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PH territory incompatible with neutrality

/ 05:03 AM September 18, 2021

Peace in our region should be discussed to wit: “It is the territory, stupid!” This mimics President Bill Clinton’s slogan, “It is the economy, stupid!” in the 1992 US elections.

We have been inundated by disinformation from President Duterte and leftist militants alike, stating that we must have an “independent or neutral foreign policy” by terminating our Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US. Having done that, we shall then live in peace thereafter.

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These claims contradict the lessons of history. If an aggressor nation covets your territory, neutrality will not work. The cases of Belgium and Finland, both neutral countries, show the contrary. In the case of Belgium, it was ravaged in two world wars. Its territory is the easy way to outflank the French defenses. In the case of Finland in WWII, Stalin wanted the Finnish frontier farther from Leningrad. The Philippines is in the same boat now as Belgium and Finland. We own prime territory in the looming big power confrontation in the South China Sea (SCS).

Geography imposed a severe constraint on the People’s Liberation Army and Navy (PLAN). The First Island Chain (FIC) consisting of Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia bars the PLAN’s exit to the high seas. Further, there are only two exits in the FIC that permit movements of battle fleets, the Bashi Channel and the Miyako Strait. The PLAN is now the largest navy in the world. However, it cannot project its power abroad unless it can control at least one of the islands in the FIC. In the event of an unexpected war, the PLAN units in the high seas cannot even return to port.

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Modern technology favors defense. Prior to WWII, the only way one could block the PLAN’s access to the high seas would be to have a fleet strong enough to block these exits. Ironically, the hypersonic missiles developed by the Chinese and the Russians for use against the US Navy are now lethal weapons against the PLAN vessels transiting these channels. The “pauper’s defense” is also available. Mines are cheap to build; we can float and plant them by the thousands to overwhelm the minesweepers of the PLAN.

War gamers in each country identify the weakest link in a military barrier. In this instance, the weakest link is the Philippines. Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia have modern armed forces. In addition, the first two countries have defense ties with the US. By comparison, the Philippines has a decrepit military force and not a single combat jet. The Chinese must have noted this and their plans to breach the FIC must have zeroed in on the Philippines as target No. 1. In the same manner, the war gamers in the Pentagon must also have plans to make a preemptive move into the Philippines in the event of a shooting war.

Almost all military historians now agree that Belgium in the two world wars would have been better off if she had joined the Allies instead of confronting the Germans mano a mano as a neutral country. The puny military force of Belgium in both wars was easily brushed aside by the Germans.

Based on the foregoing lessons, the present acts of President Duterte, echoed by our leftists, replicate the mistakes of the Belgians in two wars by confronting the Germans alone. We cannot take on China mano a mano. We should seek allies; instead of just the MDT, we should enter into an alliance with other countries opposing the Chinese encroachment in the SCS. The Belgians learned their lessons and joined NATO in 1949.

It is also time to end the deception being perpetrated on us by Mr. Duterte and the leftist members of Congress that neutrality will guarantee us peace. We will instead end up as the 24th province of China. The economic loss to our country is already evident. Many of our fishermen have lost their livelihood. We cannot tap the resources of the West Philippine Sea. The SCS dispute will be in the ballot in the 2022 elections. Our countrymen should cast their votes wisely.

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Hermenegildo C. Cruz is a retired career ambassador. During his tour of duty in Soviet Union, he was also accredited to neutral Finland from 1986-1990, where he discussed the nuances of neutral foreign policy with the Finns. He holds a graduate degree from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

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