Cancel RIMPAC 2024: Stop the U.S. War Machine, From Hawaiʻi to Palestine to the Philippines!

Seiji with the microphone and Yoko holding the “We don’t want to pick our poison!” sign.

February 4 – What’s in a date?

On February 4, we commemorated 125 years since the start of the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) and found ourselves reflecting on the historical context that brought us here.

Today the genocide of the Palestinian people is being livestreamed in real time. Back in 1899, however, newspaper accounts, photos, and drawings of the massacre of Filipinos at the hands of U.S. soldiers took time to reach the U.S. public. In that genocidal war, however, an estimated 10% of the population died in combat and civilian massacres.

Why is it that war and genocide continue to plague humanity? Why does Hawaiʻi get dragged into these conflicts over and over again?

Unsurprisingly, the unifying thread turns out to be U.S. imperialism. The National Park Service recounts the history of Pearl Harbor:

Despite gaining exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor in 1887, the United States did not make any attempt to take advantage of their claim on this strategic estuary until well after the turn of the century. It wasn’t until the capture of Manila during the Spanish-American War, when the United States needed to establish a permanent way station in the Pacific to maintain control of the Philippines. Then, for the first time, the American government began to understand the strategic importance of Oahu.

Thus, the start of the Philippine-American War also marked the beginning of the transformation of Hawaiʻi into the U.S. military garrison that it is today.

What is coming?

We pass by Pearl Harbor on our way to work every day. Seeing warships there and military aircraft in the skies is part of the daily routine for the people of ʻOahu. Yet, we are collectively bracing ourselves for tens of thousands of military personnel of more than 26 countries (including ‘israel’) to descend upon the land, the waters, and the air of the Pacific Ocean around Hawaiʻi this summer for the biannual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war games.

From June 29 through August 4, we are expecting yet another onslaught of destruction to our land, our reefs, our water and wildlife, accompanied by an increase in violence against women and children perpetrated by military personnel. RIMPAC serves no other purpose than to playact war, death, and devastation. The U.S. prepares for all-out war with China, Russia, Iran, or whomever is the enemy of the week – raising the threat of nuclear war and the potential extinction of the human species.

We are not idly standing by. We, the Hawaiʻi Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (HICHRP) comprise just a small part of the coalition to Cancel RIMPAC. We are lying in wait, gearing up for significant resistance.

What are we up against?

In July 2022, 38 warships, 4 submarines, 170 aircraft, and some 25,000 personnel converged in Hawaiʻi for the most recent RIMPAC games. RIMPAC, called the “world’s biggest naval exercises,” takes place every two years. Pointedly, China, which had been invited to participate in previous RIMPACs in 2014 and 2016, has been disinvited since 2018.

While the U.S. had been the world’s sole superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the economic rise of China has U.S. military strategists planning for the coming war against it. With its location across the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea from China, the Philippines plays a crucial role in the U.S.’s plans for the coming war.

The U.S. took over from Spain as the colonizer of the Philippines in 1898 and waged the  Philippine-American war, a colonial war of conquest. After the Philippines were occupied by Imperial Japan (1942-1945), it gained nominal independence in 1946 – while the U.S. continued to maintain a substantial military presence.

Meanwhile in Hawaiʻi, after the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. placed Hawaiʻi under martial law and began using Kaho‘olawe as a bombing target.  Even after the war, the U.S. continued to test weapons (including Agent Orange) and train for jungle warfare and island invasions in Hawaiʻi.

In the 1960s, while the first Ferdinand Marcos was President, U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay and Clark Air Base served as launching pads (as well as “rest and recuperation” sites) for the Vietnam War. Marcos Sr. placed the Philippines under martial law from 1972 until he was deposed in 1986. During this time, the U.S. supported his kleptocratic rule until Marcos was airlifted out by the U.S. along with crates of cash, gold bullion, and jewels. He lived out his remaining years in Hawai‘i – yet another tie to between Hawaiʻi and the Philippines.

But U.S. imperialism is not the only connection between Hawaiʻi and the Philippines (and with Palestine, and all oppressed peoples around the world). They also share a revolutionary tradition of resistance and struggle.

The Filipino people evicted the U.S. from its bases on Philippine soil in 1991. In 1993, the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) people forced an end to the bombing of Kaho‘olawe.

In contemporary U.S. war planning, Hawaiʻi and the Philippines, together with Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, and Guam serve as staging areas for the coming war with China. In 2011, in the midst of the debacles of invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a “pivot” (later termed a “rebalancing”) from the Middle East toward Asia – in order to counter the rise of China.

As China fortifies the outcroppings in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea into military bases – the U.S. conducts provocative “freedom of navigation” incursions by military aircraft and warships. As the U.S. ramps up preparation for war against China, it has been seeking to consolidate its military presence in the Philippines. Thus, humanitarian aid and disaster response in 2013 in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan facilitated the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014. The EDCA has allowed the U.S. military access to facilities in the Philippines, including the stationing of troops, and prepositioning of weaponry.

