HOW can opponents of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement stop the EDCA after the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality?
This question is really asking two things: Why and how should the agreement be blocked? And to be answered on Thursday, how can the Philippines defend against China without the EDCA?
Regular readers of this column know the grave reasons why the accord boosting the United States military presence and access to bases in the country, should be scrapped. Consider the following points:
First, enlarged rotations of U.S. forces, particularly vessels and aircraft capable of hitting China with atomic weapons, turn the Philippines into a nuclear threat, just as Cuba would have been to America if Soviet rockets were placed there in 1962.
Many American warships, submarines and bombers carry cruise missiles capable of delivering atomic warheads over thousands of miles. The Tomahawk, for instance, can hit most of China’s coastal areas and population centers from the Philippines.
With that nuclear threat prowling in our waters, Beijing would necessarily target the country with ballistic missiles, especially major waterways and bases used by American vessels and aircraft.
Second, U.S. ships, subs and planes in the country can also attack merchant shipping in the South China Sea, including 80 percent of Chinese oil imports. This threat partly provoked the building of military-capable runway and port facilities on reclaimed islands in the Spratlys, to defend vital sea lanes from U.S. forces in the Philippines.
Third, despite the EDCA, America has never supported the Philippines in territorial disputes, nor given a clear commitment to do so.
During his 2014 visit to witness the EDCA signing, U.S. President Barack Obama was twice asked by Malacañang press what America would do if territorial frictions with China turned violent. He said disputes should be settled peacefully, but gave no categorical assurance of American support.
By contrast, both Obama and the U.S. Senate both assured Japan of American military support if there is fighting over the Tokyo-administered Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands also claimed by Beijing. Indeed, when China declared an air defense identification zone over waters surrounding the islands in 2013, two American B-52 bombers flew into the ADIZ to challenge it.
No such support for the Philippines: Not even one U.S. helicopter or patrol boat turned up when Beijing seized Mischief Reef in 1995 and Scarborough Shoal in 2012.
For risking nuclear attack on the Philippines without giving military support in territorial disputes with China, the EDCA should be scrapped. But how?
Stopping the EDCA
If expected motions of reconsideration are denied and the EDCA is finally cleared for implementation, opponents should keep up the fight in all three government branches.
In the Executive, the battleground is the elections: presidential candidates should be pressed for their positions on the agreement: Will they implement, renegotiate or abrogate it? And how will they prevent the entry of nuclear weapons — the magnet for possible Chinese or even North Korean attack?
Presidentiables should state how they would ensure that rotating American forces do not violate the Constitution’s provision — upheld in the EDCA decision — banning nukes from our land.
In Congress, opponents should push legislation requiring all vessels and aircraft entering the country under the EDCA to state in writing that they carry no atomic weapons.
Washington’s longstanding policy is to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nukes on its military assets. In 1984, New Zealand banned nuclear-powered or -armed vessels from its waters, prompting the U.S. to stop sending its warships to the country.
The third initiative should be in the Supreme Court: a petition for mandamus requiring our government to certify that every military asset entering the country under the pact does not carry nuclear weapons.
The government then has to require from a U.S. declaration that ships, subs and planes rotating in the Philippines are nuclear-free. If Washington won’t give it, that would shut its nuclear-capable assets out of the islands and probably scuttle the EDCA.
The war threat in coming years
Now if American clout, cash and connections still win the day and keep the EDCA alive, Filipinos should brace for frictions and, heaven forbid, fatal fireworks in the coming decade. For geopolitical tussles and tensions look set to ratchet up regional rivalries and the rattling of sabers.
Superpower America and rising China will not stop their contest for global influence in the foreseeable future, with Asia as the hottest area of contention. To counter China’s mammoth economic clout — it is now the top trading partner and investor in developing countries — America is playing its only remaining card: military might.
Potential flashpoints abound. After a decade of building confidence and cooperation in the South China Sea, including the 2007 joint seismic survey in the Spratlys by China, the Philippines and Vietnam, all three countries have turned confrontational.
So have Tokyo and Beijing in the East China Sea. Add to the potent mix North Korea’s recent hydrogen bomb test and the possibility of a pro-independence Taiwan government emerging in the island’s coming elections.
And with Muslim extremists across the globe escalating attacks, including last week’s Jakarta blasts, expect further tensions and threats against U.S. allies, especially those hosting forces that may be deployed against Islamic groups.
Many quarters including this newspaper discount the threat of Chinese attack, so it’s okay if the People’s Liberation Army has trained missile batteries at bases and waters to be used by U.S. forces under the EDCA. The PLA won’t ever fire those rockets, right?
Frankly, that feels like playing Russian roulette with one bullet in a gun of 30, 50 or 100 chambers, depending on who moves into the White House next January.
Let’s keep America’s nukes out of the country. Then China will have no reason to nuke the Philippines.
(The next article on Thursday will discuss how to defend the country without the EDCA.)