EDCA economics

Photo from here

Photo from here

IBON Features

Philippine sovereignty remains seriously challenged even as the country marks its (supposed) 116th Independence Day on 12 June. The biggest threat still comes from the US especially amid its so-called pivot to Asia. This foreign policy of the Obama regime involves the deepening of US-PH colonial ties such as through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Recently signed, EDCA is now the most blatant symbol of US intervention in the country, much like the old US military bases in Subic and Clark. And like before, government is reciting all sorts of benefits to justify what is an essentially new basing deal with the Americans.

Economic gains?

One of the supposed gains is economic. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) claims that EDCA will further benefit the Philippines “through the provision of jobs and other economic opportunities in the construction activities… and procurement of local goods and supplies by the US military and personnel.”

Local construction firms, professionals and experts are expected be hired by the US military to build their facilities in so-called “Agreed Locations” under EDCA. Entrepreneurs near these agreed locations will profit as well due to demand for services and products from American troops.

EDCA defines Agreed Locations as facilities and areas that are provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for access and use by US forces and contractors. Although denied by officials, these shall effectively function as military bases for the US, including prepositioning materiel. Agreed Locations can be anywhere in the Philippines, even in areas where there are no existing AFP bases.

Meanwhile, improved business confidence is another purported economic gain from EDCA. The presence of US forces is claimed to provide stability that local and foreign investors seek. The military deal is said to reinforce stability in Asia, which underpins growth in the region.

No preferential treatment

Alas, like its supposed defense and security benefits such as AFP modernization, maritime domain awareness, etc., authorities are overstating EDCA’s economic gains.

For one thing, EDCA does not require the US to give preferential treatment to Filipino firms to build facilities in agreed locations or supply the needs of American troops. On the contrary, it gives the US the exclusive right to choose its own contractors and suppliers.

Article VIII paragraph 1 of EDCA states: United States forces may contract for any materiel, supplies, equipment, and services (including construction) to be furnished or undertaken in the territory of the Philippines without restriction as to the choice of contractor, supplier, or person who provides such materiel, supplies, equipment, or services. Such contract shall be solicited, awarded, and administered in accordance with the laws and regulations of the United States.

What EDCA merely requires is for the US to make the best effort to hire Filipino contractors and suppliers although this too shall conform to US policies. Paragraph 2 of Article VIII states: United States forces shall strive to use Philippine suppliers of goods, products, and services to the greatest extent practicable in accordance with the laws and regulations of the United States.

Bases for US profits

Building and maintaining foreign military bases have become a lucrative industry in the US, and is dominated by a handful of private American contractors. Based on one rough estimate, private contractors raked in $385 billion in overseas bases in the past decade with the 10 biggest groups cornering one-third of the amount.

The central role that profit-seeking contractors play in nearly 1,000 US foreign military bases worldwide has been made possible by the privatization of logistics and core military roles in US wars and intervention. As one study published in the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies put it, “To economically and efficiently ‘manufacture’ the ‘product’ known as security, the DoD (US Department of Defense) has increasingly operated like a transnational corporation: it has adopted the corporate strategies of rightsizing, outsourcing, and offshoring.”

Private contractors perform various functions outsourced to them by the US Defense department – from the construction and security of foreign military bases to “running dining facilities and performing laundry services” inside these bases. Retired US defense and military officials usually found and head these private contractors, explaining their tight relationship with Pentagon.

Thus, it is not surprising that the US Defense department ensured that EDCA would not tie their hands as to their preferred contractors that will provide goods and services in Agreed Locations.

American contractors

Even before EDCA was signed, some of the biggest American private contractors have already been working in the Philippines to support US military operations here. One of them is DynCorp International, which has a $16.34-million contract with the US Navy to perform “labor, supervision, management, tools, materials, equipment, facilities, transportation, incidental engineering, and other items necessary to provide support services” to the US Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P).

JSOTF-P forces have been rotationally deployed by the US in Mindanao since 2002 through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Their deployment was part of the so-called war on terror of the then Bush administration. They keep facilities inside AFP bases in Zamboanga City, Maguindanao and Sulu. These facilities are being maintained and secured by DynCorp.

Another is Huntington Ingalls Industries, which builds ships for the US Navy and Coast Guard. In 2012, Huntington Ingalls forged a service deal with giant South Korean firm Hanjin Heavy Industries to provide maintenance, repair and logistics services to the US Navy at Subic Bay. The contract was apparently in anticipation of increased US military presence in the country that will now materialize under EDCA.

Exploiting workers

At best, the only possible economic “benefit” that Filipinos may have under EDCA is as a source of cheap labor. To further bloat their profits, US military contractors usually subcontract to a third party (e.g. recruitment agency) the hiring of workers to perform low-paying jobs inside US military bases.

This system, as a study by Al Jazeera disclosed, is being used to exploit the workers. DynCorp and other US contractors in Afghanistan, for instance, collude with recruiters to charge exorbitant fees to workers and pay them cheap wages while working 12-hour days with little or no time off to do the “cooking, cleaning, laundry, construction and other support tasks necessary to operate military facilities”.

Worse, EDCA does not only not provide protection mechanisms to workers but also in fact deprive workers of using Philippine laws to safeguard their rights and welfare. As pointed out by the petition submitted by Makabayan and others to the Supreme Court (SC) questioning EDCA’s constitutionality, Article XI of the deal states: “Disputes and other matters subject to consultation under this Agreement shall not be referred to any national or international court, tribunal, or other similar body, or to any third party for settlement, unless otherwise agreed by the Parties.”

Such disputes may include violation of labor rights, which is worrisome since Article VIII of EDCA allows the US to hire contractors without any restriction. This means that even the most notorious contractors such as DynCorp and their partners like Hanjin (also infamous for the series of deaths of their shipyard workers in Subic) will continue to land deals under EDCA.

Another possible source of “jobs” are the services for the “rest and recreation” of American troops. But this also means increased exploitation of Filipino women as red light districts near Agreed Locations are sure to thrive like in the heydays of Subic and Clark.

Certainly, these are not the sorts of “economic opportunities” we seek under EDCA.

Generous perks

In reality, it is the US and its contractors who stand to gain the most economic benefits from EDCA. Agreed Locations, as specified in Article III paragraph 3 of the agreement, for instance, shall be made available without rental or similar costs.

