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Issue Number 25/26, December 2005

Kapatiran Issue No. 25/26, December 2005

 - Roland Simbulan

It is with a heavy heart that I share this tribute for a friend, co-peacemaker and an outstanding peace researcher and advocate, Owen Wilkes, who passed away in May 2005. I first met and got to know Owen in 1981 at an international peace conference in Tokyo, Japan. We were both speakers in that large conference of almost 800 participants, and Owen at that time was a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Owen immediately impressed me as SIPRI's highly knowledgeable technical expert on foreign military bases and facilities, specifically as a specialist on communications and signals intelligence (SIGINT). He could look at photographs of any kind of logistics/communications facilities and interpret what they were used for. He knew by just looking at the set-up of foreign military bases and facilities, or the configuration of naval and air force vessels and determine whether they were nuclear-armed and nuclear-capable. I was glad he was on our side, a veritable walking think tank for the international peace movement.
He Helped To End 470 Years Of Foreign Military Bases In The Philippines

And yet, he was so modest, was so full of humility and had a good sense of humour. His sense of humour was in itself so sharp, as one time when he remarked to me that he was unsure of the shooting effectiveness of the elite US Rapid Deployment Force because he was so sure that they too, as human beings, would be suffering from jet lag after an 8-10 hour trip with different time zones! And when I once asked him why he always wore shorts and sandals even in the very formal international peace conferences in Japan, he just smiled and said: "this is me".
Owen's research and work - both published and unpublished - on foreign military bases and facilities especially when he was with SIPRI, was of vital importance to the peace advocates and organisers of the peace movement all over the world and in that sense had an important role in ending the Cold War. In the Philippines, Owen's work inspired me and others to do more serious peace research IN SUPPORT of peace advocacy and organising.
I saw Owen so vigorously full of zest and fulfilment during the Beyond ANZUS Conference in New Zealand in 1984, on the eve of the Labour Party's election victory that eventually made New Zealand nuclear-free. Owen had just then come back from Europe to finally do full-time peace work in his beloved country. It was during my lecture tour in both Australia and New Zealand where I likewise addressed the Beyond ANZUS Conference at Wellington that I invited Owen to visit the Philippines. It was in late 1980s that Owen finally did visit the Philippines where he visited the vast and then still active US military bases and facilities, especially at Subic Naval Base and at Clark Air Base. Owen's technical expertise helped us interpret the bases' role in the context of the American global nuclear infrastructure. I had my disagreements with him though, especially on the particular nature and placement of the facilities, their counter-insurgency role, but our discussions were very productive, constructive as well as instructive. The technical information about the US bases and facilities that Owen shared with us especially in the light of the nuclear weapons-free 1987 Philippine Constitution, helped in no small way in the Philippine Senate's decision to reject the proposed bases treaty of renewal, thus ending 470 years of foreign military bases in the Philippines. Thank you Owen, as we join others in celebrating your life, your outstanding intellectual advocacy, and what you have given so much to the international peace movement.

Roland Simbulan is Vice Chancellor of, and a Professor at, the University of the Philippines in Manila. He was the National Chairperson of the Nuclear Free-Philippines Coalition. This online tribute was published on the NoUSBases international e-mail list. The October 2005 Special Issue of the Anti-Bases Campaign’s journal, Peace Researcher, is devoted to Owen Wilkes. It can be read online at Ed.

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