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Sending a signal to the Philippines

By Tony P. HallTony P. Hall, Democrat of Ohio, serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. / March 19, 1980



As part of the security assistance request for the coming fiscal year, the administration is seeking congressional approval of $25 million in grant military assistance and $50 million in foreign military sales credits for the Philippines. This budget request carries out the gentlemen's agreement between President Carter and President Marcos that the administration would use its "best effort" to obtain a total of $500 million in security assistance funding for the Philippines over the five fiscal years following the Military Bases Agreement concluded between the two countries in early 1979.

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Last year, during committee consideration of military aid for the Philippines , I offered an amendment to reduce grant military assistance to that country by Pacific Affairs but later overturned by the full Foreign Affairs Committee.

Since grant military assistance is being phased out by the administration this year, I intend to offer an amendment in committee to reduce foreign military sales credits for the Philippines. In my opinion, the need for such a cut is even more compelling this year.

A cut in military assistance would convey a twofold message. First, it would signal the Marcos regime that the United States wants to see martial law lifted and democratic processes and civil liberties fully restored. Second, it would indicate to the growing opposition forces in the Philippines that the United States does not wish to be identified with the repression of the Marcos government.

It will be argued that we cannot cut or defer military assistance because such assistance is an integral part of the bases agreement. However, security assistance was not included in the text of the official agreement. Instead, the aid commitment was made in a letter from President Carter to President Marcos in which he pledged the administration's "best effort" to secure the $500 million package over a five-year period.

Significantly, the letter made no specific commitment for a fixed amount for any of the particular fiscal years covered. There is nothing sacred or untouchable about the security assistance request this year for the Philippines. Under the very terms of the administration's commitment to Marcos, the "best effort" it has pledged can bear fruit in any of the remaining fiscal years -- at a time when martial law has been liften and the democratic processes restored.

In 1979, we saw the failure of shortsighted policies which tied the United States to the Shah in Iran and to Somoza in Nicaragua. The media are far ahead of both Congress and the administration in pointing to the Philippines as the next "Iran" or "Nicaragua."

President Marcos is a wily and skillful manipulator of world opinion. He knows when to release political prisoners, hold bogus local elections, and otherwise ease up on oppressive policies. He also may be the beneficiary this year of the heightened security consciousness which seems to be sweeping the country in the wake of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

Given the turmoil in that part of the world, the bases in the Philippines are likely to assume renewed importance for those concerned about the strategic interests of the United States. If Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base are vital to our security, we must not lose them in the long run through the application of a policy that seeks to save them in the short run.

The successors of Marcos no doubt will recall the support given Marcos by the United States and hold the United States responsible for complicity in the abuses carried out under Marcos. Reducing security assistance to Marcos would demonstrate that the United States favors the early restoration of the democratic tradition in the Philippines suspended by Marcos. Continued failure to hold free national elections only postpones the day of reckoning in the Philippines and strengthens the position in the post-Marcos era of those elements potentially hostile to the US base presence.

In Nicaragua, Somoza succeeded in systemically repressing moderate democratic alternatives to his regime. The Sandinistas became the only workable opposition force. A similar situation could occur in the Philippines.

If democracy is not restored and the moderate opposition has no other alternative, a radical liberation front could become the umbrella for the disaffected. The United States must apply pressure upon Marcos to hold free elections so that the Filipino people can determine their own destiny in a democratic climate -- while that is still a possibility.

Since the administration has failed to apply such pressure in a clear, public fashion, it is up to the Congress to send a signal to the Philippines. A reduction in foreign military sales credits is an effective way for Congress to do this.