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How ‘Yolanda’ can strengthen the Philippines’ future

So far, the Philippines has been quite unsuccessful in raising funds to address the damage caused by Supertyphoon “Yolanda/Haiyan” and to prevent the severe impact of future natural disasters. But our lack of success so far in raising international assistance can actually help us unite in a bold effort to fight not just future natural disasters but also possible future military disasters, such as those posed by China.

President Aquino is correct to say Yolanda/Haiyan demonstrates that our efforts to prevent future similar damage must focus on fundamental reforms so we can, as he puts it, “build back better.” However, the price that the President has put on the damage is approximately P600 billion. It is possible to raise this sum because a far smaller and poorer nation, Haiti, has been able to raise a similar amount from the international community since its own natural disaster a few years ago.

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The problem confronting the Philippines and President Aquino is that the nation most capable of assisting the Philippines, the United States, has provided only token assistance: just P4 billion, or 10 cents per Philippine resident.

Is it unrealistic to ask the United States to give to its strongest ally in Asia (and perhaps its strongest ally in the world) at least P4,500 per Filipino per year to rebuild our nation? We don’t think so. Recently, President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced a $20-billion commitment to keep the Ukraine as an ally. This is the equivalent of more than P16,000 per Ukrainian. (The Ukraine has a population of 46 million versus an estimated 105 million in the Philippines.)

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Similarly, despite many criticisms leveled by Israel against the United States, Israel averages what amounts to P45,000 per resident in US aid annually.

Fortunately, Mr. Aquino is on the right track by looking to the future and increasingly raising military concerns that the United States shares regarding the growing military menace of China, which includes China’s challenge to the territorial rights of the Philippines, Vietnam and other nations that share the South China Sea.

To address the damage of Yolanda/Haiyan and US-PH military concerns, all Filipinos, including four million in the United States, must rally and focus on the joint needs of the United States and the Philippines. But we must do so by, in part, following the Israel model of boldly speaking up when we are dissatisfied.

If Israel, a nation of only seven million, can boldly speak up, certainly 105 million Filipinos can also do so. Even the weak and deeply divided nation of Afghanistan speaks out and strongly criticizes the United States.

In part, for this to happen, the United States must recognize that President Aquino can only be a strong ally when it makes clear to the Filipino people that it is a strong ally of the Philippines. The United States must recognize that 22 years ago it was forced to close two large and four small military bases because growing elements within the Philippine community became disillusioned with the weak US commitments to the Philippines.

Recent surveys in the Philippines have shown that most Filipinos would welcome a return of American forces but only if such a return is on respectful terms demonstrating that these are Philippine-controlled bases with an American presence.

A first step for the United States in helping to create a strong Philippine-controlled military presence is for it to avoid the mistakes it has made with American troops in Okinawa, Japan, or in Afghanistan and Iraq. For example, the United States should demonstrate its support for the Filipino people and for President Aquino by taking the lead in raising the P600 billion that

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Mr. Aquino has stated is necessary to address the damage wrought by Yolanda/Haiyan and modernize Philippine infrastructure.

The primary goal should be that no matter what the impact of climate change may be, never again will the Philippines suffer such extensive devastation as that caused by Yolanda/Haiyan.

Our second goal should be that the United States should convincingly demonstrate to the Filipino people, including four million Filipino Americans, that it recognizes our commitment to democracy by providing us with annual assistance that is at least equal to that provided to Israel.

Together, we can neutralize China and at far less costs than the United States has expended in its two failed military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan (estimated costs amounting to P30 trillion).

 

Faith Bautista is the president and CEO of the National Asian American Coalition. She grew up in Pandan, Antique, which was hard hit by Yolanda/Haiyan. Eduardo “Ed” Navarra is the national chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, the largest Filipino American community service and advocacy organization in the United States.

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TAGS: Philippines, President Aquino, Super Typhoon Yolanda, US-PH military concerns, Vietnam, Yolanda aid
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