MANILA — President Corazon Aquino opened a summit meeting today with a lecture to her Southeast Asian neighbors on the key role the Philippines plays in their security because of U.S. bases on its soil.
Aquino, disregarding an apparent agreement to leave the bases issue to one side, opened the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations summit with a blunt declaration of the "Philippine factor" in the security of the Asia-Pacific region.
Aquino made no direct reference to the huge air and naval bases maintained by the United States north of Manila but made it clear that she believes their presence is perhaps the single most significant factor in regional security.
"The Philippine factor is said to have contributed to the securing of the airspace and the sea lanes that are vital to the continued economic stability and growth of our neighbors," she said.
The Philippines, protected by geography, could if it chose afford an attitude "of the coldest indifference to developments in the region," she said.
The reference diverted Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei from their major preoccupations with the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and economic and trade issues.
Political observers and diplomats in Manila have said Aquino wants an ASEAN acknowledgement of the regional significance of the U.S. bases to help her defend their presence against the fierce domestic opposition expected when renewal of the bases pact comes up for discussion next year.
A Philippine initiative to have the Clark Air and the Subic Bay Naval bases discussed at the summit was rejected in preparatory discussions.
'Get On With the Job'
Diplomats said it had become clear that while ASEAN members all agreed on the significance of the bases, they could not publicly say so because of links to the nonaligned movement, Islamic organizations and other non-regional groupings.
"Let Southeast Asia be for Southeast Asians, and let the people of this region get on with the job of maintaining peace and stability for the sake of their own development and progress," Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed said.