Change is coming to the US Alliance

Ricardo Saludo

Ricardo Saludo

Is President Rodrigo Duterte really breaking away from America, as many commentators and analysts have wondered?

As this column argued last month (“Duterte’s tough-talk foreign policy,” Sept. 29), the administration has been sending mixed signals to keep the big powers guessing, and thus get some advantage in obtaining concessions and recalibrating relations.

Well, if the US alliance is not yet history, what might it look like after Duterte’s redo? Four points:

The alliance will continue
Yes, it’ll stick around for the foreseeable future. President Duterte has said he’d like the 65-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty with America to continue, despite his colorful remarks about its leader.

And that should pose no problem in forging ties with Russia and China. After all, Washington is building defense cooperation and holding war games with New Delhi and Hanoi, which have long, strong links with Moscow, including arms purchases and ventures.

More crucial, the US has to defend the Philippines from any hostile takeover, however disgusting our leader’s language may be. Plainly, it cannot allow the archipelago to become a vast military platform for a rival big power, as the country would be for America under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The EDCA allows US forces to increase rotations in the Philippines and make use of our bases.

Bottom line: Since America has to keep the Philippines out of enemy control, Duterte has no reason to refuse US protection and scrap the MDT — as long as it does not make the Philippines a threat and a target for rival powers.

The EDCA must be scaled down
It is the EDCA, not the MDT, that puts the country in the missile sights of America’s adversaries, especially the People’s Liberation Army. Increased rotations of nuclear-armed warships, submarines, and aircraft under the 2014 executive agreement are magnets for PLA attack, along with the five bases made available for US use.

Nuclear-capable cruise missiles launched from our territory can hit most of China, plus its vital sea lanes in the South China Sea, where four-fifths of its oil imports pass. For its part, the PLA has hundreds of projectiles on the Chinese coast and inland, ready for devastating preemptive or retaliatory strikes at American forces.

With such destructive might on both sides, China and the US “have an incentive to strike enemy forces before being struck by them,” according to the US Army-sponsored RAND Corporation report “War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable” < >.

So those escalating rotations of the Seventh Fleet must come down. But can the US still defend the Philippines from invasion with EDCA truncated? Yes, since American arms can inflict massive losses on an invading armada even from outside the country.

What about aerial and projectile attack on the Philippines? Such a threatened or actual bombardment would trigger a hail of cruise missiles decimating PLA batteries and airfields. (If Uncle Sam doesn’t hit back, then we might just capitulate — and become the vast enemy platform Washington never wants to see.)

As for asserting our territorial claims and economic zones, US forces in the country would only help if we are attacked. So we have to be crazy enough to ignite a shooting war with China before America helps. Not a good deterrent to encroachments and bullying, as we learned the hard way in Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal.

Only one faraway base for America
Washington would almost surely push for access to bases, arguing that it cannot counter China’s growing might in the South China Sea, with the Seventh Fleet operating and supplied from distant Guam, Hawaii, and Okinawa.

Fair enough. But we cannot let them use the five bases offered under the EDCA. Three are airfields right next to Cebu City, Cagayan de Oro, and Puerto Princesa, and sharing runways with their airports. The other two in Nueva Ecija and Pampanga, in the middle of Central Luzon ricelands.

If these bases are attacked, collateral damage on our land and people would be immense. If they are nuked, the fallout would contaminate vast croplands. Frankly, then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd committed an act of treason by agreeing to expose millions of Filipinos to such threats, and with zero guarantee of US support in maritime disputes, unlike Washington’s ironclad pledge to Tokyo in its frictions with Beijing.

If America needs a base, it must be far from cities and farmland. One possible site is Balabac Island, off the southern tip of Palawan. The base would need to erected from scratch, but the money Uncle Sam was going to spend on facilities for five bases should be enough for one. And anti-missile defenses for one base is far less costly.

Balabac may also attract a port developer, which could set up both a naval supply and maintenance base and a container terminal, where vessels traversing the Pacific can load or unload cargo coming from or bound for Southeast Asia. They would save on time, fuel and higher harbor charges vis-a-vis sailing to Singapore or Bangkok, the current maritime hubs.

US military aid must be A2/AD
Last item on the alliance wishlist is A2/AD: anti-access/area denial weaponry to monitor and deter intrusions. The Washington defense think tank Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments urged the US government to help build up the Philippines’ A2/AD capabilities to counter China.

In its 2012 study, “The Geostrategic Return of the Philippines,” the CSBA recommended marine surveillance planes to watch the seas, anti-ship coastal defenses to deter intruders, and aerial defense systems to defend the anti-ship missiles.

No more unarmed second-hand ships and outdated training jets, which the PLA would just laugh at. We need planes to eyeball our waters and help in disaster relief; supersonic missiles like the BrahMos, which Vietnam is buying from India; and anti-aircraft guns and rockets.

Those are the four points of a truly enhanced defense cooperation with America.


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  1. No offense to Filipinos but the idea that the US will not once again leave the Phillipines if we are asked to do so is incorrect. We will. If you want to be China’s bitch, that is your right.

    Good riddance. We have enough to deal with elsewhere.