And while the country allowed the US to use the Agreed Locations rent-free, the Philippines may still have to compensate the US for the “improvements or construction” in the Agreed Locations, as stated in Article V paragraph 2 of EDCA. The same thing is true with equipment stored in the Agreed Locations, which the Philippines may still need to purchase from the US subject to its laws and regulations (Article V paragraph 5).

Furthermore, US contractors and troops can use public utilities such as water and electricity tax-free, as stated in Article VII paragraph 1 of EDCA. It will be the Filipino taxpayers who will be shouldering the tax burden on the use of such public utilities by US contractors and troops. As noted by the Makabayan petition against EDCA, no private company in the Philippines currently enjoys such generous privilege.

Impact on livelihood

Government is clearly exaggerating the supposed economic gains from EDCA while concealing the fact that negotiators gave too many unjustifiable perks to the US. Aggravating the matter is the likelihood that increased US military presence and operation under EDCA will harshly impact on the livelihood of local communities where the Agreed Locations will be established. Already, Balikatan military drills have been affecting local livelihood such as the small fishers who are being displaced during naval exercises by US and Filipino troops.

Government will also likely acquire more lands or areas to build military facilities in order to accommodate Agreed Locations that the US wants to establish. This is because some locations that the US finds suitable may not be hosting AFP bases. In Subic, for example, which is now a free port zone, the AFP is negotiating with civilian authorities to establish its bases there so that a portion of it can be used as an Agreed Location.

What if the US wants to build a naval or air force facility in Palawan or Batanes where there are fishing or farming communities? The US is notorious for displacing whole communities just to build its bases such as what it did in Okinawa and Diego Garcia.

EDCA is evidently a lopsided agreement that violates our sovereignty while promising false gains. It has always been the case in our more than a hundred year old relationship with the US. Something needs to change. ###

Sabah crisis: Is Aquino siding with Malaysia to protect relatives’ business interests?

Presidential cousin and funder Tonyboy Cojuangco's AirAsia pals transport Malaysian army reinforcements to Sabah. (Photo from Borneo Inside)

Presidential cousin and funder Tonyboy Cojuangco’s AirAsia business pals transport Malaysian army reinforcements to Sabah. (Photo from Borneo Inside)

The “journey home” to Sabah of some 200 followers of the Sultanate of Sulu more than a month ago has escalated into a full blown humanitarian crisis. More than a thousand Filipinos have fled Sabah that for decades they called home. Men, women and children took any boat available in a frantic and perilous voyage away from the brutality of Malaysian forces. The number of refugees in Tawi-Tawi from Lahad Datu and other affected towns in Sabah is expected to grow in the coming days.

Those who fled recounted the atrocities that Filipinos suffered in the disputed territory. “Malaysian policemen ordered Filipino men to run as fast as they could and shot them,” said a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “Even pregnant women and children have been hunted down and killed as the Malaysians fire mortars and embark on a house-to-house search,” according to the Philippine Star. These people are not part of the armed followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. They just happen to be Filipinos.

Some are baffled while most are enraged by the attitude of the Aquino administration towards the Sabah crisis. From the onset, President Benigno Aquino III took a hardline stance against the Sulu royal forces. Jamalul’s brother Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram and his men must surrender before any talks can happen, Aquino insisted. Charges are being prepared versus the Kirams, claimed the Justice department. They may also be turned over to Malaysian authorities to face prosecution. Malacañang sowed intrigues to cast doubt on the motive and legitimacy of the Sultanate. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is probing the alleged conspiracy between the Kirams and certain politicians. All these even as Aquino ignored appeals by the Sultanate and the United Nations (UN) to stop the Malaysian military assault and for parties to talk.

Palace and Foreign Affairs spokespersons, of course, expressed concern over the reported human rights abuses in Sabah. But their statements are meaningless amid the brutal military offensive launched by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak that Aquino practically sanctioned with his reckless position. The public perception is that Aquino abandoned his own people, surrendered the country’s rightful claim to Sabah and sided with Malaysia. Thus Aquino, like Razak and his forces, is responsible for the carnage of Filipino men, women and children in Sabah.

But why is Aquino siding with Malaysia? One plausible explanation noted by analysts is the ongoing peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) where Malaysia plays a key role as facilitator. Aquino does not want to displease Malaysia and risk undermining the negotiations.

However, it is also notable that since taking over in 2010, Aquino’s relatives who bankrolled his presidential bid have inked business deals with Malaysia. Could these business interests be another possible explanation for the administration’s handling of the Sabah crisis?

What are these business deals? One involves San Miguel Corporation (SMC) of Aquino’s uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. In August 2011, SMC acquired three subsidiaries of US oil giant Exxon Mobil’s downstream oil business in Malaysia. Worth $610 million, the transaction included the purchase by SMC of Esso Malaysia Bhd, Exxon Mobil Malaysia Sdn Bhd and Exxon Mobil Borneo Sdn Bhd. In its website, SMC said that the three companies form an integrated business engaged in refining, distribution and marketing of petroleum products. The physical assets include the 88,000 barrels per day Port Dickson refinery; seven fuel distribution terminals; and about 560 refilling stations.

SMC’s entry into the Malaysian downstream oil industry could be just the initial steps. Ramon S. Ang, president of the giant conglomerate, recently disclosed that SMC is eyeing big oil and natural gas field overseas. “If we were able to buy one of those, it would be like printing money forever,” Ang was quoted as saying. SMC is so serious about the plan that Ang said they are willing to let go of longtime core business San Miguel Brewery Inc. and new assets in power generation to raise funds. With its acquisition of Exxon Mobil’s downstream assets, SMC is in a strategic position to also corner upstream deals in oil-rich Malaysia.

The disputed state of Sabah itself is abundant in oil and gas resources. An article by the Philippine Star, quoting a 2012 study by Singapore-based FACTS Global Energy, reported that Sabah has reserves of about 11-12 trillion cubic feet of gas and at least 1.5 billion barrels of oil. The figures represent 12% and 15% of Malaysia’s natural gas and oil reserves, respectively, according to the report. Another article, by the Centre for Research on Globalization, noted that Sabah has 15 oil wells that can produce as many as 192,000 barrels a day. Also, four new oil fields have been discovered in its territorial waters in the past two years further increasing Sabah’s potential as oil producer.

