By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
February 4 marks the start of the Philippine-American war 113 years ago, instigated by supposedly friendly US troops who fired at Filipino soldiers of the nascent First Philippine Republic. Through superior armaments, brutal means and devious tactics, the US prevailed and thereafter established direct colonial rule.
It’s important to recall that historical episode when we examine the implications of the US-Phl negotiations conducted in Washington DC last week, disclosed by the Washington Post, regarding the expanded American role and military presence here.
The newspaper quoted the joint statement issued after the talks thus:
“We committed to further enhance cooperation, intelligence and security, defense, commerce, law enforcement, human rights, and disaster relief. We agreed to deepen and broaden our maritime security cooperation.”
Both sides have confirmed the negotiations, to be followed by higher-level talks in March.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario reportedly said that greater US military presence would help achieve a “balance of influence to ensure peace, stability and economic development in the region,” and that it could entail “planning more joint exercises to promote interoperability” and “rotating and more frequent presence by them.”
Admiral Robert Willard, US Pacific Command chief, stated: “We would welcome discussions with the Philippines along those lines, but there’s no aspiration for bases in Southeast Asia.” The US, he explained, wanted more flexible ways to bring American troops into Southeast Asia without the costs of permanent military bases.
To better understand US intentions in Asia-Pacific, let’s refer to a document, titled “Sustaining US Global Leadership,” issued last month by the White House and the Pentagon.
The document is based on an assessment of US defense strategy, now at an “inflection point” due to these factors: 1) the changing geopolitical environment (China’s rising economic and political power) and the US financial conundrum ($14-trillion debt, intractable fiscal deficit); and 2) the need to protect the US’ economic vitality and national interests, while withdrawing from its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Presented is a new strategy that “transitions (US) defense enterprise from an emphasis on today’s wars to preparing for future challenges, protects the broad range of US national security interests, advances the (Pentagon’s) efforts to rebalance and reform,” while cutting defense spending to reduce deficits.
It defines 10 “key military missions,” of which the priorities are to 1) counter terrorism and irregular warfare; 2) deter and defeat aggression; 3) project power despite hurdles to military access (by “joint operational access”, deploying submarines, developing new stealth bombers); 4) defend the home territory; 5) provide stabilizing presence abroad; and 6) conduct “stability and counterinsurgency operations alongside coalition forces whenever possible.”
The White House-Pentagon document declares:
“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 and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the US military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region.
“Our relationship with Asian allies and key partners are critical to the future stability and growth of the region. We will emphasize our existing alliances…”
Over the long term, the document points out, China’s emergence as a regional power will affect the US economy and security in various ways. It adds that the two countries have a strong stake in the peace and stability situation in East Asia and need to build a cooperative bilateral relationship. However, it stresses: “To avoid causing frictions in the region… the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions.”
What to do? The document asserts:
l. “The US will continue to make the necessary investments to ensure that we maintain regional access and the ability to operate freely in keeping with our treaty obligations and with international law…
2. “US forces will conduct a sustainable pace of presence and operations abroad, including rotational deployments and bilateral and multilateral training exercises. These activities reinforce deterrence, help to build the capacity and competence of US, allied and partner forces for internal and external defense, strengthen alliance cohesion, and increase US influence.”
As to the Philippines, how do our national interests figure in these muscle-flexing plans to reassert US geopolitical and military dominance in Asia-Pacific? Will allowing more US troops in the country, to engage in counterinsurgency operations, not further derogate our impaired independence and national sovereignty?
Since 2002, under the Visiting Forces Agreement, 600 US troops have been deployed on rotation, mainly in Mindanao to help eradicate the Abu Sayyaf problem. Yet it has persisted after 10 years!
On the other hand, the AFP’s adoption and wrong-headed implementation of the US Counterinsurgency Guide through “Oplan Bayanihan” has sidelined the GPHL-NDFP peace talks as a P-Noy commitment.
It’s time we beware of US intentions. Remember the Philippine-American war. Already, Mark Twain averred in 1900:
“I have read carefully the Treaty of Paris [between US and Spain, 1898], and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate, the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem…”
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February 4, 2012