Manila: Glo allows U.S. planes to use former bases
By Joshua Dancel

As early as last week, Malacaņang already allowed the United States to use its former military bases in Subic and Clark, said Air Transportation Office (ATO) chief Adelberto Yap.

This, while some lawmakers were demanding that the National Government get approval from Congress first before allowing the U.S. to use the former Subic Naval Base and Clark Airbase in war preparations against Afghanistan.

Yap, who is also assistant transport secretary, said the Americans could land "anytime they want to in their two former military facilities."

But Yap clarified: "We have been allowing the Americans access to our bases, but I would like to reiterate that the use is not for combat purposes, but only for refueling and evacuation operations."

President Arroyo on Monday asked Filipinos to be ready to "pay a price" for a terrorist-free world as she backed a campaign to go after those behind the deadly terrorist attacks in the United States.

This could include sending troops to Afghanistan in support of the United States' intention to go to war against the Islamic country for refusing to hand over Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of masterminding the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

"We are obligated by all the values of humanity and civilized society to assist the global campaign to end this scourge of terrorism once and for all," Arroyo's spokesman, Rigoberto Tiglao, quoted her as saying.

"We cannot be fence-sitters nor should we be wishy-washy during this historic period when the civilized world has decided to annihilate by all means international terrorism. If we have to pay a price for our conviction against terrorism, so be it."

Send troops

The military said it was ready to send troops to Afghanistan if called to do so by President Arroyo.

Arroyo will convene the National Security Council (NSC) Tuesday to discuss possible scenarios in the event that the United States conducts a military strike against Afghanistan.

Malacaņang is also standing pat on its position to extend "all-out" support to the United States.

Armed Forces chief of staff Diomedio Villanueva said Monday the military has enough soldiers to deploy to Afghanistan.

Villanueva said many soldiers have expressed their willingness to participate in retaliatory attacks against Afghanistan.

He also said the country would have a hard time evacuating overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in case war erupts in the Middle East.

The military officer assured, though, that they would do everything they can to ensure the safety of Filipinos working in the predominantly Arab nations in the Middle East.

Tiglao said the NSC meeting would be held after the regular Cabinet dialog on Tuesday. Aside from an assessment of the internal security situation brought about by the tension between the United States and Afghanistan, the Cabinet meeting will also evaluate President Arroyo's four-day working visit to Japan.

He added that Arroyo intends to take advantage of the meeting to solicit support from opposition members on her stand to support the U.S.


The country's support, according to Tiglao, is mandated in Resolution 1368 of the United Nations Security Council, which asks members "to work together urgently to bring to justice, the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of these terrorist attacks."

"Our support is not only because of our strategic alliance with the United States, which is leading the international coalition. We are obligated by all the values of humanity and civilized society to assist the global campaign to end this scourge of terrorism once and for all," Tiglao quoted Arroyo as saying.

Arroyo's promise of support has led her to offer the unconditional use of the Clark and Subic bases to U.S. military forces.

According to Yap, the United States embassy wrote the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to formally request the use of the two military facilities in its war preparations against the perpetrators of last Tuesday's attack on Americans.

"The government has allowed the Americans access to the two bases as part of their operations in relation to the recent tragic incident," Yap said.

Yap said U.S. planes with flight missions could now land anytime in these two facilities, with proper notification from the government.

He immediately clarified that the access only allows for refueling and massive evacuation operations but "not for combat purposes."

"We will allow them to land only to make the two bases transitory and refueling docks to allow U.S. airplanes to load or unload U.S. nationals once a massive evacuation occurs in relation to an eruption of war," Yap said.

Arroyo's approval came even before the possibility of the U.S. using the bases was raised in public discussions.


President Arroyo's "all-out" support to the U.S. has drawn the ire of the opposition, with Senators Ralph Recto, Gregorio Honasan, and Rodolfo Biazon saying the Palace could not give the go-signal to allow U.S. airplanes and naval ships access to the bases.

Vice President Teofisto Guingona said the NSC meeting on Tuesday would give Arroyo the chance to defend her stance.

"It would do no harm to President Arroyo to seek congressional imprimatur for her actions. If Bush had asked Capitol, why can't she ask Batasan?" Recto said.

Honasan feared that such bold all-out support to the US war declaration might jeopardize the country's safety by attracting unnecessary terrorist attacks.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez, however, warned against not taking sides as the country might "end up like Belgium in the Second World War."

"The Germans wrecked through Belgium because it remained neutral. We have to take sides somewhere along the way," Golez said.

The government, Golez said, should also take into consideration the possibility of seeing the country seek international help in the future, once its sovereignty is also put at stake.

"We cannot be neutral during this time. We might ask help from them in the future and they will tell us 'you did not help us and remained neutral when we're in need, now you have a problem, we will be also neutral.' It's a great tragedy. If we remain neutral, we might fall under the category of those countries harboring terrorists through their own inaction," Golez explained.

Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, in a separate interview, likewise stressed the importance of the Philippines to make a stand on the pressing issue of fighting global terrorism.

"If we don't do anything, its putting mankind at risk. It's not just one nation, it's the whole humanity," Romulo said. Not necessary

Yap, though, said imprimatur from Congress might not be necessary, especially with the existence of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

He is also confident that the country will not be drawn into the war because of its location. "The Americans will not refuel their attack planes here because we are too far. To prove that, they have activated Diego Garcia, an island confederate, which is nearer Afghanistan and the Middle East," Yap said.

Guingona, the concurrent foreign secretary, said he has spoken by telephone to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who he said thanked the Manila government for its offer of help against those responsible for last week's attacks that left thousands dead.

Guingona said Powell did not make any specific request. "He only said, 'Thank you for your cooperation.'" He added: "I see no problems" in the U.S. use of Clark and Subic for the counter-terrorism effort.

Tiglao, meanwhile, said the President has ordered the budget department to set aside P200 million to augment labor department funds that would be used to repatriate up to 1.4 million Filipinos working in the Middle East "in case such evacuation is required."

Arroyo met key security and foreign policy advisers Monday and emphasized to them "that our tasks in governing should not be disrupted at all even with the global tension," Tiglao said.