Is Aquino avoiding displeasing Malaysia over the Sabah dispute so as not to undermine the grand multibillion dollar oil and gas ambitions of SMC and uncle Danding?

Another business deal involves AirAsia Philippines, the local affiliate of Malaysia-based AirAsia Bhd, the largest budget carrier in Southeast Asia. In November 2010, the Board of Investments (BOI) approved the formation of AirAsia Philippines as a joint venture between Malaysian investors and Filipino businessmen led by the President’s cousin Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco Jr. Tonyboy and his Malaysian partners are aggressively expanding their operation in the Philippines with their recent acquisition of at least a 40% stake in local rival Zest Airways Inc.

Does Aquino fear that the contentious Sabah issue could somehow complicate the blooming Malaysian business partnership of his cousin Tonyboy?

Aquino could not just ignore the interests of his rich relatives. He won’t be President without their vital support.

Tonyboy was the biggest campaign donor of Aquino in 2010, based on the President’s official declaration to the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Out of the P440 million in campaign funds declared by Aquino, Tonyboy’s contribution accounted for almost a quarter with P100 million. While Danding was not officially listed as a campaign donor, it is widely known that the tycoon and Marcos crony also supported the candidacy of his nephew.

If these business interests of his relatives played a key role in Aquino’s handling of the crisis, then the slaughter of our men, women and children in Sabah becomes much more revolting and enraging than it already is. (End)

Tubbataha grounding: Expect more abuses as US pivots to Asia

Environmental advocates and activists protest the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef, call for the junking of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and immediate pullout of US troops from the Philippines. (Photo from www.globaltimes.cn)

Environmental advocates and activists protest the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef, call for the junking of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and immediate pullout of US troops from the Philippines. (Photo from www.globaltimes.cn)

The grounding of the USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef shows one of the many dangers that increased US military presence in the country brings. Just several months prior to the destruction of a portion of the protected reefs by the 224-foot American minesweeper, which reports peg at about 1,000 square meters, the US Navy was also involved in the dumping of toxic waste in Subic Bay. Worse, the presence of American forces in the country has also meant the death of our people such as the fisherman who was hit by a US military speedboat in Basilan last year. All these incidents happened in a span of less than one year.

To be sure, these are not the first transgressions committed by US soldiers who are in the Philippines through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). (See box at the end of this article for a summary of some of the human rights atrocities committed by US troops under the VFA.) The rape of Nicole by US Marine Daniel Smith in Subic is still fresh in our collective memory. But what is alarming is the increasing frequency of such transgressions and the impunity that the US forces enjoy. Daniel Smith was acquitted. The family of the Basilan fisherman opted for a settlement with the US military. The US Navy was absolved of any liability in the Subic toxic waste dumping.

In the Tubbataha grounding incident, which dealt the protected reefs its worst damage on record, it is perturbing that our officials seem content in just seeking financial compensation for the damaged reef, worth a paltry $300 per square meter. (If the damage is 1,000 sq. m, that makes us entitled to $300,000 or about ₱12 million. Certainly, a measly sum compared to the importance of Tubbataha as a World Heritage site.) President Benigno Aquino III was also emphatic on the need of the US to pay in accordance with our laws. While imposing financial penalties and demanding an official apology from the US are legitimate demands, their importance should not be overemphasized. They should be treated as a given and should be implemented as a matter of policy. But the Philippines must take a more decisive stance on this issue, one that goes beyond demanding compensation and apology from a supposed friend and partner.

Sadly, no administration official, including Aquino, has raised the need to pursue the criminal liability of the US forces, particularly the USS Guardian commander (identified as Lt. Commander Mark A. Rice) who ignored the warnings of the Tubbataha park rangers and ordered his men to be in “battle position” when local authorities tried to exercise their rightful jurisdiction over the vessel. The special treatment being accorded to the US troops is evident in the decision of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) not to include jail time in the penalties it is seeking for the grounding incident despite clear provisions in the Tubbataha Reefs National Park Act (TRNP) of 2009 or Republic Act (RA) 10067. No administration official has raised the need to at least review the VFA given the circumstances surrounding the suspicious presence of the USS Guardian in the Tubbataha area (worse, the US Navy and US government’s failure or refusal to explain such presence more than 10 days since the incident) and the actions taken by the ship’s officials. On the contrary, defense and military officials assert that regular port visits by US warships and joint military trainings with the American troops under the annual Balikatan exercises will continue, as if the Tubbataha incident did not happen. Aquino himself absolved the VFA, claiming that the ever controversial military deal has “nothing to do with the Americans’ going to Tubbataha” and that the issue is simply “a question of violating certain ecological laws.”

Aquino is wrong. The USS Guardian and numerous other US warships, aircraft and troops have been going in and out of, and around, the country via the VFA. Thus questioning the VFA and raising the political issues, beyond the environmental aspect of the controversy, is crucial in asserting our sovereignty as a nation, which is the crux of the matter in the Tubbataha incident. This becomes more important in the light of the announced pivot to Asia Pacific of US military forces. Concretely, the pivot takes the form of deploying 60% of US’s naval fleet in the region. The US Navy is the world’s largest (its tonnage is said to be greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined) and includes, among others, 11 aircraft carriers (out of the 21 active carriers worldwide) and 71 submarines. Six out of the 11 US carriers are currently already deployed in the Asia Pacific but the US also plans to deploy more of its most advanced warships and jet fighters in the region as part of the pivot. Certainly, their increased presence in our seas will make us more exposed to incidents like Tubbataha and other abuses even as Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin vainly attempts to distance the frequent and unhampered entry of US warships in the country to the grounding incident, swallowing hook, line and sinker the flimsy excuse by the captain of the USS Guardian about a faulty navigation system.

In the Philippines, one of the immediate and obvious effects of the US pivot is the drastic increase in the frequency of so-called “routine port calls” of American warships. In 2012, for instance, a total of at least 10 supposedly regular port visits have been reported in the media, with the US warships docking at mostly at Subic and Manila bays. The port visits involved 12 warships of varying sizes that included the nuclear-powered super carrier USS George Washington (escorted by two other military vessels); four nuclear-powered submarines which included the most technologically advanced in the world – the USS North Carolina, USS Louisville, USS Hawaii and USS Olympia; and a host of guided-missile destroyers, submarine tender and amphibious assault ship. On the other hand, in 2011 there were only three reported port visits involving six ships.

