President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines must have an incredibly short memory.
Doesn't she realize that she likely would not still be in power today if American warplanes stationed in the Philippines had not responded to her pleas in the waning days of 1989 and helped quash a coup attempt by her own military?Evidently, Aquino either doesn't remember or doesn't care, judging from her stubborn demands for exorbitant compensation from Washington in return for letting the United States extend its lease on Philippine bases it has occupied since 1947.
So far out of line is Manila's demand for $825 million in annual compensation in relation to the U.S. offer of $360 million, that talks on the future of the bases broke off this week.
Though U.S. negotiators have managed to overcome Filipino recalcitrance in the past, the handwriting on the wall this time around seems unmistakably clear. Consider the strikes against renewing the lease after it expires next September:
First, any new lease must be ratified by two-thirds of the Philippines' 23-member Senate. But more than half of the senators are on record in favor of closing the U.S. bases.
Second, this senatorial opposition is backed by strong support among the public. Filipinos consider the American military presence an unwelcome intrusion and an inducement to outside attackers rather than a comforting shield.
Third, a provision in the Philippines' constitution specifically bans U.S. military bases after the current treaty runs out Sept. 16, 1991.
Consequently, Washington had better start looking elsewhere if the United States is going to maintain a strong military presence in the Far East as a deterrent to potential aggression and a sentinel guarding vital trade routes across the Indian and Pacific oceans.
But it's unrealistic to expect an abrupt departure from the Philippines' Clark Air Base and Subic Bay naval base, the oldest and largest American military bases on foreign soil.
Instead, a gradual phase-out would be better since it would give both countries a better chance to adjust to the change - and the Philippines must expect some particularly wrenching shifts.
Without the U.S. bases, which inject $1 billion a year into the local economy, the Philippines must find new jobs for the 70,000 Filipinos currently employed there.
Likewise, after it yanks the welcome mat out from under America's feet, Manila can't expect Washington to be lavish with foreign aid.
The interests of both Washington and Manila would best be served if the U.S. bases were allowed to remain in the Philippines. But at this point the host has become so reluctant that the guest had better start looking for new lodgings.