Rebalancing Philippine external relations (1)

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First of three parts

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The Philippines has always been part of the US defense/offense policy. One of the compelling reasons for the US annexation of our country was to provide America with a sentry in the Asia Pacific which would allow her to project her power and influence. In the Second World War US defenses in Bataan and Corregidor defended by the United States Forces in the Far East under the command of General Douglas McArthur delayed the Japanese invasion of the rest of the Asia Pacific.

The US bases in the Philippines, Subic and Clark, were the homes of the biggest US armada—the Seventh Fleet, even as Clark was the home of the biggest air group outside the US mainland. These bases served her well especially during the Korean and Vietnam wars in the fifties and sixties. The Philippines even sent an expeditionary forcce to both countries, marching elbow to elbow with its US counterpart. As late as the Iraq War in the nineties the Philippines, as part of the “coalition of the willing” organized by the US, sent a token force to that Middle Eastern state.

Yesterday and to a large extent today, the international role of the Philippines carefully adhered to US foreign policy much to the chagrin of her Asian neighbors who had decided to decouple their international affairs from their erstwhile colonizers from the West in the Bandung Conference and other non-aligned states’ meetings that followed.

Sensitive to the feelings of her neighbors the Philippines in the mid-fifties began to play hardball with the Americans with regard to US basing rights. Negotiations for US bases expansion ended in a deadlock in 1956. When the negotiations restarted in 1959 the US offered to reduce base leases from 99 to 25 years even as it gave up over a hundred thousand hectares of land. The agreement was signed only in 1965 when President Garcia of “Filipino First Policy” fame lost to President Marcos who was more accommodating to the Americans. This favor did not escape the attention of Washington who supported the dictator until the EDSA revolution in 1986.

Marcos however was a wily fox. Secure with Washington support for his” Constitutional Authoritarianism” described by President George Bush Sr. as “adherence to democracy” the dictator felt free to engage in foreign policy adventurism independent of Washington by engaging communist countries. In 1973 he exchanged ambassadors with Eastern European countries and opened up trade with them. In 1974 he declared “that the country was ready for peaceful coexistence stating that bipolarism had become an anachronism and that it was unhealthy for a country to deal with only a part of the world.” In 1977 the Philippines opened an embassy in Moscow and the year after exchanged diplomatic relations with communist countries of the Mekong Delta – Vietnam, Kampuchea and Laos.

Shocked by the abrupt withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam after its defeat by the Vietcongs, Marcos asked for a review of the US Bases Agreement—claiming that “these bases, like magnets only invite attack by any nation hostile to the US” echoing the sentiments of Claro M. Recto the quintessential Filipino nationalist.

In 1978 when it appeared that Marcos had capitulated to US monetary offers in exchange for extended basing privileges in our country high Philippine government officials led by Supreme Court justices and former President Diosdado Macapagal issued a joint statement to the effect that “the rationale for the bases no longer exists. The Philippine faces no credible external threat. But the truth is that US bases themselves pose such a clear and present danger to the very survival of the Filipino people and are so detrimental to their interest and their welfare that the bases should be dismantled immediately . . . nor will rentals or compensations for the use of the bases confirm the sovereignty of our people. On the contrary these payments will support, strengthen and support the dictatorship.”

Third World Neutralism
Back tracking to history, Philippine presence in the Bandung conference which manifested the arrival into the global arena the presence of a new set of players who had been recently delinked from their colonial masters was a game changer for our country which now decided to try and chart its own destiny sans Washington approval.

The great Indian statesman Jawaharlal Nehru called an Asian-African conference in New Delhi in 1949 and in 1954 joined the leaders of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma and Indonesia in Sri Lanka for a broader meeting. Finally in April of 1955 some twenty nine countries from Asia and Africa converged in the Indonesian city of Bandung. The great names that attended the meeting included U Nu of Burma, Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, Zhou Enlai of China, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Muhammad Ali Bogra of Pakistan, Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Pham Van Dong of North Vietnam and Carlos P. Romulo, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines.

To be continued

[The second part of this three-part article by Ambassador Jose V. Romero Jr.will come out next Saturday, July 26. The third and concluding part will come out on Saturday August 2. Articles on Philippine foreign policy matters written by former ambassadors are contributed to The Manila Times by the PAFI (Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc.).]

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