2012 partial list of PH-US bilateral military exercises & “routine port calls” by US military warships
Date

Summary

Mar. 3 Port visit in Iloilo of USS Chafee, a guided-missile destroyer, to participate in the US Embassy’s program “showcasing American culture, US businesses & embassy services”
Mar. 5-10 Operation Pacific Angel 2012 – Some 99 US military members (US Air Force), along with members of the PH military, NGOs and LGUs conducted medical, dental, optometry & engineering programs in Legazpi, Albay
Apr. 16-27 28th Balikatan exercises involving 4,500 personnel from the US Pacom & 2,300 AFP personnel conducted command post exercise (which also included about 20 participants from Asean & 15 from other partner nations), multiple field training exercises & engineering, humanitarian & civic assistance projects (also supported by 385 local health professionals); exercises were held in Metro Manila, Tarlac, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Palawan, Zamboanga, Jolo & Basilan
May 14 Routine port call in Subic of the USS North Carolina, a Virginia class fast attack submarine, also described as one of the “stealthiest, most technologically advanced” nuclear-powered submarines in the world
Jun. 25-30 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Louisville, a Los Angeles class nuclear-powered attack submarine, to restock & R&R for its crew
Jul. 2-10 18th Cooperation Afloat Readiness & Training (Carat) involving some 500 members of US Navy & Coast Guard & about 450 personnel from the PH Navy & Coast Guard; exercises were held in General Santos City & Saranggani
Aug. 19-20 Routine port call in Manila of the USS Millius, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer
Sep. 3 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Frank Cable, an L.Y. Spear class submarine tender; ship repair, maintenance and training under the PH-US Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement (Acsa) between sailors of USS Frank Cable & BRP Greogorio del Pilar
Sep. 7 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Hawaii, one of the most advanced nuclear-powered submarines in the world; capable of transporting special operations forces, unmanned undersea vehicles & US Navy Seals
Oct. 4 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Olympia, a Los Angeles class nuclear-powered submarine
Oct. 5 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Bonhomme Richard, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, for R&R of its sailors & to offload US Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) who were participating in the Phiblex 13
Oct. 8-18 Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 13) involving some 2,600 personnel from the US Pacom & over 1,200 from the AFP; exercises, held in Zambales, Palawan, Tarlac, Cavite & Nueva Ecija included staff planning exercise, a static aircraft display, multiple field training exercises & humanitarian & civic assistance projects
Oct. 24-28 Routine port call in Manila the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered Nimitz class aircraft carrier with about 5,500 personnel; it carries about 80 aircrafts of various purposes, primarily F-18 Hornets, helicopters & E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning turboprops; it was escorted by two other vessels – the USS Cowpens (a Ticenderoga-class guided missile cruiser) & USS McCampbell (an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer)
Nov. 19 Routine port call in Manila by USS Gridley, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer & part of the US Pacific Fleet
2011 “routine port calls” & PH-US bilateral military exercises: USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship (Manila, Dec. 1-4); Cooperation Afloat Readiness & Training (Sulu Sea, Palawan; Jun. 28 to Jul. 8); USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group, which also includes guided-missile destroyers USS Shiloh, USS Bunker Hill & USS Gridley (Manila, May 15-19); 27th Balikatan exercise (Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, Palawan, Cavite, Cebu; Apr. 5-15); USS Blue Ridge, command & control ship of the US 7th Fleet (Feb. 13-16)
Data as of Nov. 26, 2012 onlyData culled from the Embassy of the United States, Manila, Philippines, press & photo releases for 2011 & 2012, http://manila.usembassy.gov/media-resources.html, and from various online media reports

The table above does not represent an exhaustive list of all the “port visits” by US warships in the Philippines as it merely enumerated what’s reported in the media. A statement attributed to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) claimed that in 2012, US ships made 197 port calls (aside from 444 US aircraft that were cleared to land) in the Philippines. Residents of Olongapo City claim that different US warships dock at Subic Bay almost weekly. When I visited Olongapo during the New Year break, I counted at least five large US ships docked at the bay. The presence of these US military ships was not reported by the media. And I’m pretty sure that many other abuses and transgressions by American troops also went unreported.

Human rights abuses and US troops
The presence of American soldiers in the country has invited grave abuses and violations of Filipinos’ human rights. This has been the case since the US occupation of the country and continued when they still had military bases in Subic and Clark. Under the VFA, attacks on human rights perpetrated by the US troops persist and worse, even covered up by the authorities. These abuses include the mauling of a certain Marcelo Batesil in Cebu City; the shooting of suspected Abu Sayyaf suspect Buyung-Buyong Isnijal in Basilan province; the reported massacre of three Muslim civilians in Barangay Sipangkot, Umapoy Island in Tawi-Tawi and four others in Maimbung, Sulu; and the killing of a certain Arsid Baharon in Barangay San Roque in Zamboanga City.

But the biggest and most controversial case of abuse so far is the rape of Nicole in Subic involving four American Marines in 2005. In December 2006, a local judge convicted one the Marines, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, of raping Nicole. The Court of Appeals (CA), however, reversed the decision in April 2009. But one month before the CA ruling, Nicole had issued a controversial affidavit which claimed that she “can’t help but entertain doubts on whether the sequence of events in Subic… really occurred”. This affidavit was apparently the result of pressure from the US and Malacañang with the lawyer assisting Nicole in the second affidavit reportedly from the same law firm of Smith’s counsels. While it carries no legal implication, its intention was to influence public opinion so that the CA acquittal of Smith will be easily accepted by the people. Nicole was also reportedly given P100,000 in “moral and exemplary damages” by the camp of Smith aside from a US visa that allowed her to fly to the US “for good”.

US troops staying in the country were again dragged into another controversy in 2010, this time involving the death of an interpreter they hired for an elite unit of US Special Forces called the Liaison Coordination Elements (LCE). Gregan Cardeño was found dead inside a Joint Special Operation Task Force (JSOTF) facility in Camp Ranao in Marawi City on Feb. 2, 2010 after allegedly committing suicide. Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend of the Cardeños helping to shed light on his death – was shot dead by unidentified gun men. Before his death, Cardeño separately called his sister and wife and told them that his job was “hard and not what he expected”. Ignacio, meanwhile, was killed while on his way to meet human rights groups to execute an affidavit on what he discovered about Cardeño’s death.

