Seize benefits of Edca
Last week’s announcement by US ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson that the United States would allocate more than P4 billion over the next two years to “operationalize” the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) is a welcome development that will bring the military deal closer to attaining its full potential eight years since it was signed by both governments.
This means two things. First, the US will be able to “preposition” more supplies and matériel in at least five key Philippine bases around the country, which it will be able to draw on during emergencies such as military conflict or humanitarian crises, such as the calamity caused by Severe Tropical Storm “Paeng” just this weekend. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it will ideally result in exactly what the name of the agreement says: enhanced defense cooperation between both nations.
This is especially important today when China is flexing its military muscles to push back against what it perceives to be a move by the US to contain it, not only in political and economic means but also geographically.
The result of this pushback, as we have seen in recent years, unfortunately, is the unilateral and illegal move by China to seize international territory well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, depriving thousands of Filipino fishermen their means of livelihood, and potentially depriving millions of Filipinos more the benefits of undersea energy resources that is part of the country’s patrimony.
No sooner had this announcement been made than the naysayers came out of the woodwork, most alarmingly among the ranks of our senators who, among other things, have the task of ratifying and reviewing all treaties—economic, political, or military—that the country enters into with foreign powers.
One such naysayer, to our dismay, is neophyte Sen. Robinhood Padilla, who warned against the unpleasant message that closer military ties between the Philippines and the US would send to China.
Excuse us but … he’s worried about sending the wrong message to China? Are we talking about the same China which has encroached on territory that is internationally recognized as belonging to the Philippines’ economic sphere? Are we talking about the China that has built up sprawling islands with whole cities and airports on them from what used to be atolls and sandbars? Are we talking about the same China that sends its maritime militia to barricade rich fishing grounds within the Philippine exclusive economic zone from access by Filipino fishermen in their small, rickety boats? The same military power that sails its ships in dangerous maneuvers that prevent the resupply of the Philippines’ small military garrison and civilian barangay on Kalayaan Island?
Padilla is cautioning policymakers against upsetting THAT side of China? If the Ukrainians were as docile to the Russian invaders as the good senator wants Filipinos to behave toward China, Russians would have taken Kyiv in a month! Perhaps the actor-turned-lawmaker should bring some of the bravery that he is known for in his action movies to his new role as a lawmaker.
The position of Senate Minority Floor Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, meanwhile, was only slightly better, saying the benefits of cooperation should not only bring military benefits but extend to other spheres as well, like agricultural development. It’s a military deal. If the senator wants an agricultural and economic deal, perhaps he should push for a free trade agreement between the Philippines and the US.
These mind-boggling statements from our lawmakers notwithstanding, the Marcos Jr. administration should seize Edca by the reins and maximize the benefits it offers the country, especially in terms of helping the Armed Forces of the Philippines stand on its own two feet and develop—at the very least, but ideally more—a “minimum credible defense” posture.
Filipino policymakers should take to heart the lessons of the Philippines’ past relationship with the US—where our former colonizer purposely kept our armed forces weak, feeding it with scraps of military surplus equipment, so that we would be forever dependent on our “big brother”—to learn from them and avoid the past’s pitfalls.
What we don’t want is a return to the slavish stance toward China that the Duterte administration adopted and Padilla is endorsing. Neither do we want to be permanently attached at the hip to the US. What we need is a more equal relationship with America that allows us to stand on our own two feet and, together, resist the bullying of our larger neighbor to the northeast. As a truly sovereign country should.