Beware of the IRP framework agreement

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

The continuing, if not permanent, presence of hundreds of American troops in Mindanao and other parts of the country since 2002 purportedly in accord with the Visiting Forces Agreement has been a raging controversy, with several questionable acts and activities by the “visiting” foreign troops being reported already.

It came to a point sometime ago where a Senate resolution, signed by the majority, called for the termination of the VFA. However, the Senate failed to act on it.

Since last year the controversy has heated up, spurred by the “consensus” arrived between defense and foreign affairs negotiators of the Aquino and Obama governments to hike the scale of US troop presence on “rotational basis.” This is the subject of the negotiations, reportedly being wrapped up, for a bilateral agreement on “increased rotational presence,” billed as the IRP Framework Agreement.

Of late a bigger controversy has arisen. With unabashed alacrity, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin disclosed what may be the core P-Noy government position: allow American military forces — troops, warships, warplanes and other equipage — access not only to their former naval base but to every Philippine military facility anywhere in the country.

Gazmin declared:

“Subic (the former American naval base in Zambales) is one of the facilities mentioned…for US forces to access. As soon as the framework agreement being hammered out between the two countries is complete(d), we will provide the necessary access to all these facilities, and this is not limited only to Subic but to Philippine military facilities, if necessary.”

This ultra-generous concession by the P-Noy government opens up unwarranted operational advantages for the US military to exploit, at less cost than when they maintained two huge military bases (Clark Air Base and Subic). The “if necessary” qualification has no value at all.

Question: doesn’t this concession go beyond the scope of the proposed IRP Framework Agreement, which is supposed to be merely an implementation both of the VFA and its “mother-treaty,” the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951?

What benefits or advantages will the Philippines acquire, if any, in return for such a magnanimous gesture of accommodation?

Let’s refer to the FAQs (frequently asked questions) that the Department of Foreign Affairs has published in the national dailies.

First, the DFA defines increased rotational presence (IRP) as “the policy which increases the presence of United States forces on a rotational basis in Philippine territory toward the development of a minimum credible defense posture.”

Second, it says a minimum credible defense posture is intended “to enhance maritime domain awareness and develop a deterrent capability.” Such posture, it adds, “can be accomplished through high-impact and high-value joint exercises which promote interoperability and capacity building that will also bolster humanitarian assistance and disaster response.”

All these military terms have to be clearly explained to the Filipino people for them to sufficiently understand what they mean, thus enabling them to either accept or reject the IRP objectives as good or bad for the national interest.

For instance, since the VFA took effect in 1999, the declared aim of the joint military exercises has been to promote “interoperability” of the US and Philippine armed forces. Why hasn’t this objective been attained yet?

What are “high-impact and high-value” joint exercises? Why haven’t these been undertaken in previous exercises that would have accelerated the attainment of their avowed objective?

A more pointed question: Why has the IRP framework agreement been designed only now in order to implement the 62-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty, which calls for developing the two sides’ “individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack”? The DFA explains that the new agreement aims to “merely institutional(ize) fuller and more effective implementation of the MDT and VFA.”

What MDT implementation? If there was any it was a total failure.

Over the six decades of the treaty’s existence, the US military has achieved tremendous advances in organization, weapons technology, and operational capacity as to be unrivalled globally. In stark contrast, the AFP has lagged far behind in all aspects of external defense, depending for its equipment from “refurbished” US weapons and discarded air and sea crafts.

Another point needing clarification. The DFA points out that the number of US troops and areas where they will be deployed “depend on the scale of operations which (the Philippines) will approve.” But it hastens to add that the IRP framework agreement “does not deal with operational details.”

Which side will define the type and scale of operations? A statement, released by the Pentagon before US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel came here in late August, simply says that the framework agreement would allow US forces “to operate in Philippine military bases and in Philippine territory and waters” to help build the AFP’s capacity in maritime security and maritime domain awareness.

Certainly, possessing the much superior force and with more extensive geopolitical and military concerns than the Philippines in Asia-Pacific – hence its “pivot” to Asia — the US is bound to define the type and scale of operations suited to its own needs.

Moreover, the US is bound to drag its junior partners in the region into joining its military interventionist operations. This is evidenced by its global track record.

View previous articles from this author | Subscribe to this author via RSS

* * *

September 7, 2013

Share This Post