Sources: Sworn statement of Nicole, Mar. 12, 2009 (http://www.gmanews.tv/story/153159/Sworn-Statement-of-Nicole); GMA News Online. “Smith camp’s hand seen in Nicole ‘recantation’ bared”. Mar. 18, 2009 (http://www.gmanews.tv/story/153150/Smith-camps-hand-in-Nicole-recantation-bared); The Philippine Star. “’Nicole’ leaves for US, settles for P100,000”. Mar. 18, 2009. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2011; (http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=449575&publicationSubCategoryId=63); Lacorte, Germelina. “Group demands junking RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement over death of Filipino interpreter”. Davao Today. Jul. 15, 2010. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2011 (http://bulatlat.com/main/2010/07/15/group-demands-junking-rp-us-vfa-over-death-of-filipino-interpreter/)  

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“2+2″ equals more secret US bases in PH

The 2+2 meeting in Washington could lead to the establishment of more covert US “military bases” in the country such as the bases being maintained by the JSOTF-P (Photo from jsotf-p.blogspot.com)

The 28th Balikatan exercises ended with the “usual thank yous”, said an Inquirer report. “As the curtain closes down on this year’s Balikatan, I would like to express my gratitude to the American soldiers… who gave their invaluable time to share their experiences…” General Jessie Dellosa, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said during the closing ceremony.

First of its kind

But the curtain never truly closes for the US troops in the Philippines. Because while the Balikatan has already been concluded, the supposedly visiting American soldiers will not leave. About 600 of them – perhaps even more – will continue to stay in the country as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P), established under the 1999 PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

And when the so-called 2+2 meeting on April 30 is over, we could be seeing more US troops – maybe thousands – deployed, on so-called “rotational” basis, on our shores soon. The 2+2 meeting, which will be held in Washington, is described as “the first of its kind” in Philippine-US relations. To underscore its significance for the country, the Department of National Defense (DND) said that the US has had similar meetings only with Japan and South Korea, America’s most reliable allies in East Asia.

And while the meeting that will be attended by DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Sec. Albert del Rosario, US Defense Sec. Leon Panetta and State Sec. Hillary Clinton will also discuss economic and political cooperation, what everyone is anticipating are details of how Manila and Washington will strengthen military relations.

Chinese assertiveness

The military aspect of the upcoming talks has generated increased public interest due to the ongoing Scarborough Shoal standoff between the Philippines and China. Filipino and American officials, abetted by the local mainstream media, have used the perceived Chinese bullying to highlight the supposed potential benefits for the Philippines of deepened military relations with the US.

China’s assertive stance in its dispute with the country over the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands is being used to justify increased US military presence and intervention in the Philippines and in the region. While this serves US’s agenda in Asia Pacific, it also raises further risks to peace and development in the region and to the national sovereignty of the Philippines. (Read more on this here)

Sustaining global presence

Meanwhile, one of the expected results of the 2+2 meeting is the conduct of more frequent and bigger joint military exercises and the deployment of more US troops here like those under the JSOFT-P. This is consistent with the latest defense strategy of the Obama administration. As I have written in a previous post:

Updating existing military alliances and forging new ones, however, have to be pursued in the midst of the harsh economic realities facing the US. Amid its raging public debt crisis that has been caused in part by costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration released this month its latest defense strategy document Sustaining US global leadership: Priorities for 21st century defense. The document was the result of “an assessment of US defense strategy in the light of the changing geopolitical environment and changing fiscal circumstances”.

Consequently, the latest US defense strategy calls for developing “innovative, low-cost and small-footprint approaches” to achieve US security objectives, relying on bilateral and multilateral training exercises, rotational deployments and advisory capabilities. This will allow US forces to “conduct a sustainable pace of presence operations abroad” and at the same time let it commit to a large-scale operation in one region while still having the capability to impose “unacceptable costs” on an aggressor in a second region.

New types of bases

To house the additional troops, the 2+2 meeting could lead to the establishment of more covert US “military bases” in the country such as Forward Operating Sites (FOSs) and Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs). These types of bases are much smaller than traditional US foreign military bases.

The US Overseas Basing Commission, the official body tasked to review US military basing in other countries, describes FOSs as “expandable ‘warm facilities’ maintained with a limited US military support presence and possibly prepositioned equipment; it supports rotational rather than permanently stationed forces and be a focus for bilateral and regional training.” CSLs, on the other hand, are “facilities with little or no permanent US presence. Instead they will be maintained with periodic service, contractor, or host-nation support. CSLs will provide contingency access and be a focal point for security cooperation activities.” For US strategic planners, the expansion of FOSs and CSLs in key locations worldwide “adds to operational flexibility, preserves a presence abroad, and serves to strengthen alliance relationships.”

Essential for US operations

In the Philippines, the headquarters of the JSOTF-P inside Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City where it has based since 2002 is considered an example of an FOS or sometimes referred to as forward operating base (FOB) in some US military papers. Read, for instance, a 2004 monograph on Army special operations forces, which used Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF-P) in Mindanao as a case study. The OEF-P was pushed by then President George W. Bush supposedly to combat the Abu Sayyaf and covers Mindanao as its area of operation (AO).

As narrated in the monograph, the Joint Task Force (JTF)-510 – JSOTF-P’s predecessor – “set up an FOB on the southern tip of the Mindanao Island near Zamboanga City”, specifically the Edwin Andrews Air Base (EAAB) because “basing was essential for OEF-P”. It also described the role of an FOB in US military operations: “The FOB at EAAB was the logistical hub within the AO for all operations. All US forces flowed in the FOB before conducting operations… From Okinawa, all assets and personnel flew into the JTF’s AO via the FOB at EABB on Mindanao. FOB EAAB served as a transloading point, logistical hub for the forces on Mindanao and Basilan, and housed air assets.”

Covert bases

The location of these bases is not willingly disclosed to the public by authorities in an effort not to attract too much attention to the presence of US troops as well as to undercut criticisms against US military basing in the Philippines which is a violation of the Constitution. Even so, US military documents such as the monograph cited earlier would confirm the existence of US bases in the Philippines.

