Covering up for the US

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino displayed calculated illogic when he attempted to dismiss calls for the abrogation of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in light of the grounding of the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, on the Tubbataha Reef by saying that there were no joint US-Philippine military exercises ongoing in that part of the Philippines at the time so there is no link between the two.

If one will follow Mr. Aquino’s simplistic and flawed deduction, the incident can only be seen as a maritime accident that just happened to involve a US warship and, unfortunately, just happened to occur at what is acclaimed to be an incomparably rich and unique marine ecosystem designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and stringently protected under Philippine laws.

Malacanang says this is just about salvaging the stricken US ship, minimizing further damage to the reef and getting monetary compensation for the ecological destruction that has taken place. After all, no less than the US ambassador and the Commander of the US Seventh Fleet have apologized for the incursion, offered assistance for rehabilitating the reef and even for deploying US “volunteers” to help guard and protect the wildlife protected area in the future.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As trumpeted by the Obama government, the US is undertaking a strategic “pivot” or “rebalancing” of its military forces to the Asia-Pacific region. Consequently, under the Aquino administration, there has been a marked rise in the number of dockings of US warships and submarines at Subic, Manila and other Philippine ports. For 2013, it is estimated that there will be an average of seven to eight US naval vessels a month doing what US and Philippine authorities downplay as “routine port calls.”

Such easy and unrestrained access to Philippine territory – land, sea and airspace – by the US military war machinery is made possible by the VFA and its partner agreement, the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA). The latter allows the US to freely access and store its military hardware in Philippine facilities.

Since its ratification in 1999, the VFA has resulted in the permanent presence of US troops and materiel on Philippine territory through the following: the series of annual joint military exercises such as the Balikatan, Balance Piston, etc; the establishment of Cooperative Security Locations (CSL) like the one in Camp Aguinaldo and Forward Operating Sites (FOS) such as Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City as well as in military camps in Cotabato City and Basilan; the continuous entry and docking of US naval vessels, including those that are nuclear-armed in violation of the Philippine Constitution’s nuclear-free provisions, anywhere in the country; and the flying of US jet fighters and unmanned drones in Philippine sovereign airspace.

In fact, the entire archipelago has been transformed into a floating US military base all the better to serve the US objective of military projection and dominance in the Asia-Pacific against any “threat” to its interests. Domestically, the VFA provides legal cover for the growing involvement of US “advisers” in the government’s counter-insurgency program and the participation of US soldiers in local combat operations.

Key to the maximal utilization of the VFA for aforesaid purposes is the subservience of the Philippine government to US imperialism. The Aquino administration has not proven to be an exception to this rule, being no different from its predecessor, the Arroyo regime, except possibly in the abjectness of its subservience.

Government officials have not scrambled to investigate how the incursion and grounding of the USS Guardian in the protected marine park happened. They have readily accepted the US government account of the incident citing faulty navigation charts as the likely cause of the USS Guardian’s going off course. They have turned a deaf ear to the report of the park guards that the ship’s crew disregarded their warnings, kept them from boarding the ship by aiming their guns at the guards and were generally arrogant and uncooperative.

They have graciously acknowledged US officials’ apologies ad nauseam with no caveats except the feeble reminder of compensation. On the other hand, Aquino officials have not demanded custody of the ship captain and crew for blatant violation of Philippine laws even in accordance with the already skimpy and weak VFA provisions on crimes committed by US troops on Philippine territory and under its legal jurisdiction. (All 80 of them have already been evacuated and spirited away to their base in Japan safe from Philippine legal jurisdiction.)

Even the evaluation of damage to the reef and salvage plans and operations are apparently at the complete command of the US with Philippine officials merely being informed as to what is what.

Mr. Aquino appears to be sadly unappreciative of the extensive damage to the park’s ecosystem for hundreds of years to come and subsequent long term impact on the livelihood of marginal Filipino fisherfolk. Or is he just too busy kowtowing to the US and is deliberately steering the issue away from the VFA and the affront on Philippine sovereignty.

China’s hard-line stance and aggressiveness with regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea has provided the Aquino administration with the justification for allowing the rapid escalation of US military presence and intervention in the country. This is of course coupled with the reiteration of the Cold War era thinking that US strategic interests are identical with that of the Philippines.

Aquino officials cite the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty as basis for assurance that the US will come to the defense of the Philippines in case of military confrontation with China. But this has already debunked several times over by Filipino nationalists and legal eagles such as Senators Lorenzo Tanada and Jose W. Diokno. US official pronouncements also clearly state its hands-off policy vis a vis territorial disputes at least while the US considers these not part of US geopolitical and military interests and designs.

Then there is the tired old line that the VFA will boost the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. But this has also been debunked considering how, when it comes to external defense, the AFP today remains decrepit, ill-trained and ill-equipped despite decades of US tutelage and military assistance programs.

The Aquino regime is certainly being true to the status of the Philippines as a neo-colonial client state of the US with whoever is the current occupant of Malacanang acutely aware that it is to his general interest to be on the good side of the lone Superpower.

Corazon Aquino, Noynoy Aquino’s mother, dropped her position against the US bases as a Marcos oppositionist when the US dangled its support for her presidential bid and thereafter as president took the unprecedented move of leading a march to the Senate to pressure it to ratify the US Military Bases Agreement.

Noynoy Aquino is currently the US’ golden boy with his political pedigree as the son of so-called democracy icons, his anti-corruption harangue and good governance equals economic prosperity, democracy, development and peace demagoguery. Mr. Aquino debases himself, the Presidency and our national dignity by serving as a clumsy apologist and covering up for the US.

Published in Business World
15-16 February 2013

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