President Ferdinand Marcos called today for a commission to study whether to terminate a military bases agreement with the United States.
Marcos was responding to sharp reactions by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and other members of his ruling party to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to change the combination of military and economic aid to the Philippines in fiscal year 1986.
The changes would be made under an agreement governing U.S. use of two large military bases here.
The House voted July 11 to allocate $25 million in military aid and $155 million in economic assistance to the Philippines next year, while the Senate has backed the Reagan administration's package of $100 million in military and $95 million in economic aid.
The aid is part of a $900 million compensation package over five years for use of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base.
Enrile charged last week that changing the aid package would be "a direct violation" of the bases agreement. He said that unless Congress stopped "tinkering" with it, he would consider filing a resolution in the parliament to "abrogate the agreement and thereby pave the way for its renegotiation."
The agreement expires in 1991 and is subject to review at five-year intervals until then. U.S. officials say the bases agreement does not stipulate the precise mix of military and economic aid per year, but calls for the U.S. administration to secure $900 million in aid over five years, divided into $475 million in military and $425 million in economic aid.
Marcos said his government would wait for the Reagan administration to announce the official U.S. decision on the aid package. However, he said, the Philippine National Assembly should form a commission to study the situation.
Despite the controversy over the aid package, Reuter reported today that U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Smalley said the Philippine government had not raised with the United States the question of continued American use of Philippine military bases.
Marcos' comments reflected sensitivities in his government about perceived U.S. efforts to promote reforms here that some U.S. officials believe would counter a growing communist insurgency in the country.
The Marcos government appeared particularly incensed by one U.S. proposal to channel a large chunk of economic aid through the Roman Catholic Church instead of the Philippine government to prevent misuse of the money.
The uproar over the aid package has aroused sentiment against the U.S. bases from some unusual places.
This week a number of officers in the Association of Generals and Flag Officers and an armed forces' reform movement came out in support of Enrile's proposal to consider scrapping the bases accord.
"We should have learned our lesson a long time ago," said retired Brig. Gen. Mariano Ordonez. "Now is the time to say to ourselves that we shall go it alone if need be."
Enrile said bitterly in a speech that "we have not even asked the U.S. to help us fight the local insurgent guerrillas. After all, the Americans have not yet won a single guerrilla war anywhere in the world."
However, it appeared doubtful that Enrile's proposal to abrogate the bases agreement would win much support from a distrustful opposition legislature.
"We will not allow ourselves to be used by Marcos," said opposition assemblyman Ramon Mitra, who wants to renegotiate the bases treaty. "I think they are bluffing. They wouldn't go through with it."
Some U.S. officials expressed confidence that a solution would be worked out. U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, in a speech to the Manila Rotary Club, said the U.S. Congress probably would reach a compromise that Bosworth thinks "will not be all that different from what the administration's request was originally," The Associated Press reported.
In his speech today, Marcos devoted most of his remarks to denouncing the political opposition and communist insurgents. He raised the prospect of a Cambodian-style holocaust if the communists ever took power here, but insisted that reports of their strength were "media hype."
"I repeat that we don't need foreign troops to defeat a handful of demoralized insurgents," Marcos said.
The government said the number of guerrillas is about 12,000. The communists claim 30,000 "full-time and part-time guerrillas" nationwide armed with about 10,000 rifles, up from less than 100 fighters armed with 35 firearms when the insurgency started in 1969.
Despite Marcos' assurances that "the peace and security situation is under control," Enrile argues that U.S. military aid must not be cut because the funds are needed to combat the rebels.