Another such document is the 2005 report of the US Overseas Basing Commission, which disclosed that: “A series of CSLs are being developed in India, Thailand, Philippines, and Australia that will be able to provide logistics arrangements for support throughout the region. Many of these will simply be fueling arrangements and perhaps some pre-positioned stocks.” The Philippine government, however, has not confirmed the existence of these CSLs, much less disclose their locations.

But in an August 2009 affidavit, former Philippine Navy Lt. Sr. Grade Nancy Gadian revealed that since 2002, the US has established “permanent and continuous presence” in southern Mindanao as she identified possible CSLs in Zamboanga City, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. The table below summarizes her testimony describing the location and features of US presence/basing in Mindanao.

It was also Gadian who exposed the anomalous use of P46 million in Balikatan funds by high ranking AFP officials. She was the officer in charge of the Civil Military Operations (CMO) Fusion Cell for Balikatan 2007. In 2001, Gadian was one of the planners of the Balikatan 2002 (held in Pampanga) and of Balikatan 2002-1 (held in Mindanao).

Violates sovereignty

Aside from those identified by Gadian, another possible CSL is located inside Camp Ranao in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur which was unknown to the public until the reported death of Gregan Cardeño, an interpreter hired by the Americans for an elite unit of US Special Forces called the Liaison Coordination Elements (LCE). Cardeño died on Feb. 2, 2010 under dubious circumstances, telling relatives before his death that his job “was hard and not what he expected”. Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend of the Cardeños helping to shed light on his death – was shot dead by still  unidentified gun men.

Certainly, there are many other military facilities set up and being used by US troops in the Philippines, including in Luzon and Visayas, which the public does not know. But their number could further increase as Philippine-US military relations further deepen in the coming years. This blatantly violates Philippine sovereignty and an infringement of the Constitution which does not allow the basing of foreign troops in the country.

Consequently, more atrocities involving American soldiers such as the case of Cardeño could arise. Just recently, another Filipino died – fisherman Ahbam Juhurin – in what was a supposedly “sea mishap” involving US troops conducting “routine maritime activity” in Basilan. While some may argue that this latest incident was just an accident, Juhurin’s death still raises a fundamental question – why do we allow US troops to base in our country and patrol our seas, lands, and air? (end)

IBON Infographic: US military operations in PH, 2001-2011

IBON Infographic/ April 2012 US Military Operations in the Philippines, 2001-2011

(Visit the IBON website)

Above is an infographic on the presence of US military in the country during the last decade since it launched its so-called war on terrorism.

The United States (US) recently declared a foreign policy pivot toward Asia involving greater economic, political and military engagement in the region. The shift however started as early as 2001 when its Quadrennial Defense Review proclaimed a shift to Asia and a corresponding increase in the US military presence through fixed bases, rotational deployments, training exercises and logistical arrangements.

The US called the Philippines its “second front [in the war on terrorism]” in January 2002 and has dramatically built up a nationwide military presence since then. The US military has made extensive use of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to station some 600-700 special forces troops in the country and to bring in as much as 7,000 other soldiers at a time on so-called joint exercises, civil-military actions and relief operations. It has also used the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA) to establish military outposts and access war materiel for its forces.

The whole archipelago has been transformed into a US military base, which violates Philippine sovereignty and the 1987 Constitution.

(When citing this article, please credit IBON Foundation and not the blogger. Thank you.)

Read more about US military intervention and presence in the Philippines:

Obama’s dreaded drone war arrives in PH

The use of lethal military technology from the US violates Philippine sovereignty and puts Filipinos in great danger (Photo from guardian.co.uk)

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has denied that it used US-satellite guided missiles or smart bombs in an operation against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu last month. It was in reaction to an Associated Press (AP) report claiming that US smart bombs were used in the February 2 air raid that allegedly killed an ASG commander and two top Southeast Asian terrorists along with 12 others. AP claimed that its report was confirmed by four senior Philippine security officials.

Earlier, another article in the Asia Times Online said that the Sulu operation used unmanned aerial assault craft or drones provided by the US. (See illustration below) The article claimed that it was the first known use of US drones in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) counter-terrorism operations. No less than President Benigno Aquino III admitted that US drones are circling over the country but supposedly only for reconnaissance. The AP report also said that US drones were used but only provided thermal imaging of the aftermath of the air attack. But the clandestine nature of drone missions leaves us nothing to rely on but the assurance by the rabidly pro-US Aquino. And his assurance does not answer the basic question – if US drones can fly over the country secretly from locations we do not know, what prevents them from launching attacks on Philippine soil?

Illustration from ph.news.yahoo.com

The official account of the air raid on the ASG lair claims that the military used “smart pilots” and not smart bombs. A PAF commander based in Zamboanga City appealed to skeptics to “please credit our Air Force”. OV-10s, the aircraft used in the attack, are too old to handle guided missiles, he said, while admitting that the pilots were trained by US forces.

Thus, whether drones, guided missiles, or simply smart pilots were the key, what is clear is that the US played a crucial role in the Sulu operation. However, the use of drones and smart bombs, which are not totally unfounded allegations, steps up US military intervention in the Philippines, raising anew serious concerns on national sovereignty and possible escalation of US atrocities against innocent Filipino civilians.

Unmanned aerial vehicles

Many do not buy the official PAF account of the Sulu air strike. One of them is a former PAF pilot, Captain Joenel Pogoy. Pogoy, detained for two years after exposing corruption in the air force, maintains that it is unbelievable that OV-10s were used in carrying out the attack in Sulu. Without possible enemy fire, the minimum altitude of an OV-10 should not be below 500 feet above ground level (AGL), Pogoy explained. But if there is an expected enemy attack, it should fly at least 1,000 AGL. He added that OV-10s should fly higher during night operation because of terrain height variation. Pogoy seriously doubts that OV-10s – even if manned by smart pilots as claimed by PAF – could achieve pinpoint accuracy in a mission conducted at 3 AM in a Sulu jungle. The only logical explanation is that drones were used, Pogoy said.

