Last of two parts
“No politics in pork cases.” That was how one newspaper summed up President Aquino’s response to opposition and activist protests that the government’s PDAF campaign is targeting rivals while sparing allies.
Less informed Filipinos may swallow Aquino’s line. But not those keeping abreast of the pork barrel scandal, particularly the administration’s dealings with PDAF operators and its selective release of disbursement papers to state auditors. Not to mention Aquino’s longstanding favoritism toward KKK cronies, as discussed in the first part of this article on Monday.
As the Commission on Audit special report on the pork barrel says, documents for less than a third of the P29 billion PDAF in 2007-09 were submitted by the Palace for COA review, despite repeated requests for all papers. And no audit report has been done on Aquino-era pork totaling P75 billion.
Another leader’s recent soundbite is also hard to believe: Visiting US President Barack Obama’s assurance in his April 29 Fort Bonifacio speech that “you [Filipinos] are not alone” in facing threats to the nation.
In his Malacañang press conference with Aquino just the day before, Obama was evasive when pointedly asked twice by Filipino reporters how America would respond if territorial frictions between China and the Philippines turned violent (See April 28 and 30 columns, “After Aquino.”).
This absent verbal commitment from the US Commander-in-Chief himself exposes the second myth being foisted on Filipinos today: That the enhanced alliance with America will better safeguard the Philippines.
In fact, as this article will show, the new military arrangements embodied in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) now challenged before the Supreme Court, will make things worse for our nation’s security.
Filipinos face Chinese bullying alone
Despite Obama’s lip service, the Philippines was alone when it faced China in 1995 over Mischief Reef, i n 2012 at Scarborough Shoal, and during the Ayungin Shoal blockade at the very time of the US Commander-in-Chief’s alliance-boosting swing through Asia. Vietnam has been alone, too, in vainly blocking China’s billion-dollar oil rig in the Paracels since early May.
In those incidents, Washington was quick to criticize Beijing and urge peaceful dispute resolution and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. But there was no American aircraft carrier like the one that sailed between Taiwan and the mainland in 1995 when Chinese missiles overflew the island as its citizens pondered independence.
There were no B-52 bombers either like the pair that challenged Beijing’s air defense identification zone over part of the East China Sea including the Japan-administered Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands China also claims. Clearly, against Beijing’s encroachments in the South China Sea, the Americans don’t walk their talk.
Last week Manila protested more reclamation on Chinese-occupied reefs, warning of military expansion. Beijing responded by demanding that Filipino troops leave all disputed islands they occupy. And there were new reports of Vietnamese boats being harassed and threatened by Chinese vessels—said to number over a hundred protecting and positioning the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation rig.
Nowhere is America’s vaunted air and sea power, not even one patrol boat or chopper to look around and show it cares. Plainly, despite Obama’s assurance and Aquino’s EDCA, in confronting China on the high seas the Philippines remains all alone.
And if that reality isn’t crystal clear yet after America was repeatedly missing in action at major confrontations with China, then ponder two bits of news. For starters, guess which is the first Philippine base being surveyed by American officials under EDCA.
Nowhere along the western coastline facing major hotspots of China encroachment. Rather, the first site for American troops to deploy under EDCA is reportedly Camilo Osias Naval Base in Cagayan province on Northeast Luzon’s Pacific coast. This may affirm what the April 28 column said:
“America’s strategy in the Philippines is clear: Expand US forces in the archipelago to enhance their clout and range for conflicts over Japan, Korea and Taiwan. But not to defend Philippine maritime interests, which Washington doesn’t even respect (see March 31 column, ‘Who’s the worst violator of Philippine territory?’).”
And don’t expect Malacañang to press the US to join us in confronting China. Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma told ANC yesterday that it was up to the Americans to decide how they would respond to Chinese encroachments. He added that the US was complying with treaty commitments by conducting joint military exercises, enhancing our disaster response capability, and discussing defense aid.
In our territorial squabbles with China, we’re on our own.
With EDCA, the PLA targets the Philippines
Still, the Seventh Fleet lost at sea during Sino-Philippine incidents may well be the lesser evil in EDCA. The far bigger problem or indeed danger lies in the escalation of American firepower roaming in our waters and airspace and using our bases. It doesn’t take a military genius to figure out that potential US adversaries like China and North Korea would have to include places hosting or servicing American forces in its target list.
So not only is EDCA and the US alliance of little use in addressing our No. 1 security problem—territorial frictions with China. By allowing more nuclear-armed American ships, submarines, and aircraft to rotate through the archipelago and use bases, the new agreement will turn the Philippines into a strategic military threat to China, which the People’s Liberation Army must now aim to neutralize.
Hence, next time there are tensions or, God forbid, an actual war pitting America against China or North Korea, the Philippines would be under threat, even if we have no interest or involvement in the conflict. This is precisely the security nightmare that framers of the Constitution, as well as senators voting against continued US bases in 1991, aimed to avoid by outlawing foreign forces and facilities.
There’s more: the expanded US presence also raises the threat to Chinese shipping passing the South China Sea, including four-fifths of China’s petroleum imports. That gives Beijing even more reason to build up PLA facilities in islands and waters near the Philippines. With EDCA, President Aquino has helped justify the Chinese reclamation and construction he is protesting.
So not only is EDCA unhelpful in stopping Chinese bullying. It also provokes far greater security dangers than foreign encroachments in faraway islands and shoals: China’s military buildup near the archipelago and the targeting of the Philippines by its missiles.
Let’s hope the Supreme Court trashes this dumb and dangerous deal.
(The first part ran on Monday. Regarding how to address Chinese encroachments, please read this writer’s April 30 article, “After Aquino: The looming security threats”.)