day, activists gathered outside the Toronto Consulate to protest American military presence in the Philippines.
The pamphlets given out by the small but spirited group called for “true independence in the Philippines against the 114 years of US military and economic intervention (with the support of its little brother Canada).” Members of Canadian chapters of BAYAN, Anakbayan and Migrante chanted protests and hoisted signs outside of the office of the Consulate General, the Philippine government’s representative in Toronto.
“We are here at the Philippine Consulate to voice out the cries and concerns of the Filipino nation for a genuine national democracy!” yelled Anakbayan member Rhea Gamana through a megaphone.
The Toronto spokesperson for BAYAN Canada, Alex Felipe, told the crowd that the Philippines is a “permanent staging ground for US military offensives,” and the country houses surveillance drones, and refueling stations for US warships. This is despite the 1991 Philippine Senate decision to shut down US bases.
Felipe also voiced concerns over recent news that point to a redirection of US military might to Asia based out of the Philippines. US President Barack Obama and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III met at the White House on June 8 following announcements of a major shift of warships to Asia.
On June 1, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced at the Shangri-La Dialogue that the US will shift 60 percent of its warships to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. In his speech at a security forum in Singapore, Panetta said “make no mistake, in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way, the United States military is rebalancing and brings enhanced capabilities to this vital region.”
In an interview, Felipe said the shift makes the Philippines a target if there are any flare-ups between the US and China.
In recent months, the Scarborough Shoal, 140 miles west of the island of Luzon has been an area of dispute between China and the Philippines.
This week, Chinese and Philippine fishing boats withdrew from the disputed area in the South China Sea preceding the upcoming typhoon season.
A social worker living near the Eglinton Avenue consulate, Suham Khaledi, signed the petition in support of the protesters’ concerns. “Every time we see the economy in the US goes down they find a way to take the attention from the economy to the war,” she said. She continued to say that the Philippines might be similar to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria in that regard.
Protesters also talked about issues such as the displacement of communities for military activities, the alleged rapes by US servicemen, and the billions of dollars in military funds given to the Philippines– funds that can be used by Philippine military and para-military to quell dissent against the government.
The new Toronto ConGen Junever Mahilum-West said she could not comment because she was not present during the rally. When told about the issues the protestors brought up, she said there is no available statement by the Philippine government on these issues.