First of two parts
Nine months late, the Senate, prodded by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and a looming adverse ruling by the Supreme Court, has finally owned up to its constitutional duty and is hopefully set to review the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Signed shortly before US President Barack Obama’s April visit, the EDCA expands the deployment of American forces in the country and grants access to Philippine bases.
Hence, it’s timely to review some much-downplayed facts about South China Sea tensions. Here’s the bottom line, based on 32 columns on regional security published by this writer since 2010: The EDCA does not help in South China Sea disputes and actually provokes more threats.
On our own on the high seas
Fact No. 1: The US has never taken action to defend Philippine territorial interests on the seas — and has in fact deliberately violated them.
The article “After Aquino: What his successor must fix,” published on April 28, the day US President Barack Obama arrived for his state visit this year, stated: “… in contrast to the instant challenge by American B-52 bombers against Beijing’s air defense identification zone over Japanese-held islands last November, US forces have never rattled even a jacknife during China’s takeover of Mischief Reef in the 1990s and Panatag Shoal in 2012, or its attempted mini-blockade of Ayungin Shoal this year.”
Further, the March 31 column “Who is the worst violator of Philippine territory?” reported, quoting an official Pentagon report to the American Congress: “Sailing between our islands nearly 20 times last year, US vessels pointedly challenged the UNCLOS-backed claim that waters within the archipelago are part of Philippine territory. As the US Defense Department told Congress in its Freedom of Navigation Report for Fiscal Year 2013, the American Navy entered those internal waters within our archipelago, showing Washington’s opposition to that claim.”
UNCLOS is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the international agreement on which our U.N. arbitration case against China is based. Washington has never ratified the decades-old pact and openly challenges it year after year. “The Pentagon report said that among a dozen countries subjected to maritime challenges of their UNCLOS-designated waters, the second-most sailings occurred in the Philippines, next only to intrusions in Iran,” the article noted.
And we expect the US to help defend our territorial claims grounded on the international maritime treaty it rejects. Is that dumb or what?
The flawed US defense alliance
Fact No. 2: While US forces are committed to immediately respond to attacks on Europe and Japan, it is not so for the Philippines.
The article “Big Holes in the Philippines-US defense treaty,” published March 21, stated: “… the US Senate approved in November 2012 the Webb Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. It reaffirmed America’s security commitment to Japan, and specifically ‘acknowledges the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands.’ That brings the disputed territory explicitly under the Japan-US defense pact. And that’s why American B-52 bombers challenged China’s air defense identification zone over the Senkakus last November.”
The column adds: “Even better than the defense pact with Tokyo, however, is that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization safeguarding Europe … the NATO commitment is clear and simple. If any member is attacked, the rest will respond:
“ ‘… if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.’ ”
What about the Mutual Defense Treaty between America and the Philippines? The MDT stipulates that if there is “an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific”, the US “would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”
Last time we checked, Washington’s legal procedures require Congress’s nod to take deploy troops. As the article said, “Under the US Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973, without congressional approval, the Commander-in-Chief may order military action only in ‘a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.’ ” Not our islets and shoals.
On the second day of his April 28-29 visit, President Obama told Filipinos in his Fort Bonifacio speech, “you are not alone” in facing threats. Yet in his Palace press conference just the day before and soon after the EDCA signing, the American leader was evasive when twice asked by local reporters how America would respond to hostilities between China and the Philippines over territorial claims.
It gets worse: not only is EDCA useless in maritime squabbles with China. As noted in “Two Myths: The US Alliance Poses Grave Risks,” published June 18, the pact also “provokes far greater security dangers than foreign encroachments in faraway islands and shoals: China’s military buildup near the archipelago and the targeting of the Philippines by its missiles.” More on tomorrow, plus the right strategy to defend our UNCLOS rights without calling on an ally we simply can’t count on.
(The last part will be published tomorrow.)