VP Kamala Visit Puts PH In Center Of US-China Rivalry

UNITED States Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent visit to the Philippines shows that the country is fast becoming a major focus of the US-China rivalry, as the West begins to question the value of dragging on the Ukraine conflict. We welcome partnerships that can contribute to our national development, but the US’ proposal to add five more military bases will unnecessarily and without question put the Philippines dangerously in the crossfire between the giants, according to three nationalists and former officials who participated in IDSI’s recent webinar titled “Implications of VP Kamala’s visit, is PBBM shifting PH’s Independent Foreign Policy?”

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is about to expire in 2023. We need now a vigorous national debate on whether we should renew the EDCA.

First, the EDCA violates the Constitution because it allows the prepositioning of equipment and military troops without a treaty duly confirmed by the Senate. We are required to submit it to a referendum, which hasn’t been done yet. It has also not been, as required, duly recognized by the other party — the US — as a treaty!

Second, it is not in our interests. When we allow the US to position equipment and troops in the country that could be used in an aggressive confrontation with China, as the US has done in dozens of countries over the decades, we allow our territory to be used in a manner injurious to another state, and that makes the Philippines a legitimate target for a military attack.

In addition, the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the US is obsolete. The basis of the Cold War framework by which we entered into the military alliance with the US has ceased to exist, according to international law expert and constitutionalist Harry Roque Jr., as well as other experts around the world.

The term used under the EDCA is “agreed locations” — a euphemism for concealing the bases. We Filipinos won’t have control there; the Americans can and will — as they have repeatedly, around the world — be running these facilities independently, for their own interests and on their own, without any approval from the Filipino people or the Philippine government, warned former senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad. If the EDCA is not terminated by 2023, it may very well be indefinitely extended, like the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba.

Although the Supreme Court ruled the EDCA to be constitutionally valid in 2016, the ruling was made by then-chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was appointed by Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd, who used her to impeach former chief justice Renato Corona, argued geopolitical analyst Butch Valdes, also chairman of the political party Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino and a former Education undersecretary.

Learning from history

The US plan of encircling China and Russia using the Philippines was publicly announced in 2011 when then-president Barack Obama told Aquino that the US would like to use our air bases and ports when they shift their navy for access to Southeast Asia, Valdes said.

In 2012, Aquino sent the US-donated BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which set off the Scarborough Shoal incident in 2012. Later, it was revealed that then-Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and ambassador Jose Cuisia allowed the US to negotiate with China on our behest, without our presence or approval or inputs, and failed us miserably at the Philippines’ cost. In 2014, the EDCA was signed by Aquino’s then-Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

We must avoid becoming another proxy battleground between the superpowers. Ukraine is an ongoing example of how a beautiful country can be destroyed in a few months. Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq have shown how millions can perish and a war zone is bequeathed to those left behind after the US military takes over. In World War 2, Manila was the most destroyed city in Asia because Japan and the US bombed each other in the Philippines, leading to almost a million Filipinos dead! In the Philippine Theater of the Spanish-American War, the two superpowers also coveted the Philippines, and as a result between 600,000 and a million Filipinos were killed.

We need to build more bridges, not bases. More economic cooperations, not military provocations.

Today, the priority of countries is economic progress. They want food on the table of their countrymen, especially here in the Philippines.

While we used to view the Soviet Union and China as a threat during the Cold War because of their ideological differences with the Americans, we now view China and Russia as very important economic partners. Trade and investments from China and Russia are welcome because our priority now is to uplift the living standards of all Filipinos, said Roque, a former press secretary of then-president Rodrigo Duterte.

Learning from our neighbors

Our Southeast Asian neighbors rejected expanded US military presence, or taking provocative declarations or obsequiously bowing, and opted to focus on expanding economic relations with the US, China, Japan, Russia and other nations to fast-track their development.

Harris’ visit came after Biden unveiled the 2022 National Security Strategy. She has the lowest approval rating in modern times under a US president with equally low support from his own people. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to Taiwan in August to improve her dismal electoral chances, but at the cost of heightening tensions in and risking militarizing the Philippines and Asia. Biden’s 2022 National Security Strategy announced an all-out war against China (currently on all fronts, initiated by the US, except for direct military confrontation). Let us not allow our motherland to be used as cannon fodder for a conflict that will not benefit our people.

Despite its diversity, Southeast Asia has been relatively peaceful for decades because it was able to balance the great power politics of the Cold War, allowing it to become the fastest-growing region in the world. Our neighbors are engaging constructively not only with China and the US, but also with Russia, India and Australia, among others.

We have achieved relative peace in the South China Sea with China and other neighbors, our fishermen reported increased fish catch, on top of major economic benefits to develop our economy (which keep growing, across various sectors in trade, infrastructure, technology, agriculture, education and others) — these were all gained not from military alliances, but from peaceful engagements already benefiting millions of our kababayan (countrymen).

The cost of the next conflict will be unimaginable, and it won’t be to the benefit of our Filipino people.

Austin Ong has assisted Philippine agencies in organizing training programs for Filipino entrepreneurs. He taught global developments in De La Salle University and studied in UP Diliman, Tsinghua and Northeastern Boston.

similar version was published in Manila Times on November 27 2022. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks. (idsicenter@gmail.com)

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