WITH lots of luck and political will, Sen. Bongbong Marcos’ strong stand against the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in its present form, and the possible voiding by the Supreme Court of all unconstitutional agreements between President B. S. Aquino 3rdand the Moro Islamic Liberation Front could still prevent the threat of balkanization and civil war between the MILF and the rest of the population in southern Philippines. But the threat of a much bigger war does not end there. Its shadow will continue to loom large on the horizon for as long as we have a government that believes the best way to deal with China, which has been building islands and various facilities on disputed maritime areas in the West Philippine/South China Sea, is to deny her any opportunity to make amends for any mistakes she may have committed against the Philippines.
We have rightfully protested China’s island- and infrastructure-building in the disputed areas she controls. But without yielding one inch on her claim over these areas, China has offered to share with Filipino fishermen the use of the facilities, whose construction we have condemned. This, to me, seems to be a loosening of her hardline position, which deserves to be studied and tested before it is formally accepted or rejected. But Aquino’s knee jerk response was to automatically reject it, without consulting any of his foreign policy and national security advisers, and without giving Beijing a chance to demonstrate the sincerity of its offer. The situation between Manila and Beijing has never been good since China’s reclamation activities began; now it is even worse.
Aquino seems to believe that simply by calling on the support of the United States and Japan, which he has just visited, he could engage the Asian giant in an interminable word war which could escalate into a great air-sea battle, which we cannot hope to win, or at the very least, revive the Cold War which ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Aquino appears to have been further emboldened by foreign press reports that the G-7 meeting in Germany this weekend is expected to take up the maritime disputes in the West Philippine/South China Sea, and probably come up with a statement in our favor. The G-7 includes the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and Japan.
Having taken the Philippine maritime territorial dispute with China to the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) at the Hague for arbitration, the Aquino regime looks forward to the broadening of international support for this process. But Beijing has questioned the validity of international arbitration and has served notice it will not be bound by its findings. It insists on a purely bilateral solution to the dispute. In the meantime, Aquino has moved very quickly to expand foreign military presence in the Philippines, through agreements that require the constitutional concurrence by the Senate, but which he passes off as mere executive agreements. The most visible example of these is the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippine and the United States defense departments, which according to critics has turned the entire country into one large US military base. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on its constitutionality; but a casual reading of the Constitution casts serious doubt on its validity.
In 1992, the US military bases in Clark Air Base and Subic—-the two largest US bases in this part of the world which provided a home for the 13th US Air Force and the US Seventh Fleet—closed down after the US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement expired the year before, and the Senate voted down a new treaty seeking to extend the agreement by another 10 years under then President Corazon C. Aquino.
Section 25 of the Constitution provides that after the expiration of the Agreement, “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
The ignominious defeat of Cory Aquino’s treaty in the hands of senators who owed their election to her support chilled Philippine-US relations to such an extent that the US Navy carted off toilet bowls from the naval residences when they shut down Subic. Bilateral relations returned to normal only when the Visiting Forces Agreement, negotiated by Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr. and US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard during the final year of President Fidel V. Ramos, was approved by the Philippine Senate under President Estrada through the joint sponsorship of then Senate president pro tempore Blas Ople, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the Senate defense committee, and myself.
The VFA was negotiated as an implementing agreement of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which remains in force even after the closure of the bases. Under the MDT, “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”
The MDT allows short-term visits by US forces for the purpose of conducting military exercises as a way of enabling the Parties to develop their separate and joint capabilities. But there was no legal document that defined the rights and duties of the visiting forces. Thus the VFA was needed to define all these.
Being merely an implementing agreement, the VFA could have taken the form of an executive agreement. But from an abundance of caution, owing to the defeat of the last bases treaty, the President decided to course it through the Senate. In total contrast, Aquino’s EDCA deliberately bypassed the Senate. This remains the most critical constitutional objection to the agreement. But over and above this, the most damning objection is not that the EDCA allows US forces to be stationed anywhere and everywhere without the concurrence of the Senate, but that the US forces were already positioned everywhere before the EDCA came into existence, and that it merely provided the figleaf to cover the illegal US presence.
This has been compounded lately by Aquino’s latest pronouncement on a visiting forces agreement with Japan, at the end of his Japanese state visit. Already in the works, according to reports, is a VFA with Australia, and another with Singapore, whose air force is stationed in three places: Singapore, Australia and the US. There have been no known policy consultations or media debates about this. Aquino seems to believe he could enter into these agreements, EDCA-style, without involving the Senate, provided he has the support of foreign powers. Before we know it, the Philippines would have become the cockpit of various foreign military powers.
Will this all be the result of China’s construction activities in the disputed areas under its control? This is how the narrative has so far led us to believe. We have every reason to be outraged by China’s unacceptable behavior. But if we step back a little, we might hear the voice of two Philippine Cabinet ministers on a visit to the Pentagon, saying that the Philippines intended to become the “frontline state” in trying to contain China’s rise as a global power.
If we but rewind to that episode, we could probably find a fresh starting point in mending our troubled relations with Beijing. Aquino could disown such a pronouncement, if it does not reflect his own position. And China and the Philippines could begin all over again. But is Aquino willing to risk it? He is a thoroughly conflicted individual.
Given all his unpunished constitutional and political crimes, notably the one related to the Jan. 25, 2015 massacre of 44 Special Action Force police commandos in the hands of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, and his current effort to bulldoze the creation of an Islamic political entity for the MILF through the constitutionally infirm draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, Aquino is widely judged to have lost all political legitimacy and reason to stay in office.
But because he remains “useful” to his foreign lords and masters, particularly in trading barbs with China, and in putting the country’s natural resources under the control of foreigners and foreign corporations, he remains confident no power on earth could shake him out of his seat.
Thus, even if China provides an opening for a possible rapprochement with the Philippines, there will no “two track” approach to the dispute with Beijing. Aquino is sure to repudiate Beijing, especially if his foreign masters prefer a different play altogether. And even if he loses the last vestige of political support among the voters, he will still not hesitate to impose himself upon the nation through the PCOS machine, big business and big media, and other means, especially if his foreign masters are not ready to dispose of him.
Thus, even after destroying the career path of Vice President Jejomar Binay, and humoring the ambition of DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and the constitutionally unqualified Grace Poe, he has the audacity to confess that he is mulling the possibility of making himself eligible for a second term at the end of our people’s last six years’ journey through hell.
Whether we end with a hot war or a Cold War in the Asia Pacific and beyond, Aquino seems to believe he should still be there, doing all his ego trips, after 2016. That’s how high he regards the Filipino people.