The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 64.0°F | Rain Fog/Mist and Breezy

Get off my island, please

It's a good thing people act irrationally. If they didn't, life would be much more expensive.

For as long as anyone can remember, the Clark and Subic Bay US military bases have sat in the Philippines, poised to attack or defend against the Soviet naval machine in the Pacific. Under the age-old rental deal, the United States received the rights to operate these bases, one of which is its largest in the Pacific, in return for payment. The United States got big bases in the heart of the Soviet's main shipping lanes and sub ports, and the Philippines got cash, protection, and an economic boost from American tourists. The United States was happy. Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines' US-allied quasi-dictator, was happy, and his wife Imelda bought lots of shoes. But that's all old news.

When Marcos lost power to opposition leader and US-backed Corazon Aquino in a peaceful coup five years ago, it was a sign that the US-Philippine relationship was about to change. Not that Aquino didn't like the United States -- quite the opposite. The United States has consistently backed Aquino since her election. But the rest of the Philippines, swept by democratic fervor, does not share her enthusiasm, and wants independence from America's military muscle.

The base contracts have come up for renewal, and there's trouble brewing. At first the United States was haggling over the rent for both bases, trying to reach a compromise with the Philippine Senate, which wants the United States off their island. But then Mount Pinatubo, a volcano near Clark, blew its top, covering one of the bases with volcanic spew.

Now only one base remains. The Philippine Senate recently voted not to renew the US lease on this base, despite Aquino's urgings to reconsider. Desperate to keep the United States in the Philippines, she is pushing for a national referendum on the issue. Given many Filipinos' long-standing animosities towards US intervention, she will probably lose it.

None of this is really very surprising. People hate it when other people's bases are on their land -- it makes them feel violated. Wherever referenda have been taken in other places on similar issues, the bases usually get the boot.

Aquino, and the democratic forces she represents, enjoy the security and economic advantages of having the world's only superpower in their backyard. The Philippines is still a very poor country, littered with behind-the-times Maoist jungle Marxists and a military with an independent streak. During one coup attempt against Aquino by rebel military units, local US fighter jets zoomed up and down a Philippine Air Force Base, making annoying sonic booms that kept Philippine planes from taking off and bombing Aquino. Aquino will be sad to see the Americans, and the stability they foster, go.

Fortunately for the United States, we will win either way. The Philippine stand against US bases may be irrational, but may save the United States millions in base maintenance and rental costs. The necessity of maintaining Subic has always been questionable, because bases in Thailand and Japan can do the job. Getting kicked out of the Philippines would be a great defense budget cut -- defense spending would be reduced, the Philippines would be independent, and the domestic defense industry would not be threatened.

The United States can't lose, really, unless Aquino's support for the base renewal alienates the voters and pushes them left. That, more than anything else, is the United States' real problem.


Matthew H. Hersch, a sophomore in the Department of Physics, is an opinion editor of The Tech.