In 1947, a freely elected Philippine government permitted U.S. bases on Philippine soil to help defend Philippine democracy. Democracy is gone from the Philippines, but the bases are still there. They serve no military purpose for the country. The communist threat is internal, not external, and President Ferdinand Marcos has had to admit that his dictatorship has created more communists among a frustrated population.
The thinking of U.S. policy-makers is that the bases must stay and contribute to the stabilization of the rapidly changing power situation in the area, and that there must be no talk of dismantling them lest the wrong signals be felt by Peking and the Southeast Asian neighbors of the Philippines.
Thus, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore will ask in verbal diplomatic language that the United States stay in its Philippine bases. But they will not put it in writing, nor would they want the bases transferred to their own soil-China would lose its image of leader of world revolution, and the others their claim to being "neutrals" as well as their affiliation with the non-aligned community of nations from which the Phillippines, because of the bases, has been ignominiously excluded.
And so, the Phillippines, the nation that had its independence snatched away by U.S. colonialism in 1898, that suffered the most extensive devastation in the area in World War II because of its stubborn commitment to the United States, must now, in order to help America reassure its "friends," continue to bear the label of American lakey and expose its population to the horrors of a nuclear attack on Clark and Subic Bay bases in case of war.
All this would have been easier for Filipino demoratic leaders to bear if the United States had not allowed the bases to be used by Marcos as instruments of blackmail. In the days of democracy in the Philippines, no adminstration ever used the bases to extort more money from the United States. The original bases agreement, as amended, would have allowed the bases to stay until 1991, and there was no serious effort to throw them out before then.
But America's "friend," Marcos, alarmed at moves in the U.S. Congress on human rights, threatened to throw the bases out, using his own daughter's version of the Hitler youth to organize anti-American demonstrations. The irony is that most Filipino leaders only wanted the United States to withdraw military aid, an item separable from the bases question, so that Marcos cannot use it to fortify his image of legitimacy and invincibility before a Filipino people accustomed to respect American power. But the United States refused to concede even this, pleading with Congress "not to rock the boat," and arguing that pulling the rug from under a dictator is "intervention."
Big power non-intervention is myth that dies hard. Aid, trade and military bases are de facto forms of intervention. When the receiving country is a democracy, with free changes of government, the military aid strengthens the democratic system. When it is a dictatorship, the military aid assists the dictator in repressing his people and perpetuating his power.
The Marcos boat that the United States does not want to rock is leaking. Crime, corruption and discontent among a people of historic democratic traditions are on the rise. Yet, as in the case of the shah, the United States refuses to admit that although plugging the leask with military aid may keep the boat afloat a little longer, inevitably it will sink, dragging with it what remains of good will for America.
In Iran, the nationalist democratic leadership in the National Front found themselves increasingly isolated and without U.S. sympathy, forcing the Iranians to turn to the Ayatollah Khomeini's militant Islamism, and to communism. The Iranians have Khomeini to ward off communism. In the secular Philippine society, even growing Christian activism may not save the day for democracy.
The United States will stand by its friends. But with friends like Marcos, who needs enemies?