A tailored accommodation
The Philippines’ security and defense agreements have always been to the advantage of US interests. US basing access began in 1934, when the Philippines was under direct US colonial rule. By establishing the Commonwealth, the Philippine Independence Act “allowed the US to maintain forces until two years after Philippine ‘independence’ and gave the US president the power to call Filipinos to war.”
Unequal trade agreements were also signed by the two countries. In March 1947, the Military Bases Agreement was signed, allowing the United States the use of military bases here for 99 years. In 1951, the US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty came into force, stipulating that the two countries, as allies, will each come to the rescue of the other if one is attacked.
US influence on Philippine affairs continues.
After the Philippine Senate voted in 1991 to close the US bases here, the two governments were already “considering ways to bring US troops back in the country on ‘mutually agreeable’ terms.” In the same year, they agreed to pursue the bilateral exercise Balikatan, along with military activities such as ship visits, aircraft transit, and US aid during natural disasters. By 1996, the annual Balikatan had become substantially larger, and, for the first time, involved all service branches of the two countries.
The RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement was signed in 1999. Circumventing the Constitution, the VFA neither clearly defines how often and how long US forces are allowed to “visit,” nor limits their scope of travel nationwide.
In 2001, the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (US JSOTF-P) was formed. It is directly under the US Pacific Command and has the whole of Mindanao as its operational area. The task force consists of rotating units of Special Forces of the US Army and Air Force, Navy SEALS, Psychological Operations, and other US military personnel.
Since World War II, the United States has been obsessively ensuring that its world hegemony remains unchallenged. In this lingering crisis of world capitalism, it is pursuing its pivot to Asia. This pivot hinges on two factors: to check China as an emerging superpower, and to ensure that the Asia-Pacific remains the key destination for US merchandise exports (worth $942 billion in 2012). According to the US Defense’s 2012 strategic guidance, “US economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.”
The current territorial dispute between the Philippines and China cannot be separated from the US-China rivalry over the Asia-Pacific. The external threat to the Philippines is not due to its being a sovereign state but to the perception that it is a US “possession.” China has mastered its bullying tactics and aggressive military maneuvers against the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan.
While America’s alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia remain the cornerstone of security in the Asia-Pacific, it realizes the importance of expanding its basing facilities in the region. This is crucial in developing a military posture in Asia that is “geographically distributed, operationally resilient and politically sustainable.” America will seek to “develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve [its] security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence and advisory capabilities.” The Philippines is considered the “focal point of the US rebalance.”
Eight rounds of talks between US and Philippine defense officials have resulted in the proposed agreement on enhanced defense cooperation, the signing of which is expected to be a highlight of President Barack Obama’s visit to Manila.
Note that it was America that drafted the document before the start of the talks in August 2013. Note, too, that the document’s contents have not been made public. The talks were done under a veil of secrecy. It appears to be a tailored accommodation.
The proposed agreement involves a new basing access arrangement for US troops. It will raise the number of US troops here, allow their access to all facilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and increase the storage of US materiel (weapons, ammunition), aircraft, sea craft, land transport, and all sorts of logistical supplies).
America will not only gain access but also set up its own facilities within AFP facilities. But this is nothing new. The JSOTF-P headquarters is in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City, the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command. Since 2001, US troops have been embedded in AFP camps in Mindanao. They are stationed in the Marine brigade in Jolo, in the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army’s Camp Awang in Cotabato City, and in Camp Amai Pakpak in Marawi City. The proposed agreement will finally lay down the legal basis for the past US troops’ illegal activities in the country.
The proposed agreement is also linked to the building of the Philippines’ minimum credible defense. But it does not commit America to spend for it. America is mired in an economic crisis, and its military has a $500-billion budget cut spread over the next decade. It is the Philippine government that will spend for the upgrade of former US military infrastructures and the building of new ones in new sites for the use of US troops. The money will come solely from our coffers.
That the Filipino people will subsidize the stay of US troops here is indeed absurd. The proposed agreement again shows that the Filipino people’s exercise of sovereignty continues to be curtailed and violated by the power relations imposed by the United States.
Fidel Fababier is the vice chair of the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya ([email protected] gmail.com).
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