Read this in The Manila Times digital edition.
IN a war, what would countries do to bases used by their opponents to attack them?
It doesn't take a defense or armed forces chief to figure out that airfields and seaports used by enemy aircraft, vessels, missiles and troops are targeted for destruction.
So if the Philippines decides to let foreign forces use nine military bases, those facilities face risk of attack by adversaries of those forces, right?
Well, the day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. agreed to let America use nine bases of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), his officer in charge at the Department of National Defense, former AFP chief retired general Carlito Galvez Jr., maintained that "these EDCA sites should not be a cause for concern."
It's brow-raising enough that a seasoned security stalwart insisted there was no reason for fear or worry for Filipinos if US forces used AFP bases. What's also shocking and disturbing is that media, both Philippine and foreign, did not question or dispute Galvez's remark.
Imagine if then-Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd claimed three years ago that the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak in China should not worry us. And if the news media swallowed his word hook, line and sinker. Thank God that never happened.
But now, when leaders and journalists — the Fourth Estate tasked with taking erring rulers to task — both fail to tell our people basic truths of life-and-death, war-and-peace import and impact, millions of Filipinos face the risk of marching blindly into disaster.
Risking Filipinos to defend Taiwan
The disparity between remarks and reality becomes even starker when one reads global coverage of EDCA bases being opened to US forces. Despite statements from top National Defense and Foreign Affairs officials that the facilities would be mainly for defense of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and humanitarian and disaster operations, the chorus from global media links the bases to possible war over Taiwan.
USA Today newspaper headlined: "US plans to expand its military presence in Philippines to counter threats against Taiwan." The Washington Post reported that the bases "could give US forces a strategic position from which to mount operations in the event of a conflict in Taiwan or the South China Sea."
The New York Times said: "The United States is increasing its military presence in the Philippines, gaining access to four more sites and strengthening the Southeast Asian nation's role as a key strategic partner for Washington in the event of a conflict with China over Taiwan."
The Japan Times concurs, noting "renewed US presence [in the Philippines] would be a huge asset to Washington in case of a conflict over Taiwan."
The BBC, meanwhile, notes: "Washington has stitched the gap in the arc of US alliances ... The missing link had been the Philippines, which borders two of the biggest potential flashpoints — Taiwan and the South China Sea."
Despite all that, Officer in Charge Galvez maintains: "We are not preparing for war, rather we are aiming to develop our defense capabilities against eventualities and threats to our security."
His boss, however, is more forthright about the true context for giving Washington access to nine bases.
"When we look at the situation in the area, especially the tensions in the Taiwan Strait, we can see that just by our geographical location, should there in fact be conflict in that area... it's very hard to imagine a scenario where the Philippines will not somehow get involved," President Marcos told the Tokyo-based Nikkei Asia journal.
Sen. Imelda "Imee" Marcos, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, also sees Taiwan in her brother's EDCA decision: "Clearly, the expanded EDCA is addressing the escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait, not the Philippine interests in the West Philippine Sea... If it were West Philippine Sea deterrence that were uppermost in our minds, the protection of our territorial sovereignty, surely it (bases) should be in the western sector not purely in the northern," referring to reports of five or six EDCA sites in Luzon — ideal for conflict in Taiwan.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd said if the new EDCA sites are "in preparation for a certain contingency, anticipated by our treaty partner pursuant to its own obligation imposed upon itself to defend a certain territory" — apparently pointing to the US and Taiwan — it is no longer in accordance with the spirit and to the letter of the coverage of our 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with America.
Dangers of EDCA
As foreign media, two senators and even the President highlight above, US access to nine AFP bases is about Taiwan — a risky reality largely absent or obscured in Philippine coverage and discussion.
Even more missing in EDCA interaction are the perils of letting US forces use our bases, especially with war over Taiwan possible as early as 2025, said a top US Air Force general, or in 2026 in a Taiwan war games study released just in January by Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The CSIS expects Japan bases used by US forces to be attacked. Will that happen to such facilities in our country? Yes, based on Taiwan war games by another Washington think tank, Center for New American Security (CNAS).
In a May 2022 news program on the CNAS games, American warplanes engage the Chinese 7 minutes into the video, and China hits us back 10 minutes into the presentation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYfvm-JLhPQ).
What about nuclear attack? In 1975, then president Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. warned: "If the purpose of American military bases is to strengthen American military posture in the Pacific, or in the Indian Ocean and throughout the world, does this not expose the Philippines to the animosities, suspicions and the conflicts arising out of this American military build-up... 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?"
Filipinos must be told the location and dangers of the EDCA bases.