Relations with the United States
Precisely because the "special relationship" between the United States and the Philippines has been lengthy and intimate, it sometimes has resembled a family feud. Aquino enjoyed great prestige and popularity in the United States and was named Time magazine's "Woman of the Year" for 1986. Aquino had spent much of her early life in the United States and returned in September 1986 for a triumphant tour of Washington, New York, Boston, and San Francisco, culminating in an address to an emotion-filled joint session of the United States Congress and a congressional pledge of strong support for her government. Soon after, however, Philippine and United States government leaders faced substantial differences on economic and military issues.
United States officials frequently expressed concern that Aquino was not reforming her government quickly enough to preempt the New People's Army's appeal. And, although United States officials repeatedly warned coup plotters that the United States would cut military aid if they overthrew Aquino, many Filipinos worried that what they perceived as the United States government's obsession with national security might tempt the United States to support a military coup. To allay these fears, the United States dispatched two fighter planes to protect Aquino during the December 1989 coup attempt. Nevertheless, recriminations resumed within months. Irritated by US$96 million in aid cuts, Aquino refused to meet Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney when he visited Manila in February 1990.
In the late 1980s, Philippine-United States relations were bedeviled by a new problem: heightened concern for the safety of United States military and civilian personnel in the Philippines. Two United States airmen were shot and killed in Angeles City in 1987. In 1989 Colonel James N. Rowe, who was serving with the United States Joint Military Advisory Group, was assassinated near the United States military compound in Quezon City. (In February 1991, two communists were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Rowe.) At least ten other United States citizens were killed by communists in the Philippines between 1986 and 1991. United States Peace Corps volunteers were withdrawn in 1990, when intelligence sources claimed to have uncovered plans for mass abductions. One volunteer was said to have been kidnapped by the New People's Army, but he emerged unharmed. Finally, in 1990 the United States government authorized hazardous duty pay for diplomats, troops, and other federal employees in the Philippines.
United States access to air and naval bases in the Philippines dominated Philippine-United States relations in 1991, with emotional issues of Philippine nationalism often weighing more heavily than economic or strategic arguments. The Military Bases Agreement of 1947, as amended in 1979 and updated in 1983 and 1988, was set to expire in September 1991. Clark Air Base, located north of Manila in the plain of Central Luzon, was a logistical hub for the United States Thirteenth Air Force, and Subic Bay Naval Base was an extremely valuable repair and resupply facility for the United States Seventh Fleet. Approximately 15,000 United States military personnel (exclusive of sailors temporarily ashore at Subic), 1,000 defense civilians, and 24,000 military dependents were assigned to the bases. The United States maintained that both bases were vital for power projection in the western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Middle Eastern theaters and wanted indefinite access to both facilities, along with the Crow Valley gunnery range north of Subic Bay and some smaller communications installations.
Extension of United States base rights became a pivotal issue in Manila politics. The need for some sort of military alliance with the United States was rarely questioned, but the physical presence of the bases has irritated nationalists beyond endurance. The socially deformed communities outside their gates were seen as a national disgrace. Angeles City (near Clark) and Olongapo City (near Subic) had innumerable bars and thousands of prostitutes, which caused Filipinos to be concerned about acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). There were numerous criminal gangs and smugglers and criminal jurisdiction was a perennial problem.
The nuclear issue complicated matters. Article 2 of the Constitution says that the Philippines, "consistent with national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory." Interpreted strictly, this article challenged the United States policy of never confirming or denying the presence of nuclear weapons at any specific location. Aquino finessed the issue, apparently determining that it was in the national interest not to do anything to make the United States leave the bases. But the Philippine Senate in June 1988 passed by a vote of nineteen to three a bill that would have banned from the Philippines the "development, manufacture, acquisition, testing, use, introduction, installation, or storage" of nuclear weapons. The bill was defeated in the House, but its margin of passage in the Senate indicated potential difficulty in obtaining the votes of the two-thirds of the Senate required to ratify any future base agreement.
Despite negative developments in Philippine-United States relations, congruent interests in the early 1990s bound the two countries. United States foreign aid to the Philippines in 1990 reached nearly US$500 million; United States private investment stood at more than US$1 billion; and the United States and Japan were key donors to the Multilateral Aid Initiative, also known as the Philippine Assistance Plan, which offered some debt relief and new credit in return for desired structural reforms. Political activity in FilipinoAmerican communities in the United States added another dimension to Philippine-United States relations. Early maneuvering for the 1992 Philippine presidential election was as feverish among these communities on the United States west coast as it was in Manila.
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