Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos said Tuesday he favored a gradual withdrawal of U.S. military bases and scoffed at Mikhail Gorbachev's offer to close down the Soviet naval facility in Vietnam if Washington pulls out of the Philippines.
The Soviet leader offered Friday to withdraw from Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam if the United States dismantles Clark Air Base, Subic Bay Naval station and four other installations in the Philippines."We are a self-respecting sovereign nation," Ramos told a news conference. "One of these days the bases must go . . . but it must be a gradual harmonious process. I don't think it will serve us any good if we talk about an abrupt action (closing down the bases)."
The West Point-trained general and former armed forces chief said while the United States was not directly involved in the campaign against the 19-year-old communist insurgency, the American presence had benefited the Philippines.
Ramos said the United States had provided the Philippine military $85 million annually in arms and equipment to fight the rebels.
He said the U.S. military also played a vital role in providing security to three important "chokepoints" in Southeast Asia - the Strait of Malacca, the Lombok Strait and the Sunda Strait - and allowing the free flow of international commerce.
Ramos said the Gorbachev offer should be "studied very, very thoroughly" because "no less than our national interest is at stake." He said Clark and Subic, America's largest overseas bases, have a "much greater security value" than Cam Ranh Bay, built by the United States during the Vietnam War.
President Corazon Aquino has declined comment on the issue, saying only that "that is for the superpowers to discuss and talk about."
Aquino's estranged vice president, Salvador Laurel, blasted Aquino's position and said "no self-respecting nation should leave the fate of the bases within its territory completely in hands of foreign powers."
Laurel, who quit a year ago as Aquino's foreign secretary, announced Tuesday he was giving up his last position in the Aquino administration as member of the committee overseeing government property in Japan.