First of 2 parts
PRESIDENT Duterte should forget about the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and whether he should abrogate or charge the Americans for it. He should instead junk the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the new form, and a much more cost-effective way for the United States to have its military bases back in the Philippines. EDCA was the end-product of the Yellows’ Sinophobia, which the US helped whip up to a frenzy that there was little resistance to it when it was instituted in 2014.
The VFA merely establishes the legal framework governing the US military when they are here for joint exercises with the Philippine military, which is allowed under the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. For instance, the US marine convicted of murder and rape was imprisoned in a special military facility approved by the Americans and not in the national penitentiary, which the VFA allowed.
On the other hand, the EDCA practically restored US military basing in the Philippines, with the country’s five military camps to be used by Americans for prepositioning its war materiel and staging ground for its troops going to battle whenever the Americans say they need to do this. EDCA in effect allows the US a cheaper, as-needed military base in the Philippines.
The agreement specifies that stockpiling of war materiel and stationing of troops will only be temporary, a word however it didn’t define, whether this means two weeks or two years, for example.
It is certainly ironic that what Corazon Aquino could not do despite her popularity in in 1991 — extend the stay of US military bases — her son Benigno Aquino 3rd did, repackaged as the EDCA, one of the worst legacies of the Yellow regime.
Signed in April 2014, EDCA was one of the consequences of Aquino’s belligerent stance toward China, which the US cleverly maneuvered him to adopt. This led to the Scarborough Shoal stand-off and its consequent loss to the Chinese because of his and his foreign affairs secretary bungling, and in their attempt to recover it, to the filing of an arbitration case against China in 2013.
To justify its hostility to China and to cover up for its loss of Scarborough Shoal, Aquino and the Yellows, with US help, whipped up Sinophobia in the country, claiming that China will grab more reefs and islands off in the Spratlys, and even invade the country. They frightened the Philippine political and economic elite through their strong hold on media, to believe that the only way for “David” — as foreign secretary Albert del Rosario melodramatically depicted the Philippines – to protect itself from the Asian Goliath was to put it back under the US eagle’s wing.
“Gladly,” US President Obama and his officials told Aquino in their meeting in Washington on June 8, 2012, right after the loss of Scarborough on June 3. “But we won’t not be able to do so as the Philippines is too far, while China is at your backyard. You kicked out our military bases out in 1992, remember?”
“But we have a new kind of basing strategy, and it won’t need your Senate’s concurrence,” the Americans told Aquino. They called this “enhanced defense cooperation,” the term “enhanced” being a euphemism for American military boots on the ground, whenever they wish to.
The EDCA document itself was copied and pasted from the US agreements with Bulgaria signed in 2006 and Romania in 2005 intended to check alleged Russian expansionism. In its EDCA version, the target is obviously “Chinese expansionism.”
This new US global strategy involves the setting up of cost-effective, spartan camps within the host country’s military bases, without the massive facilities, personnel and its required amenities of its former permanent bases, such as those they had at Clark Airfield and Subic Naval Base for decades until 1992. Officially called “cooperative security locations” by the Pentagon, these “lily-pads” would allow US troops or “advisers’ to be deployed quickly to battle and the stockpiling of weaponry and supplies ready for larger troop deployments.
In our case, these “lily pads,” according to EDCA, would be five where they could stockpile military materiel whenever they want to, and which they would quickly convert into their military bases: Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), Basa Air Base (Pampanga), Fort Magsaysay (Nueva Ecija), Lumbia Airport (Cagayan de Oro) and Benito Ebuen Air Base (Mactan, Cebu).
The Chinese had gotten wind of the Obama proposal, which prodded them to risk adverse international opinion by embarking on the construction of their own much bigger, more permanent “lily-pads”: the eight reefs in the Spratlys they had occupied since 1988 were transformed into artificial islands complete with ports, buildings and communications equipment. The US military claims these already are practically military bases.
There are an estimated such two dozen such “lily pads” around the world. As the Pentagon explained in a 2009 presentation, the aim is to “lighten US foreign footprints to reduce friction with host nations” and avoid offending “host nation and regional sensitivities.”
The EDCA though wasn’t just a part of the Pentagon’s 21st-century military basing strategy. It was a crucial element in the US “Pivot to Asia” foreign policy stance, unveiled by President Obama in 2011 but which actually was already being implemented in a low-key manner by his predecessor President Bush. The Pivot was essentially the US’ massive deployment of its diplomatic, economic and military resources to strengthen its hegemony in Asia, and contain the rise of China.
Part of this “Pivot” required reversing President Arroyo’s friendly stance toward China, to make the Philippines its shrill anti-China proxy in Asia. Arroyo’s dumb successor proved to be so easy to manipulate for this.
EDCA was signed in 2014 merely by Aquino’s defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin with a lower ranking US official inking it, the American ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. Since it is just an executive agreement, Duterte can therefore abrogate it tomorrow, to take effect one year after.
EDCA is and will be a boon to the US, one of the most important achievements in Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” and one of the worst adverse consequences of Aquino’s belligerence toward China. It projected US military power in the South China Sea, where it has no business being in.
A pro-US academic specializing in the South China disputes pointed out the huge advantages EDCA gave for American encirclement of China:
“Once US forces are deployed to the five agreed locations, these facilities will have significant strategic implications in the South China Sea. American use of these operationally flexible facilities spread across the sprawling Philippine archipelago will render Chinese planning and efforts to deny US forces the ability to operate in disputed waters much more difficult, if not futile. Use of these airfields would facilitate the rapid deployment of US air assets from Guam, Hawaii, Australia and elsewhere in case of a crisis in the South China Sea.
In such an event, US forces operating from the agreed locations could confound China’s anti-access/area denial planning. US fighter planes, reconnaissance aircraft and drones operating from these facilities could augment a carrier strike group’s complement of over 70 aircraft, increasing its defensive capabilities when operating in the South China Sea. Air-refueling tankers operating from these locations in the Philippines could also increase the combat radius of carrier-based F/A- 18 multi-role fighters. With midair refueling capabilities, a carrier strike group operating in the Philippine Sea could launch long-range air assets for strike missions in the South China Sea and even along the southern coast of China.”
What the academic of course didn’t mention is that EDCA, with all the activities it allows the US military to do in the Philippines, will automatically drag the country into a war against a US enemy, even make it a target not just for Chinese but also Russian ballistic missiles, with Filipinos, even the Congress, having no say at all.
That is why I said EDCA is one of the worst legacies, if not the worst, of the Yellow regime and its belligerence toward China. How can we claim to have become neutral, when the US can use our camps as military bases when they want to, even for unjust wars?
(To be continued on Wednesday)