Another Ukraine?

China’s vow to bring Taiwan under its control has been met with repeated vows by Joe Biden that the U.S. would engage militarily if China were to invade Taiwan. Similarly to how the U.S. continually prodded Russia by expanding NATO and encouraging Ukraine to join, the U.S. continually prods China by arming Taiwan and sending warships through the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. As stated explicitly by Raytheon’s Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the U.S. sought to “weaken” Russia by arming Ukraine to resist invasion. It is clear now that Russia has won.

Ukraine has been devastated and has lost a generation while U.S. arms manufacturers laughed all the way to the bank. In the coming war over Taiwan, or the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea, or the Korean peninsula, the U.S. plans to confront China directly – from bases in the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan, all of which may undergo the same fate as Ukraine.

U.S. military funds overfloweth.

In the way that “israel” and Ukraine have no limits to U.S. military spending to uphold U.S. interests, no matter how brutal and unconscionable, the Philippines occupies a similar client status.

Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte relied heavily on the U.S. military in operations against the Moro peoples against the Lumads, the largest group of indigenous peoples in the southern Philippines. The U.S. government has sent more than $550 million of aid to the Philippine military and police since 2016, not including arms sales.

In January 2023, in an extension of EDCA, the Philippine and U.S. governments announced plans to allow U.S. military access to four additional bases in the Philippines. During April 2023 12,200 U.S.troops joined 5,400 Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel for the largest ever of the yearlyBalikatan (“shoulder-to-shoulder”) Exercise to simulate war with China. The U.S. military thus embeds with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

The fascist and neocolonial government of the Philippines actively suppresses the people’s resistance, including the anti-colonial liberation struggles of the Lumads and the Moro, who have been subject to aerial assault. Human rights activists – such as environmentalists, journalists, human rights lawyers, and health workers – are “red-tagged” and subjected to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, illegal arrests and detentions, harassment and the rest of the range of human rights atrocities.

Despite a presidential election marred by disinformation, intimidation, violence, and fraud – the U.S. welcomed the installation of Ferdinand R. “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. into power in the Philippines in June 2022. Vying to be the first to congratulate Bongbong, Biden angled for a stronger alliance with the Philippines. Bongbong Marcos denies the history as well as accountability of his family to the martyrs and all victims of his father’s Martial Law regime.

During the 2023 visits by Imee Marcos and Bongbong Marcos to Hawaiʻi, the Hawaii Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, in solidarity with the people’s resistance in the Philippines, let them know that dictators, plunderers, and violators of human rights are not welcome in Hawaiʻi.

Calls to Action

HICHRP continues to call on the U.S. Congress to pass the Philippines Human Rights Act (PHRA), which would cut off U.S. government funding to the Philippine military and police. The goal is to prevent the use of our tax money to fund human rights violations of the Philippine government against its people. The U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. State Department would be required to submit a report to the Congressional Appropriations Committee regarding such funding and any misappropriation of any other funding to the Philippine military and police.

The Filipino people’s struggle against the U.S. war machine is obviously allied with the struggle of the Palestinian people against occupation, ethnic cleansing, and genocide – with U.S. taxpayer funding, arms, and political cover, making the U.S. complicit in war crimes. The U.S. war machine has global reach. It must be stopped globally. Instead of preparing for conflict with war games such as RIMPAC and Balikatan, we must instead come together to build peace, life, and coexistence.

In our salute to heroes of the Philippine American War, we also celebrate the mighty revolutionary, David Fagan.  A black American soldier sent to fight for U.S. interests in the Philippines, he found that could no longer stomach the hypocrisy of being in a segregated unit while perpetrating the same racism against the Filipinos. So he defected to the Filipino guerilla army and was warmly regarded as “General Fagan” for his fierce loyalty to justice, and hostility to imperialist occupation.  We commend all of those wake up from their roles in the subjugation of others and risk poverty, detention, and death: the U.S.American veterans who oppose war, the Israeli youth who are arrested for defying their IOF conscription. Of course, our utmost respect and honor goes to all those who give up their comforts to fight for liberation.

No more unlimited spending for imperialist aggression.  No more using poor, brown peoples as cannon fodder. No more devastation of land, water and life in the name of oil and profits.

We need to focus instead on directing our resources to uplifting the living standards of poor and working people in Hawaiʻi, the Philippines, Palestine, and everywhere around the world. We should focus instead on preventing more pandemics and aggressively combatting imminent climate catastrophe.

Cancel RIMPAC 2024! Stop the U.S. war machine, from Hawaiʻi, to Palestine, to the Philippines!

Yoko Liriano is a long-time solidarity activist for the Philippines.

Seiji Yamada, a native of Hiroshima, is a family physician.

Both are members of the Hawaiʻi Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (HICHRP). @hichrp |