That the PAF could have employed drones from the US in the Sulu operation, which reportedly killed Umbra Jumdail or “Doc Abu” (an ASG commander), Singaporean Muhamda Ali (a member of Jemaah Islamiyah or JI), and Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir (a top JI leader and one of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorists) is not farfetched. The US has long been using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the region, including the Philippines. In fact, a number of US drones has reportedly crashed or shot down in Mindanao including in Zamboanga (2002), Sulu (2006 and 2007), and Maguindanao (2008).

The current US drone program, under the auspices of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), started immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Previously used for simple intelligence gathering, the drones were armed and used for assassination of targeted individual terrorist leaders, even including those outside official war zones, thus further inflaming the fundamental question of US intervention and sovereignty issues. It was first used in February 2002 in the former mujaheeden base Zhawar Kili in Afghanistan against a “tall man” that CIA operatives thought was Osama bin Laden. It turned out that the target was an impoverished Afghan scavenging for scrap metal, according to journalists who probed the incident. He was killed with two others that the CIA, despite the later admission that the tall man was not bin Laden, insisted were “legitimate” targets. (Read brief history of US drone program here)

Under the Obama administration, it has been noted that the use of drones in America’s counterterrorism campaign has greatly intensified. President Barack Obama has not only publicly recognized US drone strikes but has even defended them saying that a “pinpoint strike” is “less intrusive” of other countries’ sovereignty than other military ways to target al Qaeda. (Watch video below).

Was the use of US drones to eliminate al Qaeda-linked terrorists basing in Sulu “less intrusive” of Philippine sovereignty? Not for countries like Pakistan, which is demanding that US drones be removed from their country; and Iran, which captured a US drone flying over their airspace calling it an invasion and dangerous act.

Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, deploys a missile-bearing drone about once every four days while former President George Bush, who initiated the discredited US global war on terror, deploys a drone only once every 47 days, according to one estimate. The US today is also said to be spending more than nine times on drones than when the CIA first used attack drones under the war on terror in 2002.

“isn’t perfect, never is”

Worse, the use of remote-controlled aircraft does not only seriously impinge on other countries’ national sovereignty. Their increased use under Obama has also resulted in a significant number of civilians killed. Pakistan is a case in point. According to data culled by non-profit think tank New America Foundation, there were only 42 US drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 to 2008. When Obama took over in 2009, the number went up to 53, and more than doubled to 118 in 2010. Last year, there were 70 reported US drone strikes in Pakistan, and 11 so far this year (as of March 13, 2012). The New America said that based on their account, some 17% or almost two out of every 10 people killed by US drones were neither leaders nor members of al Qaeda, Taliban, or any terrorist group. From 2004 to 2012, it has monitored 290 reported drone strikes that killed as much as 2,764 people, of which almost 470 were civilians. One example is the case of a 12-year old Pakistani boy who was killed in a drone attack on Oct. 31, 2011 as exposed by UK-based lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, a campaigner against the use of drones. The child victim had volunteered to help Smith by taking photos of people killed by US drones. In Yemen, an Al Jazeera report said that drone attacks have become more frequent than in Pakistan, killing up to 500 people many of whom were civilians.

The same danger is true with so-called smart bombs, which are not as smart as claimed. For instance, during the February 2001 air attacks on Iraq launched by the US and Britain, Pentagon admitted that most of the smart bombs missed their targets. A separate account said that the bombs missed their targets by as much as 100 meters. US defense officials gave the bombs an accuracy of “about a B minus or a C plus”. In the Kosovo War, it turned out that the accuracy of the smart bombs used by British forces was only 40 percent. In another incident, US smart bombs “accidentally” hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo War. Former Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral Craig Quigley described air strikes using smart bombs this way: “It isn’t perfect. It never is…” Unfortunately for the population where these bombs are being dropped, even the slightest miscalculation could prove massively fatal.

Projecting US power

Drones, together with special operations troops, are expected to play an increasingly more prominent role in US global defense strategy. Facing its worst economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression, the US has been forced to cut back on its defense spending to address its burgeoning debt and budget deficit. Consequently, it has been looking for more cost-effective ways – in the economic as well as political sense – to continually project US military might globally.

In its budget request for fiscal year 2013, the US Defense department is calling for a 30% increase in its fleet of armed drones in the coming years, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Quoting Defense officials, the WSJ said that from the current 61 drone combat patrols around the clock, with up to four drones in each patrol, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta intends to “operate 65 combat air patrols constantly with the ability to temporarily surge to 85 combat air patrols.” US defense officials are also planning to deploy more special operations teams at a growing number of “lily pads” or forward operating bases (FOBs). The US plans to increase special forces by 10%, from 63,750 this year to 70,000 by 2015. (See illustration below)

Illustration from online.wsj.com

The increased use of secretive combat drones and special forces will be felt in the Philippines and the rest of the Asia Pacific, which the US has given a more prominent role in its current defense strategy that has special attention on China. (Read document here and analysis here) Negotiations are ongoing between Philippine and US defense and foreign affairs officials to expand US military presence here including the deployment of more special forces, holding more and bigger military exercises, and stationing of US Navy ships. Meanwhile, the largest Balikatan war games yet have been scheduled from April 16 to 27, involving 4,500 personnel from the US Pacific Command. And of course, the admission by Aquino that deadly US drones have been regularly flying over Philippine airspace from undisclosed destinations. Aside from the Philippines, Australia has also already committed to host up to 2,500 US Marines in Darwin in Northern Australia as well as possibly allowing the basing of long-range US drones on Cocos Islands, atolls in the Indian Ocean off northwest Australia.

The idea of people in supposedly sovereign countries being killed at a touch of a button by unaccountable and anonymous CIA operatives from some remote area pushes the cold-bloodedness of US intervention to unprecedented heights.

The use of lethal military technology from the US and the increased presence of their troops in the Philippines seriously violate our sovereignty as a country while further inflaming our internal conflict and unnecessarily escalating our tension with China. The Aquino administration, behind the pretext of improving our national security and protecting the country’s territorial integrity, is putting the Filipino people in a great and unimaginable danger. #

US agenda in Asia and the risks that Aquino is courting

Officials say the Philippines needs more US troops to counter China's "bullying", but is it really for the national interest? (Photo from inquirer.net)

Manila and Washington have both denied that the bilateral strategic dialogue between their senior diplomats and defense officials last week intends to bring back permanent American military bases in the Philippines. The talks, they said, is just meant to explore increased US military presence in the country such as conducting more joint exercises and rotating more American troops.