  2. what Filipinos can do is just let Duterte do his thing for 6 yrs then when he leaves office, people vote for a pro US candidate then the country is back with the US orbit while maintaining trade relations with China. Besides isnt that is what US is doing with China? they have close trade relations but cautious in defense relations? so we just join the game. Let Duterte take all those businesses opportunites from China and invest to the country for the next 6 yrs then thats it. But AFP also must lobby and insist to get modernized and well equipped for the next 6 yrs after that . we are the winners.

    • I have a very distinct suspicion that this guy has no intention of “leaving office” in six years.

      And we- the US- left once and can leave again. Money saved and ongoing aggravation avoided.

  3. Richard Caroll on

    The US signed the EDCA at the request of the Philippines.

    With the anti-American rhetoric coming from President Duertre increasing, the US should pull out of the EDCA.

    The main concern of the US is to guarantee free passage of international shipping through the South China Sea, and not to guarantee the independence of the Philippines.

    Since President Duertre is willing to hold war games with China and Russia, it is in the national interest of the US to find other means of doing so.

    That way the political leadership of the Philippines will not be able to accuse the US of racism as your Foreign Minister has done on several occasions.

  4. I think when Duts became a candidate and then won he already has an agenda. So what he said before regarding:
    1. Drug Problem – on going
    2. Senate Control – confusing but on the way
    3. Judicial Control – on the way
    4. Congress Control and CONASS – done
    5. 40 year proverty plan
    6. UN and Western Policies
    7. Emergency Powers in the guise of Traffic problem
    All of these are already stuck in his mind. Let’s face it! He cannot work as a team so what he says “GOES”. He cannot accept the previous administrations credits. He has an obligation with the Marcoses. And he wants to align with Russia and China! That is Final!
    What is in store for us? If there will be a military alliance with Russia and China then something will happen very soon otherwise all blocking forces will fail. What will happen will be the same in Syria where Russia did not leave Assad. And look where his country is now?

  5. we have 3 branches of the government executive legislative and judiciary there job is to check and balance how come whatever the executive make any decision the legislative and the judiciary just keep quiet in tagalog baw na lang ng baw is the Philippines under already dictatorship

  6. If China starts to invest billions in the Philippines, I am 100 per cent sure they will not attack this nation because of their economic interest and they will bomb their own people in the Philippines. Most of the Pilipino population are Chinese either by immigration or by inter marriages. I will say they are so so stupid to attack this nation. US will not attack this nation because they occupy 5 military bases here and their billion of dollar investment in this nation. I am 100 percent positive that it all boils down to Economic Interest. It is not basically military interest that they are worried but they are protecting their economic interest. That is the goal of Duterte, if china will invest heavily in this nation, rest assure we will not be the battleground.

    • Most Philippine people are actually related to Americans and Spanish. Millions of Philippine people live in the USA and have relatives there.

      It is time this rubbish talk and false propaganda we are all Chinese is stopped.

      Most Pinays and Pinoys are NOT Chinese background some are yes but NOT the majority.

      The Philippines belongs to Philippine people not China government or Chinese investors.

      Stop the false stories people! Wake Up to the China takeover.

  7. Thank you for a well written article that does bring up many good points. I would concur with you in many ways, but also highlight that the US does perform military training with India and Vietnam both of whom do business with Russia and China (likewise so does the US). These military exercises have focused purposed to insure the open water ways in the S. China Sea. Both of these countries have faced real issues with the PLA… Both have probed and probed again by the PLA army and Navy. Both are developing nations and understand that to repulse the PLA will take a team effort and mutual defense coordinated with the US. One difference is that neither of these countries considers Communist China a passive and friendly neighbor that will provide prosperity and happiness in the region. Your article while very well thought out and written is a real contradiction to the article yesterday by Catherine Valente “Duterte favors war games with China” which was very shocking and sends the wrong message to your friends. I took time to print that article and send to others who share a common interest.

    Regarding Military bases, designed to insure the protection of vital seaways and the Philippines at large I would tell you they are also a BIG contributor to the local economy. Food, fuel, entertainment, transportation and labor all mean direct investment and money into the economy.

    Two years ago I was in subic and meet for young Puti having lunch and spoke with them. They were all US Navy and serving on a destroyer stationed off the coast. Asked what they were doing they replied “Telling China they cannot have the Philippines”. They were willing to risk their lives to insure the freedom and democracy of the Philippines. What would be their response today?

    We would agree that it is high time that the US help invest in a real Navy and other military goods for the Philippines. But how does president son-of-a-B go to congress to seek funds while DU30 is saying such terrible things and backing them up with actions? Americans are now starting to see DU30 ans another Late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

    I pray for the Philippines and the Filipino people. Let’s all hope cooler heads prevail. Keep writing!

    • No opposition at all. Good or Bad? DU30 actions undermines all Policies written after World War II.

    • Yes there is a lot of US military personnel that feels” China cannot have the Philippines”, both Fil-ams and non fil ams as well, unfortunately it is not the US military that decides if the they can pull the trigger, Yes they were sent to show of force operations but that does not mean they will pull the trigger.