Analysts warn of dangers in Philippines’ hosting of more US troops, warships

Although waning economically, the US still has the edge in military capabilities, which it may use to bully or declare war against countries resisting the assertion of its economic interests.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Against warnings from Filipino progressive groups, the Philippine government has been rushing headlong into forging increased defense, military and economic agreements and engagements with the United States government. In so doing, critics warned against the dangers being brought into the Philippines by the “puppetry” of the current Philippine government, led by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III who is seen as further plunging the Philippines into the status of a neo-colony of US, even at a time when the US is already a global superpower in decline.

Days before the 114th anniversary of Philippine independence, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is in the United States for a state visit. It caps months of numerous high-level talks between US and Philippine security officials. In it, the US has apparently sought, and secured, the Philippine “cooperation” in its pivot, shift, refocusing or rebalancing to Asia-Pacific. That shift, according to US Gen Martine Dempsey, chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, means deploying more US forces as it focuses on the region.

Last Monday in Vietnam US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta detailed their plans to boost US military presence in the Asia-Pacific. It means an increase in ships and more troops, which he said would “rotate in and out.” By 2020, US Defense officials said the US Navy would add about eight ships to the Asia-Pacific region, and overall would have about 60-percent of its fleet assigned here.

The new US defense strategy rolled out this year views America’s future security as dependent on the Asia-Pacific region. Panetta explained this at an earlier press conference last April in the US State Department in Washington after he and US State Secretary Hillary Clinton had a two-plus-two meeting with Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. In this meeting they listed the areas for cooperation, or specifically the roles which the Philippines is expected to play for the US, in what the Communist Party of the Philippines calls as US “interventionist overdrive” in the region.

True enough, from January to Aquino’s June state visit in the United States, the US and the Aquino government have had top military and government officials discussing arrangements that, based on reports, have focused on securing for the US military greater access to Philippine land, water and airspace and support facilities for the docking and resupply of US warships, stationing of US troops and likely base for the operations of US spy and attack drones.

According to US defense officials, they have been doing the same – “strengthening ties and forging new agreements” — in other countries in the Asia-Pacific. In seeking to increase their presence and secure US control over the Asia Pacific, Dempsey said, they are making their “most advanced capabilities more available for security cooperation in the region.”

He visited an example of that in the Philippines shortly before heading to the Shangri-La Dialogue, or the 11th annual Asia Security Summit. Dempsey was in the Philippines for two days this week. He first went to Zamboanga City and met with what he calls as “the outstanding servicemen and women of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines” based in Camp Navarro. There, some 600 US special forces “advise and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police in their operations against transnational terrorists in Mindanao.” And, as Dempsey did when he visited, meet with senior AFP Western Mindanao Command officials. Dempsey “heard their perspectives on counterterrorism efforts in the Southern Philippines.”

In Manila the next day, he met with senior Philippine military and civilian leaders, including President Aquino, Foreign Affairs Sec. Del Rosario, Defense Sec. Gazmin, and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Dellosa, as well as the three service chiefs, including Defense Underscretary Honorio S. Azcueta. The latter has been telling the Philippine media about what they had discussed with Dempsey.

Azcueta said they handed Dempsey the Philippine military wishlist (asking the US for their excess defense articles), but Dempsey had reportedly not commented on it although he already knows about it.

On top of the Philippine government agreeing to host the US military and their equipment, which the US government refuses to call as military basing, the high-level talks between US and Philippine foreign relations and military officials have resulted in agreements that Philippine and US security officials would have “real-time information sharing on security developments.” Azcueta and Dempsey have also stressed the need for more bilateral exercises to enhance US and Phil troops’ interoperability.

The US troops and the AFP would also continue cooperation on the protection of cyberspace; expand joint information sharing, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities, as agreed by Panetta and Gazmin in Singapore last week.

Like a proxy of the American military, the US government also appears to expect the Philippines to advance its positions in regional alliances such as the ASEAN, which will have a meeting next month. The US government claims it wants to maintain freedom of navigation, for example, in sea lanes in the Asia-Pacific where most of its oil tankers and raw materials pass. It has also apparently viewed the Philippines’ renewed efforts to improve its minimum defense posture for maintaining maritime security as its own project.

Coincidentally, a day after Dempsey left the Philippines the Senate happened to approve on third and final reading the bill seeking to amend the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act.

Danger from a waning superpower’s despair

Aside from the often complained about problems such as prostitution, accidental killings of locals, toxic wastes and direct intervention in Philippine affairs brought about by increased US military presence, the Philippine government’s increased engagements with the US is threatening to bring even bigger problems to Filipinos. And it is not just the possibility of alienating the ASEAN neighbors or riling China, an emerging world power whom the US itself fears could surpass them in the near future.

As a lone but declining world power, “the US posturing these days is dangerous … it may trigger a war just to (attempt) to recover,” Roland Simbulan told Bulatlat.com in an interview. Simbulan is a UP professor and geopolitics expert with extensive studies on US military engagements in the Philippines and in the region.

“As we examine major powers in the past, they trigger wars just to hold on to their superpower or empire status,” said Simbulan. Today the United States is not as powerful economically as before. Its military might has remained as its edge though, or asset, notes Simbulan. It is thus dangerous for the US to continue with its warmongering “because it relies on force, however waning that may be as a result of its economic problems.”

If war breaks out due to US government’s “interventionist overdrive” in the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines as one big US military base for the “rotating in and out” of US troops, ships, planes and equipment, will logically be dragged into it. As it is, even at the saber-rattling stage against China, Filipino fisherfolk, hotel and resort owners and exporters have already been hurt.

Simbulan likens the US military into a gleaming, highly sophisticated war machine, but with short supply of fuel because of its economic crisis. He warned that it will be even more dangerous for that, as it would want a quick war, or what has been referred to before as ‘shock and awe.’ Which could prove painful for all parties, including the Philippines. And the Philippines has nothing to gain from such a war.

Studies in past US defense behavior in Asia-Pacific show that the region is indeed the largest area where the US military is operating globally. The US-Pacific fleet or command, said Simbulan, has always been one of the largest in the world, because it has the largest land and sea coverage.

Historically then, the much publicized “pivot” or refocusing toward the region is not really a new strategy. The US is just “sustaining what has been regarded as the ‘American Lake’ during the 20th century and up to now,” said Simbulan. The US Pacific Command or PACOM “has always been huge here.”

Filipinos also have nothing to gain from the US government claims, echoed by top Filipino government officials, that its presence in the region is for freedom of navigation and maritime security. On the contrary, it is self-serving for the US, Simbulan said.

Most US vessels including those bearing oil products of US oil companies controlling Saudi Arabia and UAE oilfields and those carrying plenty of other raw materials comprise much of the sea traffic in the region, Simbulan said. He explained that it is precisely the reason why the US 7th Fleet is moving around in the region – securing the trade routes for the United States.

The much-vaunted modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is also not about to happen anytime soon or later, despite the much-publicized pledges of top US and Aquino government officials that they would work on it. “The reason why the AFP modernization continues to fail is they rely too much on US military assistance,” said Simbulan.

Looking at past US military assistance, Simbulan said that much of what are being given or sold to the Philippines are weaponries that should have been destined for the junkyard.

The AFP has attempted modernization many times. “We have had so many decades of modernization programs dependent on US military assistance,” Simbulan said. Until now though, the Philippines’ top defense officials are still talking of just starting to build a minimum, credible defense posture.

And if all these are not enough source of headache to Filipino and even the American people, it is they as taxpayers and victims of austerity measures who are footing the bill for the US government’s warmongering and the Philippine government’s echoing of it. ()

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