By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – A few weeks after American senators had visited Manila, anti-China pronouncements began to ring loud again in Philippine media, coupled with news that the US government is seeking to expand its military presence in the country and in the region.
As it was last year, the reported Chinese ‘bullying’ in the Spratlys is being met by the Philippine government’s efforts to bring into the region ‘the bigger bully,’ as Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño describes the trend.
This, despite the availability of another option that critics said would respect the Philippine sovereignty rather than trample on it, and evade further misunderstanding and confrontation in the region. This option revolves around bilateral and multilateral diplomatic initiatives and negotiations. But instead of pursuing this, the Aquino government has been playing tough against China under the shadow of the US military.
This is dangerous, said Rep. Casiño. He warned the Filipino public against the likely eventual mutually beneficial agreement between the US and China, “with us left out,” much like what the US and Spanish governments had done a century before following a mock battle in Manila Bay.
Wanted: a sovereign posture at foreign relations
There is a glaring need to upgrade the Philippine naval forces and its capability to defend against Chinese intrusions (or others’ intrusions for that matter), but why, peoples organizations asked, does the Aquino government’s “solution” hinge on provoking China and being mendicant to US?
“While we condemn China’s bullying tactics against the Philippines in relation to the disputed Spratly Islands and (while we) recognize the necessity to defend our just claims, there is greater danger in allowing an increased US military presence in our country in the hope of relying on US for help against China,” the progressive labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said in a statement.
Such danger becomes immediately apparent when the Chinese state media declared recently that China would punish the Philippines for allowing increased US military presence.
“We should brace for further misunderstanding in the region, all because the government chose to sell to the US instead of standing its ground and asserting its sovereignty in resolving the Spratlys issue,” Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Emmi de Jesus said.
The Gabriela solon also said that an “assurance” that the US will not re-establish their bases in Philippine soil is something only government officials willing to be “hoodwinked” would swallow. “Only a puppet, mendicant President will believe this. We know very well that the Visiting Forces Agreement effectively expanded the areas where US military troops can operate and set up base,” said Rep. de Jesus.
US ‘deceptive’ about military basing in the Philippines
For 10 years now, even with an explicit Constitutional ban against foreign military bases, 600 US special operations forces have been stationed in Mindanao, southern island of the Philippines. Reports have placed US troops as participating directly and indirectly in different counter-insurgency operations. They have also been implicated in some cases of human rights violations, the most controversial of which were the rape cases of Nicole and Vanessa and the murder inside a US military facility in Mindanao of Filipino translator Gregan Cardeño.
US troops had been reported to be participating in sensitive domestic military operations against the perceived threats of the Philippine government such as the Bangsamoro rebel army, the communist rebels and groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.
Nancy Gadian, a former navy officer, revealed a few years ago that the US has established “bases” within camps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). She revealed too how the US troops lord it over in those camps even among the Filipino soldiers, treating the Filipinos like “dogs.”
Given accumulated reports of this kind, the US “assurance” this week that they are not setting up a new military base here expectedly sounded hollow especially to patriotic groups. It flies in the face also of reports saying the US has been buttressing its large bases in Japan and South Korea and stationing another permanent base in Australia’s Northern Territory. And that it is also seeking increased and permanent presence in Asian countries like Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand, considering the region’s strategic sea lanes and rich oil, mineral and marine resources.
The US, said Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, is eyeing the Philippines as a relocation area for thousands of troops to be removed from its Okinawa base in 2013. Protests against US military bases in Okinawa, Japan have dogged the US government for years. So does its planned expansion in the famed tourist attraction in Jeju Island. In the Philippines, protests also greeted the hints that the US is reestablishing military bases in the Philippines.
The US denial about setting up military bases in the Philippines is not only belied by experiences of the last decade but also by its written plans. Based on a US Department of Defense document released last month which the progressive peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) got hold of, it was written that the United States’ government actually plans to hold more joint military exercises and let more US troops “rotate” through the Philippines.
