JUST WHEN all the news headlines had everyone convinced that the APEC Economic Leaders Summit in Manila is the most important thing happening in the world this week, and the most important topic, according to US official sources, is the complex of maritime disputes between China and some of its neighboring countries, comes this horror from Paris which shows that international terrorism—-not China or the China Sea issue—remains the most dreadful and treacherous problem governments must address.
On Friday evening, the 13th of November, while a rock (metal) concert was playing at the concert hall Bataclan on Boulevard Voltaire at Paris’s eleventh arrondisement (district) and an exhibition soccer match was going on between France and Germany, the world champion, at the Stade de France, the French national stadium north of Paris in the commune of St. Denis, terrorists armed with AK-47s and with explosive belts, struck in these and four other places, leaving at least 127 dead and more than 200 wounded, 80 in critical condition at this writing.
France is wounded. Paris, the city of light, life and love, together with all of France, lies wounded and in mourning, trying to understand what has happened, and trying to stand up to the carnage and its perpetrators with utmost dignity, courage and strength.
President Francois Hollande, who had to be evacuated from the soccer match, promptly declared a state of emergency, closing down the borders of Paris, its schools, museums, libraries, pools, food markets, etc., and tightening security measures at the subway stations, mass transport systems, and airports, but without cancelling any flights to and from Paris, as Manila has oddly done for the violence-free APEC summit.
Some 1,500 troops have been mobilized to guard Paris, and Hollande has cancelled his participation at a G-20 summit at the Mediterranean resort of Antalya in Turkey to attend to the crisis, even as Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius remained in close consultations with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other top European diplomats in Vienna on the Syrian crisis.
An act of war against civilians
“This is an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, Daesh, against France,” Hollande declared, avoiding the use of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), and using instead the Arabic term Daesh, which Muslims themselves use to distinguish the Islamic extremists from all the other Muslims, who detest the extremists. On Saturday, a group identified with ISIS or ISIL claimed responsibility for the attacks, in a statement released by one of its publications and distributed on Twitter, which however could not be independently verified.
Eight attackers have been killed, seven of them by suicide bombing, and one in an exchange of fire with the police. French authorities are still investigating how the attacks were planned and executed, who else were involved, what other attacks are forthcoming, and what are the possible targets. It was the second Islamic terrorist attack in Paris in eleven months, following the January 7 attack by two gunmen at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which 12 were killed, and 11 were wounded before the assailants, two brothers, were killed in a standoff with the police.
As in the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the gunmen on Friday were reportedly heard to shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) before the slaughter. A reported statement from ISIS described the concert at Bataclan, which seats at least 1,500 people, as “hundreds of apostates had gathered in a profligate prostitution party,” while some witnesses claimed hearing some gunmen talking in French about Syria and Iraq.
World leaders, including US President Obama, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the Vatican, have condemned the attacks and pledged support and assistance to France as it goes through the process of healing.
Civilization in crisis
Our civilization is in crisis and what we need is a more concerted and visible internationally coordinated effort against the attempt to establish an Islamist caliphate from Africa through the Middle East to Southeast Asia. The Paris killings should prompt some adjustment in the perspectives of the APEC summiteers in Manila. President Obama should lead in this effort, followed by President B. S. Aquino 3rd, as summit host.
Instead of trying to use the APEC meeting as a venue to put China on the defensive on its maritime disputes with some of its neighboring countries, Obama would be well-advised to try to win China over to a global effort to contain the Islamist cutthroats in Syria. It’s a pity that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be unable to contribute to this effort, because of his own crisis at home, caused by the unexplained crash of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt that killed everyone on board. Even Obama could learn something from Russia.
Going overboard for Obama
Aquino, for his part, could attempt some meagre contribution as host. He should rearrange his perspectives on the summit and aim at something truly international, instead of simply wanting to pander to Obama. He could begin by moderating his effort to persuade the Supreme Court justices to drop a petition against the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States as a “welcome gift” to Obama. He could instead be more mindful of an intervention filed by a former United States senator who has asked the Court to throw the EDCA to the Senate for approval before it is allowed, if ever, to take effect.