Officials said that the threat posed by China to both countries justifies the direction that the dialogue aims to pursue. The US State Department declared that protecting the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is an interest shared by the Philippines and the US. Its Defense Department said that they want to discuss how America’s enhanced posture in Asia can be useful to the Philippines. Meanwhile, for our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), “we need to have a good neighbor on the block” so that the country can no longer be bullied by China.

What’s driving America’s renewed interest in Asia? Is it really for the national interest to play an eager part in the US agenda in the region?  Or is the Aquino administration courting undue risks by hosting heightened US military presence and upping the ante in the country’s territorial dispute with China?

Economic crisis drives US pivot to Asia

The expanded military cooperation with the Philippines forms part of Washington’s “pivot” to Asia, as State Secretary Hillary Clinton called the shift in US focus from Afghanistan and Iraq to Asia, where “the future of politics will be decided”. This pivot is being driven by the ever worsening crisis of global capitalism of which the US is the center. In an essay entitled America’s Pacific Century in November last year, Clinton wrote that Asia will yield the biggest returns in US investments at a time when the country is facing a severe economic crisis. Clinton described Asia as central to US economic and strategic interests with its vast markets and investment areas crucial to its own economic recovery.

Under the Obama administration, the US has been steadily laying the groundwork for a reinvigorated American economic clout in Asia. In last year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Hawaii, President Barack Obama was able to secure wide support for the US-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal to enhance US free trade and investment with the region. The agreement, which the Philippines will soon join, is expected to be finalized this year. Its increasing economic interests in Asia thus necessitate the refocusing of US military projection in the region.

Expanded military ties

The Philippines, along with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Thailand, have long maintained treaty alliances with the US. But the ascent of China as an economic behemoth has posed new challenges for American interests in the region. China is being depicted as having the greatest potential to compete militarily with the US and a threat to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which for the first time is being considered as a matter of US national interest. Thus, as Clinton wrote, there is a need not only to sustain but to “update” US’s existing alliances which will serve as the fulcrum of its pivot to Asia. This entails the expansion of existing military cooperation and forging new ties for defense and security.

When finalized, the deal with the Philippines will follow improved US military arrangements with other long-time allies like Australia and Singapore. The pact with Australia allows the US to station up to 2,500 Marines in a military base in Darwin while the deal with Singapore will let it station combat Navy ships for forward deployment. The US has been building up as well its military relations with Vietnam through joint naval exercises, and in August last year, the former Cold War foes forged their first formal military deal. It is also aggressively pursuing new bilateral ties including even with Burma, which Clinton visited last December – the first trip by a US Secretary of State in more than half a century.

US priorities for 21st century defense

Updating existing military alliances and forging new ones, however, have to be pursued in the midst of the harsh economic realities facing the US. Amid its raging public debt crisis that has been caused in part by costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration released this month its latest defense strategy document Sustaining US global leadership: Priorities for 21st century defense. The document was the result of “an assessment of US defense strategy in the light of the changing geopolitical environment and changing fiscal circumstances”.

Consequently, the latest US defense strategy calls for developing “innovative, low-cost and small-footprint approaches” to achieve US security objectives, relying on bilateral and multilateral training exercises, rotational deployments and advisory capabilities. This will allow US forces to “conduct a sustainable pace of presence operations abroad” and at the same time let it commit to a large-scale operation in one region while still having the capability to impose “unacceptable costs” on an aggressor in a second region. But given its reduced resources, the US needs to make thoughtful choices on the location and frequency of these operations. As mentioned, Asia is high on Obama’s list of security priorities. Apparently referring to the South China Sea, the defense strategy reaffirmed US commitment to “assure access to and use of global commons by maintaining relevant and interoperable military capabilities”.

Economic sanction

News of expanded PH-US military cooperation earned strong condemnation from Global Times, one of the mouthpieces of the Chinese government. In its editorial Make Philippines pay for balancing act, the broadsheet denounced the Philippines for inviting more US troops and increased presence by using the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. It called for well “well-measured sanctions” against the Philippines and “make it ponder the choice of losing a friend such as China and being a vain partner of the US”. Global Times proposed that China “consider cooling down its business ties with the Philippines”.

While not an official policy statement of the Chinese government, what the Global Times editorial said is not an empty threat. It underscored one of the risks that come with Aquino’s excessively pro-US foreign policy. The export-oriented Philippine economy has seen the demand for its products abroad decline amid the raging global crisis, substantially slowing down gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Philippine exports have contracted by 5.6% from January to November 2011 with exports to the US, which is at the center of the crisis, falling by 6.2 percent. On the contrary, amid the contraction in exports to the US, exports to China remained robust, growing by almost 9.9% during the same period.

False sense of security

More importantly, increased US presence presents a continuing risk to the country’s national sovereignty and its people. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which Filipino and American officials said will remain the basis of expanded military cooperation, has allowed the virtual permanent basing here of as many as 600 US soldiers that for legal experts and some legislators is an infringement of the 1987 Constitution. Several cases of human rights violations and other abuses involving American troops have been reported including the highly controversial Subic rape case.

And worse, while the Philippines is willing to face these risks, Aquino is clinging to a false sense of security by inviting more American soldiers and more US military ships in the country. Last year, the US embassy in Manila clarified that the US “does not take side in regional territorial disputes” in reaction to a Malacañang statement saying that Washington will surely honor its commitment with the Philippines and come to the aid of the country in case a military conflict erupts in the South China Sea. Instead, the US will simply arm the Philippines by selling it “affordable military hardware” so that it can “defend itself”. Ironically, the possibility of an actual military conflict with China is being stoked by aggressive projection of US military might in the region in connivance with the Aquino administration, putting the country and our people at risk.

In the end, the question is not which party to side with, but how the Philippines can best protect its territorial integrity. It is not in our interest to play a willing part in US military maneuverings in the region. If there is a perception that China is bullying us, the solution is not to run for help to a bigger bully. Diplomacy within the framework of mutually beneficial relations with our neighbors in the region should be our utmost weapon. Clearly, the best foreign policy is one that is anchored on the assertion of national sovereignty and not one that relies on a Big Brother to protect the country’s interests. #