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There’s the Rub

Pure madness

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The new arrangement is called “Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation,” and Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino assures it is “80-percent done.” As though that news would elate us.

Not to worry, adds Ambassador Eduardo Malaya, the agreement does not allow the United States to put up bases in this country, it allows it only to use our bases.

And Filipino authorities will have complete access to the US installations set up inside those bases. That should dispel fears about infringement on sovereignty. “As a concept, access is assured, being within Philippine military bases. The right of the base commander to have access to specific areas shared with them has already been agreed (on) in principle by both panels.”

What can one say? What the —-?!

The least of what’s wrong with it is this: The problem with our agreements with the United States has never been the agreement, it has always been the implementation. Can anyone seriously imagine a scenario where the Filipino base commander tells his American counterpart wherever a dispute arises, “Open the gates, I need to see what’s on your grounds.” More than likely, the Filipino commander will not be authoritative, he will be deferential. He will not put his foot down, he will be accommodating. He will not be in charge, the American official will. This is one case where the tail will wag the dog.

History shows so. It is American policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons in their installations. The American “base within a base” can have all the weapons of mass destruction it wants and we will be no nearer to glimpsing it than we would be Fort Knox. That is assuming in the first place that we want to know. Remember that this agreement is being hammered under conditions where the Philippine government desperately wants American armed presence in the region on the batty assumption that we need it for our protection and wouldn’t mind giving the United States as many bases as they want if only that were constitutionally possible. That is to say, under conditions where we are the beggars. Beggars can’t be choosers.

All this does is to give the United States the best of both worlds: having de facto military bases back without having to pay rent.

The most of what’s wrong with this is a couple of things:

One is that we already have the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), why in hell do we need to give the United States de facto bases here all over again? The MDT not quite incidentally should already show us how utterly inutile our military arrangements with the United States are. The MDT specifies very clearly that in the event of an attack on any portion of the US or Philippine territory, including those lying in the Pacific Ocean, the one is obliged to come to the defense of the other. The Pacific, all American officials have reaffirmed, extends in coverage to the South China Sea.

Arguably, the islands where China’s provocations are taking place are disputed territory. The United States itself, while condemning China’s belligerence, says it is not taking sides or a position on who owns the islands, notwithstanding that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is clear that countries have sovereign rights to waters up to 200 nautical miles off their shores.

But at the very least, surely the act of driving Filipinos away from the disputed islands by water cannons and various threats, not least Chinese gunships patrolling the area, constitutes an attack on territory the Philippines has a very strong claim to. Or that China has only a self-serving unilateral assertion of ownership to. Where is the American automatic military response to it as the MDT bids? Where is the American warship or two to confront the Chinese gunships there and protect the Filipino fishermen? What defense—at least of the Philippines, if not of America—does the MDT really give?

Two is that this spits on the blood, sweat and tears we expended just to rid ourselves of US military presence in this country. Can we have forgotten already how hard it took to kick out the US bases, Cory herself trying to people-power her way into keeping them? The Visiting Forces Agreement was bad enough and was already a stab in the back of it—Erap, who passed it as president, ironically having been one of the “Magnificent 12” that stopped the bases. He would joke later on, “Kala ko kasi visiting lang, malay ko bang permanent,” but some jokes hurt agonizingly when you laugh.

This one is worse. Much, much worse. And for what? Because of our problem with China in the Spratly Islands? That is believing that the best cure for a headache is to shoot yourself in the head.

As the VFA showed, the monumental atrocity here is that the agreement won’t just end with one government. The VFA did not end with Erap, the “Enhanced Defense Agreement” won’t end with P-Noy. It will commit the next governments to honoring that agreement till kingdom come. It will commit the nation to harboring US military enclaves in our bases till kingdom come. “Till kingdom come” is no exaggeration as we’ve seen from the fact that except for the brief period when the only general to become president of this country was in charge, who was Fidel Ramos, we’ve had US military presence in one form or another.

Long after P-Noy is gone, we will still be reeling under that presence. What a legacy to bequeath.

By all means let us protest China’s claim to the whole of the South China Sea and bring the world to vituperate against it. By all means let us bring America itself, with whom we share a fitful history, to lead the condemnation of it, however its own role in invading Iraq without UN sanction pulls the moral rug from under it. By all means let us call the Chinese leaders Hitler. But bring US servicemen and equipment to roost here all over again?

That’s just madness. Pure madness.


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