• For a truly independent foreign policy, scrap EDCA

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    Ricardo Saludo

    Ricardo Saludo

    It is the biggest worry among security-conscious Filipinos after President Rodrigo Duterte moved to shift the country away from dependence on and subservience to America: Can the Philippines defend itself without the United States?

    The question is, of course, premature. Duterte has not abrogated any defense pact, and he has yet to formally send home American troops providing counter-terrorism advice and training in Mindanao.

    Still, if he really means to chart an independent foreign policy, he cannot do so with a massive American military presence in the archipelago, as provided in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

    Quite simply, hosting those forces and providing facilities to them cannot but end up backing the US foreign policy goals and defense initiatives, which those assets advance.

    Thus, the Philippines cannot be neutral in the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands, since America and its forces, which we support, are on Japan’s side.

    Similarly, we may believe Taiwan is part of China, but if the island breaks away and Washington backs it, so must we, since we host and support US forces, pledged to defend it from Beijing’s threatened invasion if it ever declared independence.

    Make no mistake about it: If we host and support the US military, we effectively adopt American foreign and defense policy. Its adversaries necessarily become ours, too, since that is how they would treat the Philippines for hosting and supporting US forces.

    That is hardly an independent foreign policy.

    MDT and VFA, but not EDCA
    So if Duterte is to achieve foreign policy independence, most US forces must go, especially those that may be used against adversaries in Asia. But that doesn’t mean scrapping the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty, or the Visiting Forces Agreement.

    Unlike the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pact between America and its European allies, the MDT does not automatically require US or Philippine military action in support of each other. Rather, if either country or its forces are attacked, the other “would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

    That means each country’s leader and legislators would deliberate whether and to what extent its forces would join the conflict involving the other MDT nation.

    As for the VFA, it allows only limited visits and deployment of foreign forces and hardly any access to bases, unlike the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

    EDCA is the problem pact. It ramps up rotations of US forces, and gives them access to several bases, starting with five: Mactan near Cebu City, Cagayan de Oro, Puerto Princesa, Basa in Pampanga, and Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

    With such massive nuclear-capable American assets in the country and using Philippine facilities, we cannot claim that our foreign policy is different from the US stance backed by the very forces we host and support.

    So MDT and VFA can stay, but EDCA must go for the Philippines to attain foreign policy independence.

    But can or will America defend the Philippines without EDCA?

    Well, it certainly has purported to do so under the MDT for decades before EDCA was signed in 2014.

    But more than any piece of paper, the immense strategic importance of the Philippines in Asian geopolitics and security makes it imperative for the US to prevent any other power from invading and taking over the country.

    If a hostile nation conquers the archipelago, our central position in East Asia and our vast network of islands and waters would confer huge military advantages to the invader.

    Like the American ships, subs and planes now rotating in the country, the enemy forces would be hard to seek and destroy among so many islands and waters. Medium-range ballistic missiles deployed in Mindanao could threaten Australia and Guam, just as nuclear-capable cruise missiles on US vessels and aircraft can hit most of China from the Philippines.

    And from our islands, enemy forces could interdict vital shipping for Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, just as the Seventh Fleet in our territory can now threaten Chinese shipping, including four-fifths of the country’s oil imports.

    Plainly, with or without EDCA, America has to keep the Philippines out of enemy hands.

    But it has never intervened in our territorial disputes with China, and when asked right after the EDCA signing what the US would do if maritime frictions with Beijing turned violent, President Barack Obama could only say that disputes should be settled peacefully, unlike his assurance to defend Japan’s control of the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands which are also claimed by China.

    A2AD to secure our EEZ
    With American support only assured in a full-scale invasion of the Philippines, what defense strategy should we implement, especially in asserting our maritime rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in which American support is limited, if any?

    Answer: A2/AD.

    Anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) is the term used by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a Washington-based security think tank, in a 2012 paper, “The Geostrategic Return of the Philippines,” which highlighted the paramount strategic value of the archipelago.

