WHETHER he likes it or not, global events are developing to make the EDCA issue the first major test of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s leadership and wisdom. His very pro-American officials — ambassador to the US, second cousin Jose “Babe” Romualdez and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, and most of the Filipino elite — will likely urge him to uphold the EDCA, which of course could lead us into the two wars that the US could possibly be involved in, with China and Russia.
That position would be a very slippery slope putting us, in case even of a limited conflict, in the cross-hairs not just of China but Russia. Even without a war, Marcos’ acquiescence to US plans to activate EDCA would reverse his predecessor’s huge gains in drawing the country closer to its biggest trading partner, and perhaps even the biggest source of cheap official credit.
China can also play dirty when it thinks the US is making the country its puppet. In the 2012 Scarborough Shoal stand-off our banana exports to China suddenly had to be inspected for infestation — resulting in the rotting of thousands of dollars’ worth of shipments at Chinese ports.
“EDCA” of course is the euphemistically named “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement” which the US very cleverly got the Benigno Aquino 3rd administration to enter into, when they begged President Obama in 2012 for military intervention in its stand-off with the Chinese Coast Guard vessels at Scarborough Shoal.* Obama had in effect told Aquino: “We could help you, but without bases in the Philippines, the South China Sea is too far for our logistical and troop-deployment requirements, unless you let us use your military camps.” Aquino sheepishly agreed.
This agreement — signed only by then Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and the US ambassador here at the time, Philip Goldberg — wasn’t really new, as the US got Romania and Bulgaria to sign similar pacts in 2005 and 2006.
These pacts call for the implementation of the modern, cost-effective version of the former US bases, after the Americans realized they didn’t need permanent, and extremely expensive bases such as the Clark and Subic airbases. All the US needed were what its Pentagon strategists called “lily-pads.”
They would use the existing military camps of its puppets when war loomed, where they would stockpile their war materiel, station their advanced troops, set up their communication equipment, and prepare their airstrips (and even ports) for use by war planes and ships. Aquino and Gazmin in the EDCA agreed to let the US use five camps whenever they wanted, euphemistically calling these “agreed locations”:
These five “agreed locations” for the US troops under the EDCA: Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), Basa Air Base (Pampanga), Fort Magsaysay (Nueva Ecija), Lumba Airport (Cagayan de Oro), and Benito Ebuen Air Base (Mactan, Cebu). They’re distributed in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Now imagine if a Russian or Chinese nuclear bombs hit those locations, at least the US embassy in Manila and Malacañang will be spared.
The EDCA faded from attention during the administration of President Duterte, as there was no geopolitical flashpoint during his time. Duterte moved the country diplomatically and business-wise with China so that there was no need for EDCA which Aquino thought would be a deterrent to Chinese territorial aggression.
Recent developments though have raised the possibility that the US would invoke EDCA.
The Chinese Communist Party’s recent congress elected Xi Jinping into a third term as its unchallenged leader, and he has practically vowed that under his leadership, at likely his last term, Taiwan will be reintegrated into China, by whatever means. Xi also reportedly packed the party’s core leadership called the Politburo with his trusted allies and generals, who would implement without hesitation a decision to take over Taiwan by force. For its part, the US taunted China by having its House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visit Taipei — practically violating its “One China” policy set decades back during the Nixon administration — and assure its leaders that the US will defend it.
Whether Xi will cross what the US has declared is the “red line” that would result in war, inspecting the Philippine military camps under EDCA would be a strong message of its resolve to fight China if needed.
Indeed, an unnamed defense official told visiting Filipino journalists last Thursday that the US wants five other camps to fall under EDCA use, in addition to the current five. It was “a point of conversation” between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin 3rd and Philippine senior defense undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. when they met in Hawaii recently.
That disclosure by an unidentified US official was a classic in geopolitical messaging, that told China and maybe even Russia: “We’re preparing for war if you invade Taiwan, don’t doubt that.”
Indeed, the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division’s 4,700 crack troops were deployed last week to Romania, which shares a border with Ukraine, with Russia itself not too far off. Romania entered into an EDCA pact with the US in 2005. The light infantry unit, nicknamed the “Screaming Eagles,” is trained to deploy on any battlefield in the world within hours, ready to fight, the commander of the paratroopers said. Will Marcos allow such deployment in the five “agreed locations,” with the US invoking EDCA with the Philippines?
Marcos should convene the National Security Council — if there is still one — to study and provide recommendations on the EDCA issue, as soon as possible, so he won’t be unprepared if the Taiwan hostilities break out.
*Details of this episode are in my book Debacle: The Aquino Regime’s Scarborough Fiasco and the South China Sea Arbitration Deception. Online orders at rigobertotiglao.com/debacle
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