In the said Pentagon document entitled Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st Century Defense, “projecting power in the Asia-Pacific region is among the primary missions of the US Armed Forces.”
The Pentagon paper calls its imperial forays as “a stabilizing presence;” its military operations and intervention outside of US as “stability operations.” They listed as one of primary missions of the US forces the conduct of a “sustainable pace of presence operations abroad, including rotational deployments and bilateral and multilateral training exercises.” All these ultimately aim to increase US influence.
Noting the languages with which the US government and the military calls its deployment and presence abroad, it may only be calling its military basing by another name (ie “rotation”).
Whether the US government calls it military basing or not, experiences showed that little, if any, benefit is gained by the country in exchange for lost sovereignty and danger of being dragged into another’s war. “Our experience shows that US presence and ‘good relations’ don’t translate to better equipped naval or armed forces,” Casiño said.
In the five or so decades that US bases were overtly operating in the Philippines, the country’s naval forces “hardly improved,” Casiño added. He reiterated the need to be more aggressive in conducting diplomatic initiatives to resolve territorial disputes with neighboring powers, “even as we take steps to upgrade our naval capabilities without being dependent again on American junk.”
The January 2012 Pentagon paper itself noted how, “with its resources reduced”, the US forces will have to make “thoughtful choices” this year regarding the location and frequency of their operations.
The Philippines has been relatively one of the cheapest allies to maintain for the US. Last December for example, even President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, currently the US’ “number one puppet” in the Philippines, joked about the gap he himself has observed between what the US has been giving to other allied Asian countries in military aid and used equipment and what it has been giving to the Philippines.
Compared to what the US has reportedly given to Philippine neighboring US allies, Aquino has been angling for less number of F16 fighter jets plus another used boat from the US. But even these are not assured to come.
The US has donated to the Philippines a World War II vessel last year, at the height of an on and off Spratlys dispute with China. The American senators who visited last month have already assured Aquino about his requested used navy vessel. His requested F16 fighter jets are still absent in the horizon.
And yet, all these are technically junks already of the US military. In an interview with bulatlat.com, UP Prof. Roland Simbulan, author of books and researches about US global military bases and projection, said that because of the economic crisis in the US, “they’re finding other means to compensate for what they cannot anymore give to their allies by way of assurances.”
Donating the US military’s already obsolete hardware has been one of these means, said Simbulan. High-profile state visits of high-ranking US officials are also another. Last November, US State Secretary Hillary Clinton paid the Philippines a visit. This January, four US Senators who head military and budget committees visited the Philippines.
Obsolete, junk weaponry
Anything that’s added to the Philippine arsenal of weapons and equipment is an improvement, but given the state of today’s technology, the “donations” the country is receiving with much fanfare from the US are items that are marked for the junkyard or globally obsolete, said Simbulan.
Compared to other countries who do not depend on dole-outs and who manage their economies in such a way that they can afford to buy state-of-the-art equipment , the navy vessels donated and the new one promised the Philippines, and even the F16 requested by Aquino, are already “decades behind,” said Simbulan.
For fighting jets, the more advanced now are F22s and F35s. In bolstering one’s defense capability, the latest is the more important, defense is also a competition between technologies, Simbulan noted. He added that the military hardware being promised to Filipinos in exchange for hosting US troops and turning into a US pawn, even that being requested by Aquino, are “primitive” compared to global standards now.
In a sense, the US has been phasing out its F16s, said Simbulan, given that the US now has more deadly fighting jets.
The question asked by most critics is why the Philippine government allows itself to be in a situation of a beggar who cannot choose, when the Philippines is strategically located and rich in mineral and human resources.
“Aquino’s all-out surrender of the country’s sovereignty clearly demonstrates the master-puppet relationship between the US and the Aquino government,” says Randall Echanis, deputy secretary-general of KMP. The peasant leader called on all freedom-loving and patriotic forces in the Philippines to “assert national sovereignty and resist the US’ increasing military intervention in the country.”