Wednesday, November 29, 2023

US Military Bases again in the Philippines–a commentary

Twenty plus years ago, the Philippine senate decided to “end” the controversial Military Bases Agreement or MBA. The agreement encountered so much bad publicity due to numerous human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by US military personnel. In its stead is this Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which the Supreme Court deemed constitutional because it merely strengthens or reinforces previously signed defense cooperation pacts between us, Filipinos and the Americans. One of these pacts is the Mutual Defense Treaty or MDT.

Recently, the United States promised to spend US$70 million in developing strategic military camps and repositioning military arms and personnel throughout the archipelago.

“These improvements are designed to enhance cooperative defense capacities and support humanitarian assistance disaster response activities, in ways that best meet the needs of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the alliance,” US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson said in a forum on Wednesday. (Read more: https://globalnation.inquirer.net/207887/us-eyes-allocating-70-million-for-edca-sites-arms-in-ph#ixzz7ishgrs00.)

Our defense chief, Secretary Jose Faustino Jr., identified these key EDCA sites as follows:

  • Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, which is closest to the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea;
  • Basa Air Base in Pampanga, the home of the Philippine Air Force’s fighter planes;
  • Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, the country’s largest military camp and a frequent location of Philippine-US military exercises.
  • The other two areas are Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.

Question: Is this a very important way of strengthening our defense capabilities amidst current tensions in Taiwan and Korea? Answer: yes.

Admittedly, we are helpless against the growing military strength of China, our biggest neighbor. China has been saber-rattling for months against the growing nationalism of Taiwan. With the 19th China Communist Party convention concluded with Xi Jin Ping again consolidating his power and reiterating China’s strong commitment to reunifying Taiwan, such a war scenario looms larger than ever. A China-Taiwan war will surely affect us Filipinos because these countries are strategically close to us.

Are we capable of defending ourselves against a possible Chinese invasion of our country? No, not yet. While one of the best in the world, our military forces are still ill-equipped to defend against China’s highly sophisticated war machinery. We need support from our long-term defense ally, the United States.

Surely, China will maximize the military assets they built in the Spratlys in a war against Taiwan. Doing so would inevitably drag the Philippines into the conflict, seeing that China illegally invaded these islands. In the eyes of the international community, these islands are within Philippine territory and, thus, under its sovereignty.

Pre-positioning military materiel and personnel within the archipelago would surely increase or improve our defensive capabilities against such a stronger foe. The only problem is that sleeper spies from the Chinese Communist Party lie within the Philippine bureaucracy. These spies are likewise involved in policy-making; surely, their voices would oppose this. Expect a revival of anti-bases sentiment.

Question 2: Is the revival of military bases entail social costs? Yes, it will. Surely, businesses will flourish in these places. When US forces are stationed in specific areas, they are allowed to intermingle with locals on occasions they termed as “r&r.” And we all experienced some horrendous cases where US military sniped at our indigenous peoples, reportedly mistaken for wild pigs. Is the government prepared for a possible repeat of these scenarios?

More than the military building component, the US and the Philippines must address concerns about intelligence as these pro-China spies are now literally either in elective posts or working as “advisers” or even “officials” of this administration. President Marcos must ensure that these pseudo-nationalists are taken out of sensitive positions in government.



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