By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Pity the Philippines. When China issued a not-so-veiled warning that it would use force against any “incursions” in the part fo the Spratly Islands that it is claiming, Vietnam reacted by protesting strongly. The Aquino government first made known its wish that the US would supply more arms to it through the Excess Defense Articles program and practically begged the US to back it up militarily in the event that the conflict in the Spratly Islands escalates into a shooting war. The Philippines justified this by invoking the US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951.
While the Philippines had sent troops during the Korean and Vietnam wars and more recently, the Iraq occupation, which involved the US, the US has never come to the aid of the Philippines even when it was involved in a conflict with Malaysia over Sabah. Why would the US aid the Philippines now and risk alienating one of its biggest trading partner China? Sure, after the US embassy initially clarified that it would not get involved in the conflict over the Spratly Islands, US Ambassador Harry Thomas gave an assurance, in a carefully worded statement, that, “We are allies. We will continue to work with each other in all issues including the South China Sea and Spratlys.” But he never categorically stated that the US would side with the Philippines if its conflict with China escalates. Nevertheless, this gave the Aquino government some measure of courage to somehow counter China’s move with a reiteration of the claim of the Philippines and a call for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
The US has been involved in conflicts in different parts of the world, but it only did so when its interest is at stake. US documents such as the Quadrennial Defense Review, which outlines US defense policies and strategies, are very clear in stating that the US would get involved militarily only to promote and protect US interests, Even as it projects itself as the policeman of the world and the defender of democracy, it never got involved in conflicts to defend a democratic state. On the contrary, it even got involved militarily to prop up and defend pro-US dictators.
The call of the Aquino government for a diplomatic solution to the conflicting claims is not an act of statesmanship, it is an act of a country too weak to assert its claims. Undoubtedly, even if the country is able to salvage some used and outdated military weaponry from the US now, it would still be helpless against China.
History has proven that the strength of a country militarily is directly proportional to the strength of its economy. The British, and also the Dutch, Navies were able to bring down the Spanish armada because the two were rising economic powers then while Spain was in its twilight. The same could explain the outcome of the Spanish-American war, where the US was able to grab all the colonies of Spain, including the Philippines. During World War II, Germany and Japan were able to put up a formidable challenge to Britain and France because the two were rising economic powers. But they lost to the US because the US waited for both the Allied and Axis powers to weaken each other economically and militarily before joining the fray.
Since then the US became the strongest economically and militarily up to the 1970s. While the US has considerably weakened economically since then, so did the other centers of capitalism Japan and Germany, And the has been able to use its advantage technologically to push its economic interests and maintain its military hegemony.
The only thing that can trump a country’s superior economic and military strength is the will of a people. The Russian people were able to do this when it repulsed the attacks of US, Britain and France from different fronts and when the three powers supported the tsar’s remaining army during the 1918-1920 invasion and civil war. The Russian people, which had just won a revolution then, did not yet have an army at the start of the invasion. The Chinese people were able to do the same against the Japanese Imperial forces. And so did the Filipino people. More recently, from the end of World War II to 1975, the Vietnamese people were able to defeat the mighty US, which sent more than half a million troops and employed its most modern weapons.
Without doubt the Chinese government is bullying other countries to assert its claim not for the benefit of the Chinese people, even if it still calls itself communist. It is doing so for the benefit of the ruling elite that has emerged after Mao died. It even has the habit of violently suppressing the Chinese people’s protest actions. But still, the mere size and strength of its economy and military easily dwarf that of the Philippines.
On the other hand, why would the Filipino people mobilize itself to back the Aquino government’s claims to the Spratly Islands? It is true that the islands have known oil and natural gas reserves, but will it be used to benefit the Filipino people? Commercial quantities of natural gas are being extracted and produced from the Malampaya Gas Field Project, which is located off the coast of Palawan. But the previous Arroyo government surrendered it to Royal Dutch Shell and to Chevron Texaco. Thus, no benefit has redounded to the Filipino people in the form of revenues that are being utilized for social services nor in lower gas and oil prices. And the Aquino government does not seem interested in reclaiming it. So what benefit would the Filipino people get if the Aquino government succeeds in asserting its claim over the Spratly Islands? Perhaps the Aquino government would only succeed if the US supports it. And the US would only support the Philippine government’s claim if the latter commits to later surrender it to US oil companies. So why bother?