This position is consistent with Sec. 25, Article XVIII of the Constitution, which provides: “After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, 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 EDCA was signed between the Philippine and US governments in September 2014, and allowed to take immediate effect, without having been approved by the Senate, in violation of the above constitutional requirement. Critics point out that the EDCA does not only create new bases in the Philippines but rather turns the entire country into one big US military base. The more serious complaint is that the EDCA does not merely authorize US military presence inside various Philippine military establishments, but rather provides a post-facto cover for the US military troops and facilities, which had been illegally positioned there prior to the agreement.
Former US Senator intervenes in EDCA suit
Saying the EDCA is not in the best interest of either the Filipino people or the American people, former Senator Michael Gravel of Alaska told a National Press Club forum in Washington, D.C. on October 27 that he was filing a friendly intervention before the Supreme Court to “prevent the US from militarily reoccupying the Philippines.” Such intervention was eventually formalized last week through the Roque Butuyan Law Offices.
It is a sad commentary on the state of our national politics that it has taken a former senator of another country to point out that the EDCA should have been debated and approved by the Senate before it was allowed to operate. Of course, the Senate merely concurs in the ratification of treaties which the President submits for its concurrence; but since Aquino has denied the Senate its clear mandate, any number of senators could have authored a resolution declaring the EDCA to be a treaty that needs Senate concurrence, rather than a mere executive agreement. Gravel had to point it out in their place.
Who is Gravel?
Gravel is an American patriot in his eighties, who made history in the 1970s by spreading into the US Congressional record the “Pentagon Papers.” This term refers to the 7,100-page 47-volume document on the history of the US decision-making process in Vietnam, which the former Department of Defense analyst and later Rand Corporation employee Daniel Ellsberg copied to The New York Times, the Washington Post and other papers, to the outrage of the US government.
The Ellsberg expose revealed to the American people and to the world ugly truths about the US involvement in Vietnam which had been kept secret until then. It greatly infuriated and weakened the Nixon administration, which had to do everything legally possible to halt the unauthorized publication of the “Papers.” This was where the much younger senator from Alaska came in.
As chairman of the US Senate Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds of the Senate Public Works Committee, Gravel convened his subcommittee to a meeting, read aloud extensive portions of The Papers, and then placed the entire 47 volumes into the record.
The Justice Department tried to compel Gravel to appear and testify before a federal grand jury in order to have him indicted for having exposed a “state secret.”
He went up to the Supreme Court invoking the Speech or Debate Clause of the US Constitution, which provides: “The Senators and Representatives…in all cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance of the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”
(A similar provision exists in the Philippine Constitution.)
Gravel won his case. This no doubt had a role to play in the US decision to finally get out of Vietnam, and for President Richard Nixon to resign, after Watergate. It also won for Gravel many sincere friends and dedicated enemies.
A constitutional issue, a political and historical intervention
The question before the Supreme Court is not whether it is wise for Aquino to enter into such an agreement with the US, but whether he could enter into, and implement such an agreement, without the approval of the Senate, which has a constitutional right and duty to participate in its ratification. What is being objected to is the process, rather than the content or purpose of the agreement.
In his intervention, Gravel leaves the constitutional issue to the petitioners. Instead, he tries to persuade the Supreme Court that upon its decision hinges the prospect of peace or war between China and the US, which would surely involve the Philippines. He argues on the basis of the historical theory that conflicts between a declining power and an ascending one could lead to war.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called this the “Thucydides trap,” which holds that Athens’s fear of a rising Sparta, more than anything else, made the Peloponnesian war inevitable. It was democratic Athens rather than autocratic Sparta that initiated the war. Under this theory, America’s “fear of China” as a rising economic and military power could lead to a costly—-even unsurvivable—-war.
Gravel believes the Philippines could be a critical factor in avoiding this completely avoidable mistake. The Court’s decision, he says, could set in motion “a chain of circumstances” that could enhance or diminish the prospects of war or peace in the Asia Pacific. Indeed, if the Court strikes down Aquino’s position that the EDCA is purely an executive agreement, Gravel’s intervention could help a hopefully better stocked Senate in debating the wisdom of allowing a US “military reoccupation of the Philippines.” If on the other hand the Court upholds the agreement, it could stilll spark the much-needed policy debate.