Aligned but independent | Inquirer Opinion

Aligned but independent

/ 04:35 AM April 05, 2023

Slowly but surely, the geopolitical scheme in which the Philippines finds itself is returning to the bipolar world that was so familiar to people who lived through the Cold War of the 1950s to the late 1980s.

Only this time around, instead of the Soviet Union, the so-called “Indo-Pacific region” is becoming a battleground for influence between the United States and China which, although it has not yet achieved true superpower status, has made no secret of its intention to do so.


And like the Cold War where the Philippines hosted two major US bases and a host of smaller American facilities, our country has offered five military sites where the US military can preposition both war material and supplies, land and refuel aircraft, and rotate personnel in and out for various logistical purposes—all under the framework of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).

On Monday, the Marcos administration officially unveiled four more sites for Edca facilities, which would almost double the existing number of such locations to nine. And though much was said about the opportunities for “interoperability and training” with the Armed Forces of the Philippines that such facilities would provide, as well as the ability to respond rapidly to the natural and man-made calamities that hit the country with some degree of regularity, the strategic locations of these sites—all facing China to our west or the potential Taiwanese flashpoint to the north—give little doubt as to what perceived threat all these efforts are being oriented toward.


Offhand, there is little for policymakers to worry about from a public opinion perspective. Survey after survey reveals that the affinity of Filipinos for all things American remains strong, and poll after poll shows that our citizens trust the US more than China.

But this doesn’t mean that Philippine policymakers should embrace our former colonizers wholeheartedly and swallow everything Uncle Sam throws our way hook, line, and sinker.

On the contrary, our long and complicated history with the United States offers important lessons for our leaders and people in charting a new way forward with a global superpower. This is the same superpower that impressed upon us the value of democracy, liberated us at the end of World War II, and gave us the economic system, imperfect as it may be, that has helped bring our country to its current stage of development. But this is also the same superpower that, for decades, exploited our nation, our people, and our resources for its own interests, leaving only crumbs for Filipinos to fight over.

The onus is now on our current set of leaders to make sure that this renewed relationship with the US will be a balanced one, where the benefits redound to both parties, more or less equally, rather than heavily skewed as it has been in decades past.

One good place to start is to ensure that Philippine foreign policy remains independent of the US. That means maintaining our lines of business open with China which is the country’s biggest trading partner for raw materials, intermediate and finished goods, while upholding the Philippine territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.

Another important aspect where the Philippines should maintain its independence is the issue of its military strength. In the Cold War, the US was said to have deliberately kept the Armed Forces of the Philippines weak by feeding it a slow drip diet of secondhand and antiquated equipment and encouraging it to focus on counterinsurgency, so that it would have no choice but to continue relying on the US for external defense. It is important that our military leaders learn the lessons of history and not allow a relapse of this situation.As for China, it only has itself to blame for the ever tightening embrace between the Philippines and the US. No thanks to its ham fisted policies, territorial aggression in the West Philippine Sea and inability to deliver on its economic promises, China squandered perhaps its only opportunity to break up the duo presented to it by the Duterte administration.

And as much as the Philippines would like to stay neutral as the US and China stare each other down, it cannot stay on the fence if one party on one side of the fence not only behaves belligerently toward Filipinos but does so within the Philippine exclusive economic zone that it is occupying illegally.

For better or for worse, the Philippines and the US are now more aligned against China. Despite this, the Filipino nation should remain standing on its own two feet, despite the obvious temptations of leaning on America’s shoulder as it has done in the past.

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