The suggestion of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin that US bases be revived here is like suggesting that the Philippines put itself in the line of fire in the event that a Korean war, possibly nuclear in nature, breaks out. It is like running between two cowboys in a gunfight as soon as they start firing. Such a geopolitically naive proposal will draw Korean nuclear missiles into Philippine soil. This suicidal idea is unacceptable, coming from a Cabinet member and a prestigious former ambassador.
Noted for quelling seven coup attempts during President Cory Aquino’s administration and heading the elite Presidential Security Group, Gazmin was regarded as the true loyalist soldier. He was eventually appointed ambassador to Cambodia in 2002. It seems that Gazmin should stick to his specialty of intelligence-gathering and military operations. Geopolitics is something else.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario instantly shot Gazmin’s suggestion down, saying, with the same naivete, that a US facility “could be granted only if it would be under the control of the Philippine military and would not violate the Constitution, which bars the US from using military bases in the country.” If it is unconstitutional, why mention it at all? Also, US troops will never allow themselves to be controlled by the Philippine military. The most they will go for is joint activities or cooperation, like war games, but never subservience to a Third World army with inferior arms, especially during a war, conventional or guerrilla.
Del Rosario, however, is for increasing US troops here, under the Mutual Defense Treaty. Thus, the problem is not “if we are attacked, which would make the United States come to our rescue.” The problem is “if the United States is attacked on our soil, are we coming to its rescue?” And with what? Are we going to join the fray? A limited nuclear war will involve missiles, not troops. North Korea will not invade us with troops. It will be a missile-to-missile affair, which we do not have. The matter of US troops being here during a Korean war is irrelevant. It will be simply a staging area for the US forces, which, again, like the Gazmin suggestion for the US bases, is an invitation for Korean missiles to hit us.
In the realm of joint cooperation during disasters, US troops and logistics would be very welcome, but on a very temporary and short-term basis. When the disaster is over, they should leave. The protracted presence of US troops is really the problem—the very reason we got rid of the bases. This protracted presence is in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations, which usually take years, if not decades. Such semipermanent presence of US troops is the issue.
The Americans took the opportunity to propose the increase of US troops here in earlier meetings with Del Rosario in Washington. This had nothing to do with the Korean threat, which came later. The Korean threat is an excuse by Gazmin and Del Rosario to up the ante. The Americans have been wanting to increase troops here since after they lost the bases in Subic and Clark. Tactically, the US target is to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah in Mindanao. But strategically and geopolitically, the US intent is to increase overall military presence in the entire Asia-Pacific region. This was articulated by US President Barack Obama a year ago, when he said America has to turn its eyes to the booming economies of the Asia-Pacific as the European economies decline.
Recall that a North Korean unarmed test missile once fell near the Philippines. This implies that we are within easy range of that country’s missiles. Even if the United States considers North Korea’s missile delivery system to be crude, we cannot take a chance.
The key to a Philippine geopolitical strategy is to remain neutral as much as possible. The Korean threat will push us closer and closer into the melee, pressured by the United States to, first, participate, and second, allow facilities and troops. This is the time to deny bases and troop increase, as the Korean threat emerges. We must not succumb to superpower pressure. It is not the time to join the fray with what little we have, which would not matter in a possible nuclear scenario.
A more dangerous scenario is posed by a China-America confrontation, which we should not consider far-fetched. While the United States increases its presence with troops, bases, radars, and drones, China has its own expansionist ambitions. It is in a frenzy of acquisition of islands, with resources to feed its rapid-growth economy.
China is dying for resources. The flurry of Chinese misadventures include the occupation of Tibet, the moves toward the Spratlys in the Philippines, Senkaku and Diaoyu in Japan, and the Paracels in Vietnam, which it acquired in 1974, to name a few. Lately, China has had territorial disputes with Brunei and Malaysia, not to mention India. Sooner or later, one calm day when we sleep in peace, the Eagle and the Bear may have a confrontation. The impact is unpredictable and unimaginable.
Bernie Lopez is a journalist and a freelance producer-director of TV documentaries. He was an anchor at Radio Veritas. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org