US’ unequal treaties | Inquirer Opinion

US’ unequal treaties

The battle of Bataan offset the timetable of the Japanese Empire in the Pacific War. It enabled the United States to rise quickly from initial setbacks, muster strength, and eventually vanquish the aggressor in shorter time and with fewer casualties than if the Filipinos had submitted more readily to the Japanese onslaught.

The three-month struggle against overwhelming odds also displayed the courage of the Filipino soldiers as well as their total devotion to the American flag under which they fought. No other colonized people at that time proved as loyal to a colonial power.


Yet it took more than six decades for the US Congress to acknowledge the equal value of the blood and flesh of the American and Filipino soldiers, as noted by the Inquirer editorial last April 9. This exemplary loyalty was displayed not just in Bataan by our soldiers but also by Filipino guerrillas and civilians throughout the archipelago in the three-and-a-half years of brutal Japanese occupation.

But after World War II ended, it seems that the United States gave more favor to the security and welfare of its former enemy than to its constant friend, ally and devoted follower in international affairs. This is most evident in the difference between the defense treaties undertaken by the United States with Japan and the Philippines.


These two treaties have become critically relevant as both the Philippines and Japan are currently involved in separate territorial disputes with China, which could break out in a shooting war and, at worst, end in a nuclear holocaust.

The tension over these disputes simmered in the verbal confrontation between US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan at the National Defense University of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Beijing last April 8. According to a news report, Chang told Hagel, before a gathering of PLA officers, that “while China stands ready to resolve the disputes diplomatically, China is always ready to respond militarily to threats.”

Hagel was quoted as replying: “We have mutual self-defense treaties with each of these two countries (the Philippines and Japan), and we are fully committed to these treaty obligations.” So the lines have been drawn. Should a war develop between China and either Japan or the Philippines, or both, the United States would get involved. However, Hagel failed to explain that there is a significant difference between the two treaties.

Article I of the Security Treaty between the United States and Japan, signed on Sept. 8, 1951, in San Francisco, declares that “Japan grants, and the United States of America accepts, the right … to dispose United States land, air and sea forces in and about Japan.  Such forces may be utilized to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East and to the security of Japan against armed attack from without.”

Hence, under the treaty with Japan, the United States is committed unconditionally to “utilize” its forces for the security of Japan against “armed attack from without.”

On the other hand, there is no such guarantee of automatic defense by the United States in case of an armed attack on the Philippines from without. Article IV of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States, signed on Aug. 30, 1951, in Washington, DC, merely states:

“Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.


“Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken measures to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

There is no declaration that the US armed forces would be “utilized to contribute to the security” of the Philippines, except to bind both parties to “meet the common dangers” in accordance with their “constitutional processes.” The “constitutional processes” probably mean that the congresses of the two parties would have to consent to any action to be taken.

And what if their decision is merely to inform the UN Security Council? One can never be sure. In the recent case of Syria, US President Barack Obama explicitly announced that Syria would be deemed to “cross the red line” if it used chemical weapons against the opposition in the raging civil war there. But when the rebels accused Syria of using such weapons, Obama tossed the question to the US Congress, which said no to suggestions that the United States strike militarily at Syria for “violating” international law.

Further, even as the war rhetoric in the Pacific escalates, the American public, according to repeated polls, are becoming more war-weary because of the debacles of the US “wars for democracy” in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides, America’s domestic problems arising from high unemployment, low economic growth and over $17 billion in foreign debts, most of it owed to China, are of more urgent concern to America’s “99 percent.”

Yet, the Philippines’ entanglement with the United States is tightening. According to reports, the Philippine government is set to sign a new agreement with the United States for its use of Philippine military bases by “enhanced” visiting US military forces. This coincides with the announced US “pivot” to the Pacific, which China claims is intended to “contain” it, but which America claims is merely to defend its legitimate maritime interests.

Thus, if a war breaks out just between Japan and China over their territorial dispute, the Philippines would still be drawn in because America is automatically committed to Japan’s defense. This is because the Philippines is militarily linked to America, which has boots, ships and planes over the length and width of our archipelago.

Facing such a dire prospect, our people must ask: Why does the United States, for which we have sacrificed so much, favor more our former common enemy, Japan, in the critical matter of national security?

In a 1951 speech titled “Our Mendicant Foreign Policy,” the late great nationalist senator Claro M. Recto said:

“For it is now evident that the grand design of American strategy is to make Japan the leader of the anti-communist forces in Asia because her people are said to be the only people in this region with the military traditions, the technical skills, the numbers, the discipline, and the industrial resources necessary for the huge and exacting enterprise of modern war.”

Should World War III break out, would the Philippines again be the sacrificial goat of the great powers?

Manuel F. Almario ([email protected]) is a veteran journalist and spokesperson of the Movement of Truth in History (Rizal’s MOTH).

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TAGS: Commentary, Diplomacy, Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Japan, Manuel F. Almario, opinion, Treaties, US, US treaties
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