Fishers group in Palawan slams US naval base plan in Oyster Bay

PALAWAN fishermen identified with the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday assailed the plan of the US government and the Aquino administration to transform Oyster Bay into a mini-naval base for visiting American forces.

In a press statement Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France said the plan to convert the mangrove rich cove southwest of Manila constitutes a joint Washington-Manila crime against national sovereignty and wholesale destruction of natural resources and marine environment in the name of US war of aggression in East Asia and the Pacific.

Commodore Joseph Rostum Peña, commander of the Philippines’ western navy, confirmed that the plan would be a mini-Subic Naval Base, where a future port here would extend the reach of the navy’s two frigates, both former US Coast Guard cutters, over the disputed Spratly Islands, which is about 160 kilometers from the disputed West Philippine Sea.

Pamalakaya said the plan to convert Oyster Bay into a mini-Subic Naval Base was revived under the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in response to Washington's gesture to donation of frigates in 2011 and 2012. "We will contest this grand mockery of Philippine sovereignty in the parliament of the streets, in any appropriate court or forum and in the court of public opinion. US President Barack Obama and the puppet president in Manila should be held accountable for this grandslam crime against national sovereignty and patrimony," Pamalakaya's France said.

The Pamalakaya official said the construction of mini-naval base in Oyster Bay for US military pivot and terror activities in Asia and the Pacific is grossly unconstitutional and would put extreme danger to the lives and livelihood of the people and their environment. France argued that the purpose of the mini-naval base in Oyster base is not only to check China and the long-running tension in West Philippine Sea but also to maintain the military hegemony of Washington all over the region.

"The US as if is building another Pearl Harbor in preparation for more wars and more crimes of wars of aggression and terrorist campaigns against people struggling for justice and liberation. This mini-launching pad for imperialist war, colonialization and neo-colonialization must be exposed and opposed to the highest order," said France.

Pamalakaya called the attention of Philippine senators to be extra vigilant on the plan to build a mini-Subic Naval Base in Oyster Bay, hinting that the construction is in preparation for the signing of framework agreement between the United States and executive officials of the Aquino administration regarding the “increased rotational presence” of American forces, that would allow the latter access to local military bases and even construction of new US military facilities.

"The Philippine Senate --the ratifying authority of any PH-US military agreement in the country is completely ignored here and the new military pact between the master and the puppet is secretly being finalized by Washington military chiefs and their grand slaves in Malacanang," said Pamalakaya.

Pamalakaya said the Senate should investigate the Oyster Bay project and summon officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of National Defense (DND), compel them to report on the current status of the US naval base plan and the outcome of the talks between Malacanang and the US government and score a giant kill against the Oyster naval base plan and the new US-PH military basing pact.

Foreign Affairs undersecretary Carlos Sorreta said the Aquino government sees no problem with the construction of US military facilities as long as it would be approved by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and that ownership would be turned over after every joint military exercises.

Sorreta admitted that the possibility of construction of US military bases is there, only if we approved it and only on a temporary basis.

At the end of the exercise these will be either removed or transferred to us either through an existing process granted by the US Congress in terms of transferring equipment or through our Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) mechanism.

The DFA official said that in the second round of talks, which was held in Washington on September 12, both parties expressed understanding that the US will not establish a permanent military presence in the country.

Sorreta, together with Defense Undersecretary Pio Batino, gave an update on the second round of talks with the US panel led by Eric John, senior negotiator for military agreements of the State Department who was also among negotiators in the formulation of the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). He added that both the US and the Philippines agreed that access and use of facilities will be at the invitation of the Government of the Philippines.

Pamalakaya asserted that planned relocation of AFP air force and navy camps inside the former American Naval Base in Subic, Zambales is also part of the grand design that would justify Washington's unlimited access to Philippine bases, which the group said, was previously announced by local military officials is part of new basing agreement between PH and the US.

" It's the game plan with the puppet government of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and the puppet reactionary officials of the AFP performing the front act for the grand reversal of the September 16, 1991 reversal of the military bases agreement by the Philippine Senate and the grand return of US occupational forces in the country. The current AFP leadership under Chief of Staff Voltaire Gazmin is rewriting and revising the historic victory against the US bases by putting these US bases back at Subic Bay for unlimited edition," said Pamalakaya.

Philippine military officials argued the transfer of air force and navy in Subic will allow local troops to gain faster access to waters being contested by China in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) according to AFP. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin announced that as soon as relocation funds, the AFP will transfer air force and naval forces and their fleets of aircraft and warships to Subic Bay.

Pamalakaya theorized that instead of utilizing the Sangley Naval Base in Cavite, a formerUS military bases, the US military command prefer the former Subic Naval Base, which Washington said can accommodate more warships compared to Sangley.

The group said theUS military command wants Subic because its' location will cut reaction time by fighter aircraft to contested West Philippine Sea by more than three minutes compared with flying from Clark airfield where some air force planes are based.

"A confidential report says Subic will provide the armed forces of the Philippines strategic location, direct and shorter access to support West Philippine Sea theater of operations,” the document said.

The report said the cost of repairs and improvements for an air force base in Subic would be at least 5.1 billion pesos (about $119 million). It said that compares with an estimated 11 billion pesos ($256 million) that it would cost to build a new air force base, because the vast Subic complex about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Manila already has a world-class runway and aviation facilities.

Relocating about 250 air force officers and men to Subic, along with “increased rotational presence of foreign visiting forces” would bolster business and trade at the port, the military document said.

The Philippines plans to grant visiting US forces, ships and aircraft temporary access to more of its military camps to allow for a larger number of joint military exercises than are currently staged each year.

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