On top of the carabao
Voltaire Gazmin and Albert del Rosario, the defense and foreign affairs secretaries respectively, show us why our foreign affairs has always been foreign to us and why we have always been so good at defending ourselves against everyone except ourselves. You see it in their letter to Congress calling for a larger American military presence in this country.
“The Philippines,” they say, “will shortly enter into consultations and negotiations with the United States on a possible framework agreement that would implement our agreed policy of increased rotational presence.” This is apparently consistent with the Constitution because the increased American military presence will be temporary and will not entail new US bases. The Americans will just make do with access to Philippine ones.
This should, quite incidentally, benefit us during times of calamities such as typhoons and earthquakes. The American servicemen can always help in rescue and rehabilitation.
What arrant nonsense. The United States wants to help us in times of storms and landslides, such as those that buried Ormoc and Cagayan de Oro, then it should send engineers and rescue workers. Then it should send relief and aid. Not soldiers. It’s like that photograph that constantly appears—of American servicemen providing dental and health treatment to kids in makeshift tents in the south. They want to help in medical and dental care, they should send doctors and dentists. Not soldiers.
Of course we can do with the United States vociferating against China’s expansionist and imperialist tendencies, however that looks like the most hilarious thing in the world. Of course we can do with the United States expressing solidarity with the victims of China’s bullying, however that looks like the most hilarious thing in the cosmos. All the other Southeast Asian countries do. True enough, the enemy of our enemy is our friend, or at least the enemy of our current enemy is our friend. A concept Vietnam itself, which used to have the United States as a former enemy, has long discovered. That doesn’t mean making the enemy or our enemy an honored guest at our house or, heaven forbid, a permanent guest there. Heaven forbid indeed, except that what heaven forbids, we are only too willing, and eager, to allow.
The promise that the increased American presence will be merely temporary and limited is not just deluded, it is deceitful. Was the Visiting Forces Agreement ever temporary? American military personnel have been overstaying visitors in this country for the last 15 years, ever since Erap, who voted to scrap the US bases when he was still senator, agreed to the VFA. The presence has not lessened, it has increased. It has not tapered off, it has augmented. And now under the guise or pretext or excuse of a Chinese threat, however real that threat is, it means to increase that presence even more.
The infuriating thing about it is that we’re the ones asking them, no begging them, to do it. Of course the United States will always try to put one over us if it serves their interests—that’s what foreign policy is for. But for us to want to put one over our own people—well, that’s why our foreign policy will always be foreign to us.
We do know what the people want. We saw that in 1991 when the Magnificent 12 threw out the US bases. For all the glory Cory brought to us, that point in her rule was not her brightest. She tried to rally the country to renew the bases agreement by calling for People Power at the Luneta, except that no one came. Which showed that People Power is not just something that can be summoned at will, it is something that can be summoned only by a voice that’s there in people’s hearts. The pealing of the bells, if metaphorically, that broke out after Jovito Salonga said, “The treaty is defeated,” could be heard from here to Washington.
Arguably, “increased rotational presence” is not putting up new US bases in this country. It merely means American ships and soldiers having more access to existing Philippine ones. That doesn’t make things better, that makes them worse. At least before the United States used to pay rent, however it was cheap given the aggravation of servicemen mistaking dark-skinned kids for baboy damo. At least before the United States gave employment to thousands of Filipinos, even if those jobs had to do only with drugs, rock and roll and prostitution. At least before the United States gave hangars and shipyards and all sorts of infrastructure, which proved exceedingly useful when they left. Today, they get to stay rent-free. Today, they get to enjoy R & R courtesy of the Filipino taxpayer.
There is nothing temporary about “rotational presence.” At the very least, the Chinese threat can always be magnified to look like a potential invasion, even if thus far it’s only the United States that’s been doing that sort of thing, the last only a decade ago in Iraq. At the very most, the new American strategy is to shift forces from the Middle East to Asia, China being perceived as the real threat, and a real threat not because it harbors weapons of mass destruction but because it has unleashed the tools of massive construction, or growth, while the United States declines.
For our own leaders to impose that view of life on us, that is horrendous. Indeed for our own leaders to try to bring back, when we weren’t looking, an iniquity that took us decades to undo, after much struggle, after much agony, after much blood, sweat and tears; for them to sneak back the myth of “special relations” and the “Liberation” and the Filipino and American soldier fighting shoulder to shoulder in Bataan, that is duplicitous.
The view on top of the carabao may be nice, but it doesn’t make you the carabao. It just makes you the fly perched on top of it.
Before you are swatted by its tail.