    Its prescription for our external defense: “The United States needs to help the Philippines develop its own set of ‘anti-access/area denial’ capabilities to counter China’s growing power projection capabilities. Emphasis should be on providing defensive systems like maritime surveillance aircraft, coastal anti-ship defenses, and air defense systems.”

    Former National Security Adviser and US Naval Academy graduate Roilo Golez has long urged buying the Indo-Russian BrahMos mobile supersonic anti-ship missile.

    Mounted three to a truck, 200 BrahMos can deter intruding vessels as far as 300-400 kms from shore — enough to cover the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under UNCLOS. The P30-billion cost can be covered by Malampaya royalties as an energy-related expenditure to secure offshore petroleum resources.

    Add to that the surveillance planes and anti-aircraft systems also recommended by CSBA. With such armaments, the Philippines can deter EEZ intruders and external invaders without harboring foreign forces. And that’s the foundation of a truly independent foreign policy.

    ric.saludo@censeisolutions.com

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    8 Comments

    1. I concur with this assessment. The sooner the better. I now feel good that my sons and daughters wont be called on to defend a country that either cant or wont defend itself. I pray that the hostilities will not start anytime soon. Good luck.

    2. One thing we, the people in the Philippine and of all people of good will, should not condone is the greed of China’s leaders. Chinese leaders do think that they can buy people and nation by thier economic power influence, which is happening though in other nations today. I met many old Chinese scholastics who did share good thoughts for us to visualize. They said to me every time I had my meal with them, said, “Chinese mind is money and they are ready to pay high when money is involved.” When I tried to visualize this words, I have seen them from almost all their business activities where they even gambled their lives, future and dreams because of an expected high valued investment return no matter what the business are: illegal drugs, human trafficking, smuggling, corrupting government officials and security forces or police. Seeing this money-mindset of the Chinese parallel to the money involved in the West Philippine Sea, which Chinese leaders do want to take it from us, I don’t think Chinese Leaders will listen to Mr. President DU30 bilateral approach contention for Philippine favors, and I don’t think Mr. President DU30 independent foreign policy will work effectively for Philippine favors.

    3. Ignacio Balbutin on

      The President first of all should remember first of all, the safety of the OFW’s in the US before picking a fight with the US. We have maybe over a million filipinos working in the US as nurses and other professions even as soldiers. Most of the US ships even aircraft carriers has filipinos who are also in command of some units. Can the government absorb them if the US decides to send them home. These filipinos working in the US are the biggest remittances compared to other OFWs in the world. Second, I don’t believe that the army will like that idea because they are benefitting from the US as military advisers and providing war materials for them. If we have to maintain an independent foreign policy then we have to armed to fight against any threat. Right now, the biggest threat for the country is China. They invaded the scarborough shoal oozing with quadrillion barrels of oil and gas which is the hope of the country. They are destroying our country by flooding us with lethal drugs. Instead of lecturing the US only, the President should lecture China more.

    4. Duterte who is not corrupt and therefore has no personal gain from weapon/jet fighter deals rightly determined that the philippines cannot win a war against China. All the USA want is to sell their military hardware and stir up as much trouble as possible.

    5. Palamuti nga lamang ang Jets, dapat attack helicopters, multi-use cargo planes and choppers as well as rescue
      vehicles, ships and air assets.

      The new jets purchased from Korea could have translated to ships, fast pursuit water craft and “new” helicopters.

      Video game kasi hilig nung dati.

    6. Silverio Cabellon Jr., on

      Philippine foreign policy must assure that maritime rights prevail as ruled by the Arbitral Court. Scarborough Shoal is within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines per UNCLOS. Whether this will be assured by a quid pro qou through diplomacy with China or whether the Philippines will insiston its rights through its military remain to be seen.

    7. I totally agree on this report. The problem is there is no political will to acquire these access/denial weapon systems especially duterte said jet fighters are waste of money which is stupid and ignorance on his part regarding defense strategy.

      • Useless sa counter insurgency sa mindanao, iyon ang tinutumbok ni Presidente Digong. Need mo intindihin ang mga sinasabi niya bago ka mag react.