SUBIC BAY - Visiting activists from Japan have expressed hope that the Japanese government will emulate the Philippines' rejection of U.S. military bases two decades ago, citing mainly the negative social impacts of maintaining bases and the Philippines' successful conversion of former bases into economic hubs.
Mitsuo Sato of the Japan Peace Committee said Thursday that although convincing the Japanese government to scrap the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is a difficult challenge, he is "hopeful" about it, noting the growing public opinion against the presence of the U.S. military bases.
Along with their opposition to the U.S. bases is their call for the abandonment of nuclear power plants.
"More people are realizing that U.S. troops in Japan are committing crimes, instead of protecting Japan. I am not exaggerating but for the first time after the war 67 years ago, we have never seen a situation like this where people are doubting this treaty," said Sato, 74. He is heading a 48-member Japanese delegation in a gathering at the former U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the closure of the U.S. bases.
The U.S. started pulling out its Air Force personnel from Clark Airfield in Pampanga province in 1991 after the volcanic explosion of Mt. Pinatubo in June of that year.
In September, the Philippine Senate rejected a renewal of the Philippine-U.S. bases treaty, formalizing the need for the rest of the American forces, particularly the Navy in nearby Subic Bay, to also abandon base.
The last American forces to leave Philippine soil were those who pulled out on Nov. 24, 1992, from Subic Bay.
The former bases eventually became economic zones, hosting several companies and generating employment not just for local residents but also from other parts of the Philippines.
Kazuko Tanahara, 62, a former government worker in Okinawa Prefecture where most of the U.S. military bases in Japan are concentrated, said that despite the financial gains of hosting the bases, the lives of Okinawan people remain hard, with income levels being the lowest in the country and unemployment the highest.
She also brought up crimes committed by U.S. forces against local people, the most recent of which occurred on Oct. 16, accidents involving U.S. forces, and the opposition against the deployment of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft.
"I know that the people of the Philippines succeeded in removing U.S. bases from your country. Learning from your struggles, we wish to be relieved from base burdens as soon as possible," Tanahara said.
"Military bases are not something that creates the necessary items for our daily lives. We are only looking for a good life without the U.S. military bases," she said.
Toshiko Nagado, 62, also from Okinawa, lamented that even after the arrival of the U.S. forces in Okinawa after World War II, the "destruction of human beings" continues.
Sato said he is impressed with the political will of the 12 Philippine senators who voted against the renewal of the Philippine-U.S. Bases Treaty, and more so at how Filipinos cleared the bases and turned them into commercial centers.
"I really want to express my respect for the Filipino people for their self-determination and independence. What specifically interests me is that you have actually achieved economic prosperity despite apprehensions before kicking out the U.S. forces that many people would be badly affected," he said.
Sato said what the Japanese delegation learned during Thursday's gathering and tour in this former U.S. naval facility, and at the former U.S. Air Force base in Clark on Wednesday, will definitely be brought up during the 2012 Japan Peace Conference in Tokyo from Nov. 23 to 25 and publicized by the different participating organizations.
He will also raise it up when his group visits some government offices in Tokyo on Nov. 26, such as the Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"We should abrogate the Japan-U.S. Treaty as soon as possible and remain committed to enhancing public opinions and movements for learning, discussing, having dialogs, publicizing and expanding the ring of the united front in pursuit of a nuclear-free, non-aligned, neutral and truly independent Japan," Sato said.
Meanwhile, Roland Simbulan, a professor of the University of the Philippines who has authored books regarding U.S. bases in the country, said that despite the complete pullout of the U.S. military bases, the Philippines is still facing many challenges such as prostitution and violation of children's rights due to the present economic situation.
"With the signing of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement in 2001, units of U.S. military personnel are back to exploit and to take advantage of the poverty of Filipino women and children," Simbulan said in his keynote speech during the gathering.
"This gives us the lesson that political independence has to be sustained and consolidated by economic sovereignty," he said.
While noting that "there is life after the U.S. bases," Simbulan points out the continuing challenge "to make it a pro-Filipino and pro-poor economic conversion and people's development."
He also urges people opposed to U.S. bases and nuclear weapons, both from the Philippines and Japan, to "expose the present character, impact and consequences of U.S. imperialism in the Asia-Pacific region," noting the "reconditioning of U.S. global dominance and its aggressive military posture."
"I have always said that whichever of the two major parties, Democratic or Republican, wins in the U.S. elections, its presidential candidate can be expected to pursue big-military, interventionist policies -- the policies that the two Bushes and Clinton promoted, and the Pentagon has carried out, on behalf of the top U.S. corporations," Simbulan said.
Newly reelected U.S. President Barack Obama announced late last year the U.S. plan to pivot its forces from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region amid heightened tensions among Asian countries, like the Philippines and China, over some territorial disputes.