[D]oes this not expose the Philippines to the animosities, suspicions and the conflicts arising out of the American military build-up — animosities and conflicts that we have no participation in making — and do not these bases endanger the safety of the Filipinos and the Philippines, not only from conventional armed attack, but from possible nuclear attack?
— President Ferdinand Marcos on US military installations in the country, 1975
In criticizing Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay for not playing up the country’s arbitration victory in The Hague, his predecessor Albert del Rosario and holdover Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Cuisia Jr. insisted that confronting China would best safeguard Philippine security and territorial interests.
Well, look at the results of six years of then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s confrontation policy, spearheaded by del Rosario and Cuisia.
The 2012 face off between our Navy’s largest vessel and a flotilla of Chinese maritime surveillance ships lost Scarborough Shoal.
With the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement boosting US forces in the archipelago, China has countered with military-capable facilities on Fiery Cross Reef to defend its vital sea lanes, where four-fifths of its oil imports pass.
Despite the EDCA, the US hasn’t given us the defense commitment pledged to Tokyo in its dispute with Beijing over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands. The Malacañang Press Corps found that out when President Barack Obama would not say what America would do if territorial frictions with China turned violent.
Despite cheers from foreign allies and media for the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling against China’s maritime claims and activities, it still ignores the PCA decision — as other big powers like America and Russia did in international cases against them.
Most worrisome, the increased presence of US warships, submarines, and aircraft, which can hit most of China with nuclear-capable cruise missiles from the Philippines, has made the country a legitimate target in any Sino-American conflict.
This is now our paramount security threat which Duterte must address, far more dangerous than faraway tussles in the Spratlys.
This Aquino policy of hosting nuclear-capable American forces puts at grave risk our people, land, sea and air — the very reason framers of the 1987 Constitution explicitly banned foreign military bases and nukes.
How the EDCA endangers Filipinos
This threat to national security was what the late Ferdinand Marcos feared in his above-quoted 1975 statement. By hosting and supporting US forces, he pointed out, the Philippines would be dragged into any American conflict in Asia, even those that don’t concern us at all.
What’s worse, by accepting more nuclear-capable US naval and air forces, the EDCA has made the Philippines a strategic threat to China, just as Russian missiles nearly placed in Cuba in 1962 would have turned the island into a nuclear threat to the U.S.
In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, American and Russian thermonuclear forces went on full alert, ready for World War III. That near-Armageddon ended only after Moscow sent its missiles back home after Washington agreed to remove projectiles it put in Turkey.
That confrontation was over missiles not yet deployed. Today, there are already hundreds of cruise and ballistic missiles, many with nuclear warheads, entering the Philippines on ships, subs and planes of the Seventh Fleet.
And there will be more once Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Puerto Princesa, Pampanga and Nueva Ecija bases receive US aircraft and weaponry.
Meanwhile, China gears up to counter the American buildup in the Philippines. That’s what the Fiery Cross Reef installation is for, and expect more ilke it if U.S. forces further expand hereabouts.
No doubt, too, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) missile batteries are targeting parts of our nation and its internal waters where U.S. vessels pass, plus the bases they’ll use.
With such perils to the Philippines, you’d think America would give us the same explicit assurance of armed support that Japan got with just one US base in Okinawa.
No such commitment. Right after the EDCA was signed in April 2014 and just days after reiterating Washington’s defense pledge for the Tokyo-administered Senkakus, President Obama could only reply that disputes should be settled peacefully when asked twice what America would do if our tensions with China turned violent.
The right way to deal with China
Now, del Rosario and Cuisia want Yasay to continue Aquino’s confrontation policy, prodding ASEAN to talk tough against Beijing, and allowing more US forces in the country. No matter that China may punish the Philippines as America penalized Cuba, with 170,000 Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong possibly first to suffer.
Washington, too, is keen for President Rodrigo Duterte to continue Aquino’s course, sending top officials to woo him, including Secretary of State John Kerry.
President Duterte and Secretary Yasay should not be swayed to reprise a failed and dangerous confrontation policy. Instead, they and former president Fidel Ramos — a brilliant choice for the China talks — should forge a deal that institutes safeguards to reduce tension and conflict, prevent more encroachments, and eventually allow fishing and resource activities (see < http://www.manilatimes.net/after-the-un-case-duterte-calls-the-us-china-match/273591/ >).
China must also be pressed to desist from Spratlys reclamation and military buildup. Of course, the Philippines must act to reduce the US threat to Chinese shipping, which partly spurred Beijing’s build-up.
As for our external defense, rather than depend on Uncle Sam, the Philippines must acquire and deploy anti-access, area denial weapons like anti-ship missiles and submarines, as security think-tanks have urged and Vietnam has done (see “Defending the Philippines” < http://www.manilatimes.net/defending-the-philippines/240541/ >).
Aquino quarrelled with China, then escalated American forces in the country, providing both rationale and real estate for Washington’s Pivot To Asia plan to shift most of its naval assets to the region.
Duterte, Ramos and Yasay should pull the Philippines back from that perilous path and chart a new course that truly advances national security and regional peace.