This April, during the much-awaited visit of US President Barack Obama, Philippine President BS Aquino will be serving nothing less than our national sovereignty and dignity on a silver platter via the new “access agreement” negotiated in secret by the two governments.
All that remains to be worked out, according to the Philippine negotiator, is the “language,” meaning the legal formulations that will shield the agreement from any Supreme Court challenge that it violates the foreign-troops and bases-free as well as nuclear-free provisions of the Philippine Constitution. The Executive Department meanwhile is busy rehashing and honing the arguments to bolster its insistence that the “access agreement” is not a treaty but a mere “executive agreement” that does not require Senate ratification.
Because neither the public, nor the treaty-making body, the Philippine Senate, is privy to the discussions and official drafts being exchanged and presumably being quibbled over by the negotiating panels, all we have to go by for now are the press releases of the Philippine side. The trickle of information is at the very least disturbing, if not alarming, and leads us to suspect that “a de facto basing agreement disguised as an access pact” is in the works.
Not content with the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and 2001 Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement (MLSA), the US, with the willful compliance of the BS Aquino regime, aims to attain the following through the new “access agreement”: (1.) increase the number (now at a minimum of 600 at any given time) of troops stationed or forward-deployed in the Philippines; (2.) allow US troops access to all Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) facilities; and (3.) increase the pre-stationing or storage of US war materiel or munitions (weapons, ammunition, aircraft, sea craft, land transport and all sorts of logistical supplies).
According to reports, the US will gain not only access but also the ability to set up their own facilities within AFP facilities. To counter criticisms that there will be US-controlled areas that will be hands-off to Philippine authorities, negotiators say that while the agreement allows US facilities to be set up, Philippine authorities will nonetheless be given “access” to them albeit subject to “operational safety and security considerations” imposed by the US.
Now, if this is not tantamount to extraterritorial rights attendant to basing rights we welcome further illumination from the Aquino government.
It is crystal clear that the last 12 years of the VFA have served to fine-tune a system wherein US troops and war materiel are actually stationed on Philippine territory, theoretically on a temporary basis, but in reality on a long-term, if not essentially permanent, basis (barring military exigencies and operational shifts that require redeployment).
But it also evident that the US is not satisfied with the present set up and is aiming to station a far greater number of its military forces and equipment in an ever-expanding area of Philippine territory and thus gaining greater flexibility and wider room for maneuver than ever before. Such requirements are concomitant to its military “pivot” to the Asia- Pacific region.
In the past the trick has been to pass off this boot presence as “rotating” and to limit visibility by relegating the US troops to far off Zamboanga and to lesser known and more low-key facilities in Cebu, Camp Aguinaldo, and even reported secret facilities in Clark Field, Pampanga.
Under the current setup, the US must also continue to put up the faéade of “joint military training exercises” as the occasion for the influx of hundreds, if not thousands, more US soldiers than usual. Even their soldiers’ requirements for periodic R&R have to be dovetailed to purported training exercises.
As to their war armada — including nuclear-powered and likely nuclear-armed carriers, destroyers, submarines, manned and unmanned aircraft (the latter including armed drones used to carry out assassination missions in Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan and the like) — these have been arriving, berthing and undergoing repairs and resupply in Philippine ports and airfields in greater number and with increasing frequency in the last couple of years. But it is obvious the US wants to maximize Subic Bay and is looking to a new facility that the will be built in Oyster Bay, Palawan for stationing its warships. In fact, in an archipelagic country such as the Philippines, the vast coastline’s potential for providing safe harbor for US warships is immeasurable.
In effect, the “expanded access” to be granted to the US armed forces under the new “access agreement” will be a convenient and effective legal cover for unlimited, unqualified, and virtually uncontrolled (by Philippine authorities, that is) presence and on and off-duty activities of US military personnel in the country along with their pre-positioned military equipment.
The US and Philippine governments expect public approval of the new agreement by riding on one big myth: that US military forces are in the Philippines to protect it from both external and internal enemies, while providing humanitarian aid such as disaster relief and rescue. Corollary to this is that the US makes sure, through the VFA, MLSA and now the so-called “Enhanced Defense Capabilities Agreement,” that its presence and activities are all consistent with the Philippine Constitution and its legal processes.
Unfortunately this myth has been recently bolstered — no thanks to China’s inordinate big-nation posturing and bullying — by Philippine fears that it cannot, on its own, protect its backyard, especially its western coastline and territorial waters, and can survive only behind the protective cover of the US.
What is not being mentioned or recalled is the grim truth, the bitter lesson we had learned firsthand from our history but perhaps are wont to quickly forget: the presence of a foreign military power can serve not as a protective cover, but more a magnet for a military attack from that foreign power’s enemies, not necessarily ours. Spain was attacked by the US at the turn of the 20th century; the US was attacked by Japan in World War II. Neither the Americans nor the Japanese were enemies of the Filipino people when they invaded and occupied the Philippines in 1898 and 1941, wreaking death, destruction, havoc and untold suffering.
Although the US is admittedly and incontestibly the current sole Superpower, it is also evidently in decline, its economy, political and cultural fiber afflicted by profound malaise. This is why it is scrambling to control global strategic resources and prevent the rise of a potential “peer competitor” (i.e. China), banking on its might and trampling on other nations and peoples’ rights in the process.
But as history shows, no empire is too mighty that does not inevitably create, by its very might(read: oppressiveness) the same forces that contribute to, and all together bring about, its decline and fall.
Published in Business World
March 20, 2014