RODRIGO Duterte hasn’t lost his penchant for telling it like it is, even beating this professional writer in crafting a precise, vivid term for our military camps that the former president Benigno Aquino 3rd and incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. are allowing the US armed forces to use whenever they please, especially in a war with China.
“These are platforms for war,” Duterte said in a March 7 interview with Pastor Apollo Quiboloy aired over SMNI network.* Indeed, US and Philippine officials think Filipinos are a stupid people that they can easily fool by claiming, as Defense department Officer in Charge Carlito Galvez Jr. and the US ambassador have been doing — that these camps under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are designed for “humanitarian, disaster-relief operations.”
Everyone in this world, whether he’s pro-US or pro-China, sees the EDCA sites as designed as camps for US forces to use as “forward operating” bases in a war with China. It is amazing how they can use words to hide the reality that these are platforms for war: “forward operating sites” the Pentagon has called these, “designated areas” the EDCA document refers to them. “Idiots,” Duterte indirectly referred to those using these terms.
As idiotic or just misinformed is the Defense department spokesman Arsenio Andolong’s claim that “EDCA sites would not be American military bases. These sites would be used as storage and warehouse facilities for military logistics.”
Obviously, he didn’t even read the EDCA document, whose Article III reads:
“The Philippines hereby authorizes and agrees that US forces and contractors, and vehicles, vessels and aircraft operated by or for United States forces may conduct the following activities with respect to Agreed Locations: training; transit; support and related activities; refueling of aircraft; bunkering of vessels; temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; pre-positioning of equipment, supplies and materiel; deploying forces and materiel; and such other activities as the Parties may agree.”
What is so anomalous about our EDCA is that in similar agreements the US entered into with Bulgaria and Romania in 2005 and 2006 (which was their template for our EDCA), the US can have only a maximum of 2,500 personnel (both civilian and military) at any one time. In contrast, our EDCA prescribes no such limit. The US may well station two brigades of 30,000 Marines in the camps under EDCA, which is probably the reason why our biggest army camp, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, was among the first five EDCA locations designated in 2014.
American propaganda has made it appear that their forces will be here only temporarily, with the use of the term “on a rotational basis.” But the EDCA text itself contains no provision as to how long a “rotation” of forces will be. A US Special Forces brigade, for example, could be at Fort Magsaysay for a year, and EDCA would allow that.
One got to be really stupid not to see that three of the new sites given by Marcos to the US, all in Northern Luzon, even at the very tip of Cagayan province (Naval Base Camilo Osias), are intended for a possible war with China if it attempts to reclaim its rogue province, Taiwan, the probability for which has increased only this year.
Duterte in the interview even explained at length Taiwan’s history that it was taken over by the Kuomintang forces after their defeat by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party, so that China has compelling reasons to integrate it to the mainland.
Duterte said, however, that we won’t be just the US “platforms for war.” “Because of these EDCA bases, we will be the multiple targets of Chinese missiles once war breaks out between China and the US.” Uulanin tayo ng mga missile ng China. Is that our national interest?”
Even without the scenario of a war, EDCA will be counterproductive to our national interest and won’t constitute a “deterrent” to China’s “aggressiveness” in the South China Sea.
In fact, the effect will be the opposite. China as a rising superpower cannot afford to appear to be cowed by American aggressiveness through the EDCA. It will beef up its fortifications in the artificial islands it has built starting in 2014 in the Spratlys (in retaliation against the Philippines’ filing of an arbitration suit against it), since it is threatened now — for the first time since US military bases here were closed down in 1992 — by US “boots in the ground” in the nine camps. With the US openly challenging China, it cannot, as a rising superpower, abandon its claims in the area, and will be more aggressive in shooing away our fishermen and state vessels from areas in the South China Sea they believe is theirs.
I find it astonishing that even intelligent people have been conned into believing that China’s arbitrary nine-dash line is its basis for its claims in the South China Sea, and therefore it is unreasonable to dispute our own claims. This is factually wrong, and China doesn’t even assert that.
Its claims are based on government declarations of sovereignty and effective — even if interrupted — control since at least before World War 2. Our claim over the Spratlys was made only in 1978 by Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., and the claims involving our exclusive economic zone (EZZ) — formulated as a global treaty only in 1994 — are totally hogwash: EEZs are maritime rights that cannot beat sovereign claims.
The US and Philippine officials’ incessantly repeated propaganda line is that the Chinese have been harassing our fishermen. But from the Chinese view, they are merely asserting their sovereignty. Shouldn’t a superpower defend its sovereignty? And didn’t such “harassment” only start after our government vessels disrupted the “peaceful coexistence” among fishermen from various nationalities that prevailed for decades in the Spratlys when they boarded and tried to arrest Chinese fishermen at Scarborough Shoal in 2012?
Duterte, in the interview said, however: “I am not criticizing the President. The EDCA decision had been made. He agreed to additional bases. We can’t do anything. Nothing can come out of my criticisms. It is the privilege of the President to make that decision, just as it was mine not to implement EDCA during my time.”
However, I vehemently disagree with that view of Duterte’s. His political base has been the largest ever in our history, going by his 88 percent approval in June just before he left office, a level that was statistically unchanged during his entire six-year term. That practically means, less the habitual contrarians, the Yellows’ base, and the plain ignorant, that he has the entire country believing in his leadership and his wisdom.
Filipinos will listen to his views, and if he continues to make known his analysis of EDA, it will soon be exposed and opposed as a lopsided agreement that will make our country, using his vivid terms, as the US’ platform for war with China, and at the same time a target for Chinese missiles.
Your job to serve the country isn’t finished, Mr. Duterte. Only you in this country have the prestige and credibility to enlighten our people, and maybe even President Marcos on what EDCA really is, that it is a path to national catastrophe we should not risk taking. You cannot abandon the country in this crucial moment of our history.
* Watch the interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3qoIsrU5YQ. Credits are to my colleague Ricardo Saludo for alerting us on this interview and writing a column on it last Monday.
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Book orders: www.rigobertotiglao.com/shop