Philippine Human Rights Advocates Oppose U.S. Military Use Of Hawai‘i Lands

The U.S. military’s 65-year lease of 30,000 acres of Hawaiian land – at the Pōhakuloa Training Area (on the Big Island of Hawai‘i), the Kawailoa/Poamoho Training Area, the Kahuku Training Area, and the Mākua Military Reservation (on O‘ahu) – will end in 2029. The cost to the U.S. Army? One dollar per parcel of land for 65 years. On August 10 and 11, the U.S. Army held public scoping hearings for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Army Training Land Retention. (The recordings have 30 minutes of preliminaries before the testimonies start.) Among the dozens of individuals that testified, there was unanimous agreement that the U.S. military must clean up and leave. Many Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) testified about the ongoing violence of the U.S. military desecrating the environment with unexploded ordnance and depleted uranium, demolishing cultural sites, and trampling on the iwi (bones) of their ancestors. Hawai‘i-based advocates for the Philippine human rights also submitted testimony in solidarity with the Kānaka Maoli. The Hawai‘i Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (HICHRP) calls for not renewing the lease of the lands and not allowing the U.S. military’s continued occupation.

The U.S. military’s presence in Hawai‘i and the Pacific does not create peace. Rather, it represents military occupation. Captain James Cook, the first European to come into contact with Kānaka Maoli in 1778, was a military officer, and the HMS Resolution was a vessel of the British Royal Navy. In 1842, U.S. President John Tyler declared control of Hawai‘i as a “virtual right of conquest.” Armed naval forces of the U.S. invaded Hawai‘i in 1893. The U.S. annexed Hawai‘i in 1898 without the consent of its people. At present, there are 161 U.S. military installations in Hawai‘i, and the U.S. military occupies 22% of the island of O‘ahu.1

Environmental contamination by the U.S. military include the following:

Military contamination hazards include unexploded ordnance, various types of fuels and petroleum products; organic solvents such as perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene; dioxins and PCB; explosives and propellants such as RDX, TNT, HMX and perchlorate; heavy metals such as lead and mercury; napalm, chemical weapons, and radioactive waste from nuclear powered ships. Cobalt 60, a radioactive waste product from nuclear-powered ships, has been found in sediment at Pearl Harbor. Between 1964 and 1978, 4,843,000 gallons of low level radioactive waste were discharged into Pearl Harbor. 2,189 steel drums containing radioactive waste were dumped in an ocean disposal area 55 miles from Hawai`i.2

The U.S. military’s current strategic posture in the Pacific is intended to provoke China. It poses the risk of World War III and the extinction of the human species. Home to the Indo-Pacific Command, Hawai‘i serves as the control center for U.S. military domination of over half the planet. As such, when Hawai‘i was not actually part of the U.S., but rather a territory, Japanese imperial forces attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. On January 13, 2018, an alert was issued to every cell phone in Hawai‘i that a ballistic missile was inbound, causing residents to scramble and some to continue to experience post-traumatic stress. That such an attack was even plausible demonstrates that the military presence does not make Hawai‘i safer. It makes it a target.

Filipinos know the violence and injustices brought about by the U.S. military only too well. The use of the Philippines by the U.S. military is emblematic of its role in the imperial subjugation of peoples around the globe. Initially occupying the Philippines from 1898 to 1946 as an outright colony of the U.S. (interrupted by Imperial Japanese occupation 1942-1945), the U.S. maintained military bases on Philippine soil even after the Philippines gained formal independence. At one point, the U.S. Naval Base, Subic Bay, was the U.S.’s largest overseas installation. Although the US military bases were ousted from the Philippines in 1991, thousands of U.S. troops continue to maintain a presence on Philippine lands via the “U.S.-Philippine strategic alliance” codified in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), and the Balikatan joint war exercises.

The U.S. essentially controls the Philippine military to suppress revolutionary forces in the country and to secure military control of the Southeast Asian region. The U.S. military’s presence in the Philippines leads to gross violations of Filipino people’s rights. For example, the repression of the Moro people in Mindanao depends on ongoing military aid from the U.S. through its “war on terror.” Thus, in 2017, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, with logistical support from the U.S. military, conducted a street-fighting and aerial bombardment campaign that left Marawi in shambles, looking much like Fallujah or Mosul, Iraqi cities destroyed by the U.S. The poor, rural, indigenous Lumad communities of Mindanao are also subjected to U.S.-funded Philippine military operations that displace them from their communities to make way for multinational mining and agribusiness corporations.

This is why human rights defenders are calling for the suspension of millions of U.S. dollars that fund the violations of the human rights of Filipinos. Instead, they call for the passage of the Philippine Human Rights Act (PHRA) by the U.S. Congress. The PHRA will limit U.S. military aid to the Philippines until its government is held responsible for its human rights abuses.

U.S. intervention in the Philippines, however, has always been about more than military presence and control.3Historically, the U.S. military undergirded insidious economic domination through formal colonial rule from 1898-1946, and subsequently its neocolonial authority from 1946 to the present. The policies being dictated by the U.S. government have long suppressed the development of local agriculture and Philippine national industries, resulting in the destruction of the Philippine environment, extraction of natural resources, massive unemployment, poverty, and grave human rights abuses, including the rape of women.

For the Kānaka Maoli, the use of the land, the seas, and the air by the U.S. military represent a military occupation and an encroachment of their sovereign rights to determine the future of Ka Pae ‘Aina (as sovereignty activist Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell taught us to call Hawai‘i).  Ka Pae ‘Aina needs to reduce its dependence on the U.S. military and tourism. The people of Ka Pae ‘Aina demand the return of the lands leased to the military to their natural state. The U.S. military must clean up its waste and unexploded ordnance from the leased lands. They should start now.

Philippine human rights advocates take a stand for Kānaka Maoli’s collective rights – the right to peace, the right to a healthy environment, the right to self-determination, and the right to human-oriented development. The people of Ka Pae ‘Aina are for peace and multicultural, international understanding – and want no part of the escalation of military conflict between the competing imperial centers of the U.S. and China.

We must not allow Ka Pae ‘Aina to be used by the U.S. war machine. At this moment, we have an opportunity to stand in solidarity with Native Hawaiians and their aspirations for peace and justice. We must work together to heal, protect, and nurture their ancestral lands after decades of war and destruction. Refusing to renew the leases of lands occupied by the U.S. military is a necessary and urgent step toward this goal.


1) Kalamaoka‘aina Niheu, Laurel Mei Turbin (Laurel Mei-Singh), Seiji Yamada. The Impact of the Military Presence in Hawai‘i on the Health of Na Kanaka Maoli. Pacific Health Dialog, 2007 Mar, 14(1):205-212.

2) Kyle Kajihiro. A Brief Overview of Militarization and Resistance in Hawai‘i. 2007 Mar 1.

3) Bernadette Ellorin. BAYAN USA Statement on the 112th Anniversary of the Philippine-American War. 2011 Feb 5.

Victor Gregor Limon is the founding chair of the Filipino youth group Anakbayan Hawaiʻi.

Arcelita Imasa is a family medicine resident physician in Ka Pae ‘Aina.

Seiji Yamada is a family physician practicing and teaching in Ka Pae ‘Aina.