MANILA — President Corazon Aquino's government on Tuesday announced a series of legal maneuvers designed to offset the effects of Monday's stinging 12-11 rejection by the Philippine Senate of a new military base treaty with the United States.
Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus said that in the wake of the Senate action, the Aquino government has withdrawn the legal notice given to the United States in May, 1990, terminating the agreement on U.S. bases in the Philippines.
Instead, Manglapus--until recently an outspoken opponent of the bases--said the government now accepts the U.S. interpretation of a 1966 agreement on military bases, which held that American forces have a year's grace period to withdraw after receiving a formal termination notice from Manila.
In an interview with The Times and seven other reporters, Aquino said that notice of termination of the current agreement would be given only if the government loses a controversial popular referendum, which she called Sunday to ratify a new bases treaty with the United States.
Manglapus said the referendum would be held before the end of the year. But a more cautious Aquino said that court challenges to the referendum could delay a vote by several months.
"The rejection is not yet final," said Aquino's executive secretary, Franklin Drilon, who chaired a meeting of legal experts to draft a referendum.
The moves left the fate of 8,000 U.S. service personnel at Subic Bay Naval Base in a legal limbo, since the old military base agreement expired Monday and the new, 10-year treaty was rejected by the Senate.
"I believe the great majority of the people want the treaty ratified," Aquino said.
Opinion polls have supported this view, a reflection of the drastic state of the Philippine economy after a series of natural disasters and financial setbacks.
Aquino said that having the Americans "stay here for 10 more years will better prepare us for the sure end and definite withdrawal of foreign bases." The U.S. Navy would pay $203 million a year for the use of Subic over the life of the agreement, which also described how the Americans would turn over volcano-damaged Clark Air Base and several other small military facilities.
Manglapus read a note handed over by the U.S. Embassy accepting the new legal basis for keeping Subic. The Bush Administration had already asked Congress for $363 million as the first year's payment under the new treaty.
The actions of the Aquino government caused outrage among anti-bases forces, who argued that a referendum is not a constitutional method of overturning the Senate action.
It was still unclear what would appear in the referendum, but Manglapus said it is possible that the voters could directly ratify the treaty itself, bypassing action by the Senate.
Aquino's Cabinet met to draw up plans for the referendum. To get it on the ballot, the government must obtain the signatures of 3 million registered voters to present to the election commission.
Aquino said she is certain that the referendum will be challenged in the Philippine Supreme Court. She pledged to abide by the court's decision.
The proposed treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Security provides for the lease of only Subic; the United States abandoned Clark Air Base after the devastating June eruption of the Mt. Pinatubo volcano, and it has turned over four smaller facilities to the Filipinos.