Defending the Philippines

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Can the Philippines have a strong external defense without the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement boosting America’s military deployment and access to Philippine bases?

There’s something wrong with that question. Even with more US forces in the Philippines under the agreement, they will not fight to defend our territorial claims, so why would scrapping the EDCA matter?

America never intervened when China seized Mischief Reef in 1995 and Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and Commander-in-Chief Obama did not commit any response if, as Palace reporters twice asked in 2014, Sino-Philippine maritime frictions turned violent.

Even with China’s massive reclamation and facilities building in the Spratlys, the US could only mouth its rote protestations, and the sole action mooted so far is joint sea patrols with the Philippine Navy.


Hence, the EDCA isn’t a factor in addressing the country’s paramount external security problem today: territorial confrontations with China.

As for the archipelago itself, that is not under immediate or foreseeable threat, at least before the EDCA allowed more nuclear-capable US assets into the archipelago. And even without the new pact, the United States is committed under the Mutual Defense Treaty to take action if our main territory or our armed forces are attacked.

To repeat: The MDT covers US defense of the main Philippine territory, which faces no threat of invasion. But both the MDT and the EDCA do not commit American forces to counter Chinese encroachments into islets and shoals claimed by the Philippines.

Mitigate the threats

Okay, so how do we enhance national security, with or without the EDCA?
First, reduce the threats. That enhances security even before boosting defenses.

The top security threat today and moving forward, especially if more nuclear-capable US forces deploy in the archipelago, is the risk of attack by China on American forces capable of nuking it, plus the bases and facilities supporting them.

Don’t believe anyone saying that China, facing nuclear attack from US assets in the Philippines, would not neutralize those forces, even if there is widespread collateral damage to our country, and even if it triggers thermonuclear war.

Back in 1962, when Russia tried to put rockets in Cuba after American projectiles were placed in Turkey, the United States braced for full-scale war, even getting ballistic and bomber fleets ready to attack. Thankfully, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended after Moscow and Washington both took their rockets home.

Make no mistake about it: China will also go to war if it is threatened with nukes.

Hence, the most important step to enhance Philippine security is to ensure that no nuclear weapons enter our territory, as the Constitution expressly forbids and the Supreme Court’s EDCA decision reiterates.

That means pressing the government to demand US guarantees that no vessels or aircraft would enter the archipelago with atomic weapons, as the Tuesday column urged (see http://www.manilatimes.net/how-to-stop-the-edca/240157/ ).

The No. 2 security threat, also partly provoked by the EDCA, is Beijing’s build-up of military-capable aviation and maritime facilities on reclaimed islands in the Spratlys. To counter this peril, we must persuade China to devote the facilities mainly to civilian use, and desist from building more.

Yeah right, many would snicker. Well, in fact, there is something Beijing wants, and for that, it may be willing to de-militarize Fire Cross Reef. In exchange for reduced American deployment in the Philippines, the Chinese may agree to rein in its military build-up in the South China Sea.

That militarization is in large part to defend vital sealanes, where four-fifths of Chinese oil imports pass. If America’s own build-up in the Philippines is reined in, there is less reason for China to escalate its force deployment near the archipelago.

Will Beijing agree to curtail military use of Fire Cross Reef in exchange for ratcheting down US forces in our country?

Why not? China’s alternative is an expensive and internationally unpopular defense build-up on the high seas, which would still take many years and tens of billions of renminbi to match the Seventh Fleet, backed by eight Philippine bases.

It would be a no-brainer for Beijing: turn Fiery Cross Reef into an international tourism and maritime facility, and for that, drastically slash US forces in the Philippines.

Deploy the right defenses

The problem, of course, with threat-reduction efforts is that China may still make encroachments, and even see conciliatory initiatives as a sign of weakness to exploit.

Hence, besides mitigating risks, the Philippines must still build up defenses — but not in the way America and other allies have been helping us do.

The country has spent more than P30 billion on Korea trainer jets, refurbished US helicopters, and other gear. We also received two American coast guard cutters, Japanese patrol boats, and Australian gear.

These assets, however, won’t deter the Chinese. Instead, as even American defense experts have said, we need anti-access, area denial weapons, which deter adversaries where these A2AD armaments are deployed.

Learn from Vietnam: it is buying submarines and anti-ship missiles. The former intimidate a vast area far beyond their actual position, since they are hard to detect and could be anywhere within the radius of their effective range.

Supersonic anti-ship missiles, meanwhile, can sink pretty much anything within its range. That’s 300 km for the Indo-Russian BrahMos projectile — enough to cover most of the country’s exclusive economic zone. Vietnam is in advanced talks to buy it.

Former National Security Adviser and US Naval Academy graduate Roilo Golez urges deploying 200 BrahMos, which can be mounted three on a truck and moved anywhere, making them hard to find.

The 200 missiles alone would offer significant deterrence, for a total bill of about P35 billion, including support infrastructure and operations training. Congress could allocate part of the Malampaya gas royalties, now around P150 billion, for the rockets — an energy-related project to defend offshore oil and gas resources.

Rather than EDCA, the Philippines’ external defense formula should be RT-A2AD. Reduce threats and deploy anti-access, area denial armaments. Plus NN: No nukes.

