American soldiers are coming to town, in the thousands, in battleships and warplanes. They will camp, not in the forests or jungles of the Sierra Madre or Mindanao, but in the metropolises of Manila and Cebu. Their aircraft carriers will be moored in the blue seas of Palawan, the “last frontier” of our hapless land.
A beaming Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, head of the Philippine panel negotiating with the US panel the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation, has announced that the AEDC might be signed during the visit of US President Barack Obama to Manila this month.
Filipino lawmakers, like Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, want the AEDC debated in the Senate. Some other officials, however, long for a hero who would come rushing to save them from the Chinese. International relations and diplomacy are, however, so different from personal relationships. Realpolitik is amoral (America spying on its allies). It follows only national interests (the bombing of Hiroshima).
Let us take a hard look at the AEDC and test the validity of its assumptions.
Political. Now that we will have US troops, bases and facilities in place, would China withdraw from Scarborough (Masinloc) and Ayungin shoals, and stop harassing our fishermen? No, not necessarily. If it is to the best interest of China to continue occupying the shoals and be belligerent, it will do so (Russian design in Crimea; US invasion of Iraq).
But if China persists, would the United States strike at China? As a rule, no again, unless the freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea is impeded. Freedom of the high seas is America’s second line of defense. The first is military bases, as what the whole Philippines is now.
What if Philippine armed troops, public vessels, or planes are attacked by China in the South China Sea? Then, under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the United States is bound to repel “common dangers.” However, the matter has to be referred, “in accordance with constitutional processes,” to the US Congress, which would act, favorably, following the assurance of Cyrus Vance, or, unfavorably, supporting the view of Henry Kissinger.
If China tries to occupy Palawan, for instance, what happens? The MDT applies. But retaliation is not automatic. The US Congress has to act again “in accordance with constitutional processes.” And by the time the US Congress makes a decision, Palawan may be already under the effective control of the Chinese.
Thus, with the AEDC, the political situation does change—for the worse. Before, we are about to lose shoals to the Chinese; our suit under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is still pending. Now, we are giving cities—in fact, Luzon and the Visayas—to the Americans, gratis et amore. Why welcome a “legalized invasion” and be Gunga Dins in our country in perpetuity?
Socioeconomic. The requirements of “pivot” infrastructures stagger the mind. Manila Bay, Cebu harbor and Clark have to be improved. Oyster Bay in Palawan and facilities in Nueva Ecija and La Union have to be constructed. All of these have to be of first-class standards, and be well-maintained. Where do we get the funds?
We prioritize the AEDC and neglect the rehabilitation of the Visayas and other places destroyed by natural disasters, like “Yolanda,” “Ondoy,” or “Pablo”. We ingratiate ourselves with America and minimize the needs of millions of Filipinos from Batanes to Jolo wallowing in poverty.
And why make Manila and Cebu US military centers? The only seemingly positive result is from a macabre scenario that when war comes to these cities, our population would be radically reduced. Would Batino et al. attend to US troops’ “comfort women” and take care of stateless Amerasian babies?
Legal. There is so much misreading of the provision of the 1987 Constitution on our state policy outlawing foreign military “bases, troops, or facilities” and imposing an absolute ban on the presence of nuclear weapons. Section 25, Article XVIII is a complex sentence, but the idea is simple: Without a “treaty”—meaning the AEDC has to be debated, voted upon and concurred in (or rejected) by the Senate—“bases” or “troops” or “facilities” are anathema to the Constitution. If submitted to the Senate, the AEDC, we pray, has to be rejected resoundingly.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin et al. appear to be making unwarranted assumptions on the Constitution. The Supreme Court may, therefore, rule that the AEDC—as a treaty or executive agreement—is unconstitutional. But even if ruled valid, the AEDC and its proponents would be remembered, or condemned, by future generations.
The AEDC is flawed. One party lacks discernment and capacity to perform its mind-boggling obligations. The AEDC suffers from an overbreadth. Even the 1991 Manglapus-Wisner treaty covered only two bases—Clark and Subic—and for not more than 10 years.
It appears that America decided on the “pivot” before China became aggressive in the West Philippine Sea. So our officials did not initiate, but colluded with canine fidelity with a former master on, the AEDC and resale of our former bases.
Reading Conrado de Quiros and Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon, our eyes became moist; we seemed to see them doing a selfie with Recto, Tañada, Diokno, and Salonga, all with clenched teeth, muttering: “Pure madness!”
Weep for the motherland—for having leaders whose foreign policy, written in stone, has been “to follow the glistening wake of America” for more than a century now—blindly.
Nelson D. Laviña is a retired ambassador.