It is an irony of Philippine history that the country seems ready to turn down a base treaty with the United States just at the point when the base is no longer coveted as a crucial link in U.S. defenses against a hostile Soviet Union. The Philippine Senate has failed to ratify a new 10-year lease for Subic Bay Naval Station, but President Corazon Aquino, with the support of the Bush administration, is calling for a referendum on the issue.
The task of replicating Subic Bay would be a burden for the United States. But the cost wouldn't compare to the impact on the struggling Philippine economy of the loss of many thousands of jobs as well as the hundreds of millions of dollars the station injects into the local economy each year. Already, the Philippine economy is absorbing one such loss, with the abandonment of Clark Air Force Base, virtually buried in the eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano earlier this year.
The Philippines government seems to be going through the kind of identity crisis that is inevitable after a long period of colonial rule. The country has had its independence from the United States for almost half a century, but it has never been able to step out of the American shadow. This grand gesture by the Philippine Senate is an attempt to repudiate its colonial master once and for all. The problem is that the gesture comes at the expense of the livelihoods of Filipinos who, as yet, have nowhere else to turn.