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11 Comments

  1. I think the previous president of the Philippines they packet ed the money. The poor soldier of pH are swindle and it hard to realize a airforce just only a trainer plane, always training. The navy having an obsolete ship and our army with obsolete equipment. The AFP is good for the 1945 war but for today they are a setting duck, every thing is high tech. I feel so bad they had heart to be a warrior but their boss betrayed them.

  2. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    22 January 2016

    Manila Times columnist RICARDO SALUDO has taken the time and effort to weigh in on the strategic implications of EDCA–and his opinion deserves serious study by the country;’s defense and political establishment.

    The overarching strategic and geopolitical FACT, however, is that China and the United States are now locked in a struggle for DOMINANCE in international waters in the South China Sea where an estimated $5 trillion in sea trade passes annually, including much of the Oil from the Middle East–the same area where China has 1] drawn an arbitrary line it calls the “NINE-DASH LINE, which envelops virtually the whole of the SCS and goes as far South as far as Indonesia and, 2] where it has illegally grabbed maritime structures in the West Philippine Sea which the Philippines rightfully asserts are parts of its territory under International Law [UNCLOS].

    It happens that the United States, time and time again in the near past, has declared to the whole world THAT IT HAS A VESTED NATIONAL INTEREST IN KEEPING THE SEA LANES IN QUESTION, WHICH ARE INTERNATIONAL WATERS, IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA,COMPLETELY OPEN.

    Thus the geopolitical issues between China and the United States are now joined. That is the geopolitical context of EDCA: EDCA, as far as the Philippines and the US are concerned, is but the logical implementation of the MDT and the VFA.

    The US, which is now obviously making all necessary preparations for an eventual showdown with China over the South China Sea, is now ready to position troops and all kinds of military and naval hardware and software in bases in the Philippines, as close as possible to the probable theater of conflict–a very big if not decisive advantage for the United States.

    That clearly explains why just after the day the Supreme Court ruled EDCA to be CONSTITUTIONAL, China denounced the ruling in no uncertain terms.

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    patalinjugmar@gmail.com

  3. Be smart. What’s on the issue is control of minerals like oils and fishing grounds.
    China has started its base at the contested area and they are making sea and air
    patrol and warning those who come near. No forces has challenge them yet except
    maybe Japan. Where do we stand as Pinoy? We don’t have the capability.

  4. We should have a little of everything in our defense including RTA2AD and BrahMos. EDCA is around and helps because US has a common interest in us – guaranteed freedom of navigation in China sea. US will never interfere in our Spratly’s problem and that is our Philippine PROBLEM ALONE.

    Our best defense is the UNITY OF ALL FILIPINOS to defend our National Sovereignty and Patrimony. We should learn from the Vietnamese. TROUBLE is we Filipinos are so DIVISIVE thus, China took advantage China while WE -FILIPINOS are busy QUARRELING AMONG OURSELVES. Kawawang Pilipinas Kong Mahal and we should UNITE now or never.

  5. Andres Soriano on

    I don’t agree with the author. In today’s realities, survival of a country is through military and economic alliances. Look at Japan, Korea, Australia, NZ, India, Vietnam and most of ASEAN, they are building or reinforcing their alliances with the USA. China is isolated among its neighbors.

  6. The proposal for missiles appears to be plausible but not totally reliable. It is vulnerable to attack by any forces already in our land. It can also be detected by satellite and spy planes. The only option I see that would deter China is what North Korea has on its arsenal … Nuke. Yes Nuke will deter any nation from attacking a country with nuke. In order to do this.. we have to revive our nuclear program, develop and train nuclear scientists, have exchange programs with countries with nuclear capabilities.

  7. 2 of the f 50 by the Indonesian Air Force have already crashed ,exactly the same planes that Pilipines got from South Korea !!

  8. That’s the problem wih us Pinoys. We always pretend to be very smart in terms of international issues and politics. But in reality, mahilig lang tayong pumuna ng mga ibang tao. Anong kakayahan ng Pilipinas na ilaban sa China. Wala!!! Kinuha na nga ng mga Inksekto ang ibang isla ay ngawa pa rin tayo ngawa na wala naman tayong ginagawa. Where do we get the money to buy submarines, anti ship missiles, and other forms of missiles? If the government employees from the barangays to the national level did not steal government money or being corrupt to enrich themselves then we should be able to buy these. Vietnam is more disciplined than the Philippines. The Philippines is a corrupt country and blame this to present and past politicians like Binay, Enrile, Estrada, Revilla.

    REPly

    OO nga pop. Ano ngayon ang gagawin. Tumahimik na tanggapin ang ating pagkabusabos sa kamay ngt mga Tsino? (Ayaw p nami8n ang bastos na salitang “Intsik”).
    O magpakamatayt na lang ba tayong lahat?

  9. Virgilio garcias on

    I consider this editorial as biased. It emplies only the chinese capability to attack the US forces in our territory.

    How about the preemptive attack the US can do to the Chinese forces? Remember sir author, that the American military and weapons are the most advanced and sophisticated in the world.

    REPLY
    This is not a Manila Times editorial. It is a column, sir, by an individual writer–not a representative of The Manila Times editorial and management boards. But he is someone valued not only by The Times but also by a large public.

    • Lemuel Dimagiba on

      What makes you think that the US would preemptively attack China, for the Philippines? Lol. Don’t be naive.