Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the Philippine capital on Tuesday to demand U.S. troops leave their country, just days after Philippine President Noynoy Aquino announced he is "close" to a deal that would open the Philippines to an expanded U.S. military presence.
“Aquino is desperately trying to outdo previous Philippine presidents when it comes to puppetry to the US," said Elmer “Bong” Labog, spokesperson for labor organization Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement), which organized the demonstration.
Riot police clashed with approximately 300 demonstrators, who carried signs and banners that read "Obama Not Welcome" and "US Troops Out Now," near the U.S. embassy in Manila. At one point police attacked the crowd with truncheons, but no one was seriously injured, the Associated Press reports.
The protest comes ahead of a planned visit by U.S. President Barack Obama in April, which will be aimed at making progress towards an agreement over sustained U.S. military presence in the Philippines, including in the Subic Bay, which overlooks the South China Sea.
Social movements in the Philippines have long opposed U.S. power over their country, which includes more than five decades of direct colonial rule and the backing of brutal dictator Ferdinand Marcos — who was president from 1965 to 1986 until he was overthrown by a popular movement. Even after Philippine independence, the U.S. maintained a heavy presence of bases and troops, despite widespread opposition to the environmental and social harm they spread, including numerous incidents of sexual assaults and rape of the local population.
While the last U.S. base in the country was shut down in 1992, the U.S. currently sends 500 troops to the southern Philippines annually for so-called counter-terrorism purposes, while 6,500 come each year for training, according to the Philippine military.
With the cooperation of Aquino, Obama is aggressively pushing to expand this military presence as part of the U.S. military's pivot to Asia to hedge against China. The U.S. and Philippine governments have levied U.S. humanitarian response to Typhoon Haiyan to build support for a deal.
According to Labong, Aquino "tries to make it appear that the return of US military bases to the Philippines is part of efforts to help the country when it is part of the U.S. geopolitical strategy."