AS always, US officials, this time Vice President Kamala Harris, have proven to be masters of prevarication, of ambiguity and of propaganda.
“Harris affirms US pledge to defend PH”; “Harris urges defense of sovereignty in South China Sea”; “US ready to defend PH vs armed attack in SCS.” These were the headlines describing Harris’ alleged assurances that we fall under the US eagle’s wings.
Her most detailed statement, “An armed attack on the Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US Mutual Defense commitments. And that is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines,” is what she told President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
US officials are certainly clever wordsmiths. What we think they are saying is that they will defend us in our territorial disputes over the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal.
What they are really saying is other than an outright armed attack on our occupied islands in the Spratlys or on our forces — which is very unlikely in this day and age — they cannot interfere in our territorial disputes with China, Vietnam and Malaysia, since they are officially neutral over these squabbles, and they themselves don’t have any territorial claims in the entire South China Sea.
The US can only watch China’s moves to assert its sovereignty in the Spratlys, as they have done since 1988, since it is bound by their official government policy not to intervene in territorial disputes of other countries.
And the Chinese have been clever enough not to have engaged, nor will it engage, in fire fights with us in the Spratlys, which we call the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), a municipality of Palawan.
Has the US helped us to defend our territorial claims ever? Absolutely not.
The Chinese occupied unchallenged seven reefs in the KIG (as did the Vietnamese) in 1988 when President Cory Aquino was too busy fending off coup attempts and the resurgence of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
They built the first structure on one of these reefs, Mischief Reef, in 1994, which the Fidel Ramos administration discovered months later after being alerted by a fisherman. What Ramos did was to send the press (including me) to fly by military helicopters over the reef, to take pictures either to create international outrage (which didn’t really happen) or, I highly suspect, to get the Chinese to fire at the Hueys, suspecting they were on a strafing or bombing mission, and kill the media men — which would really create that outrage.
A Chinese civilian government vessel simply blocked and shooed off a First Pacific-Enrique Razon surveying ship in 2011 away from the Reed Bank (part of the Spratlys). No help from the US.
The Chinese sent dozens of coast guard ships and civilian fishing vessels into Scarborough Shoal’s (Panatag) lagoon in a stand-off with our vessels in 2012, until the US fooled President Aquino 3rd into ordering our ships to abandon the area. Even the mighty US armed forces simply watched the Chinese transform from 2014 to 2015 the seven reefs they had occupied in the KIG into islands with facilities that could make them at a moment’s notice military fortresses.
Did we get help from the US? Zilch, the Americans instead frightened the Aquino 3rd government into agreeing to allow five of our camps to be used as their bases whenever they want, in what is euphemistically called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Harris is simply mouthing motherhood statements, self-serving propaganda that won’t help us at all in our territorial and maritime-claim disputes in the South China. It is the siren song that she and other US officials have sung so often to lure and fool us into crawlig under the US Eagle’s wings, scaring us that if we don’t, the big bad wolf that is China will eat us.
Every single ranking US official on a visit to the Philippines makes these empty assurances. I don’t understand why we still believe them, and make these our newspapers’ banner stories, when any reading of the Mutual Defense Treaty, a bit of reasoning, and studying the Scarborough Shoal stand-off in 2012 clearly show these “commitments” are unadulterated hogwash.
Other than the fact that the Chinese have proven to be clever enough not to militarily attack our troops in the KIG and Scarborough, there is a provision in the Mutual Defense Treaty that ties Pentagon’s hands in the issue of defending us in these territories we claim.
The 1951 US Mutual Defense Treaty’s (MDT) Article V reads as follows:
“For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.” (My itals.)
The kindest meaning of “metropolitan territory” for us is our mainland, not necessarily a place that is densely populated as the word “metropolis” means. But do “island territories under its jurisdiction” mean the Kalayaan Island Group established by Presidential Decree 1596 in 1978 by Ferdinand E. Marcos?
No. The Spratlys group is claimed by not just China but Vietnam, Taiwan and partly by Malaysia which have seized and occupied many of the islands and reefs there. Even if we occupy 10 features, the US doesn’t recognize our sovereignty over these, and therefore are not within our “jurisdiction” as defined by the MDT.
But our entire South China Sea disputes, especially with China has been almost totally about the KIG. The Reed Bank area near the Malampaya wells, believed to be as rich in natural gas as the nearby Malampaya gas field, is also arguably within the KIG.
Have Harris, President Biden, nor any other US official said that the US will come to our defense if we assert our sovereignty over the KIG? No.
Have Harris nor any other US official ever used the term “West Philippine Sea” invented by Aquino 3rd to refer to the EEZ west of Luzon, nor even the KIG? No. The US doesn’t recognize our claims to these.
Why? Because the US official stance is that it does not recognize the KIG as part of our territory under our jurisdiction — to use the MDT’s terms.
The US official policy that it cannot interfere in a conflict in the KIG because it is a disputed territory is contained in the “Maritime Claims Reference Manual” of the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General, which declares the US government stand on all countries’ maritime claims.
In the Philippine section it notes that PD 1596 “declared 33 islands, cays, shoals and reefs contained in a delimited area (Kalayaan Island Group) of the Spratly Islands to be Philippine territory.”
It declares, “This claim is disputed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia. The US does not take a position on territorial disputes in the Spratly Islands.”
The US indeed invoked its policy of not interfering in a territorial dispute when Aquino 3rd begged President Obama — even rushing to meet the American leader in Washington in June 2012 — to escort Philippine vessels into Scarborough Shoal. Obama refused the plea.
There is no doubt of course that the US will come to our assistance if China attacks, in the MDT’s terms, our “metropolitan territory,” most likely Puerto Princesa and Mactan since there are the two EDCA bases there — Antonio Bautista Air Base and Benito Ebuen Air Base, respectively,
But that would be an entirely different scenario: a war between the US and China. China won’t send soldiers to invade the country — what for? China will “send” missile-delivered nuclear bombs to destroy those US bases, made possible by EDCA. But the US will come to our defense only by nuking Chinese cities of comparable sizes, to keep the door open for negotiations to prevent an all-out nuclear war.
What irony indeed. The Aquino administration’s gullibility that the US will defend us against China that it agreed to have the EDCA will likely force that superpower’s hands to nuke us.
Reversing that Yellow regime’s colossal foreign affairs error should be Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s priority.
*These points are discussed in detail, with the sources footnoted in my book Debacle: The Aquino Regime’s Scarborough Fiasco and the South China Sea Arbitration Deception. Available at Popular and La Solidaridad bookstores, online purchase at https://rigobertotiglao.com/debacle/ and amazon.com
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