By Ambassador Reynaldo Arcilla
President Rodrigo Duterte broached the idea of convening a meeting with his living predecessors to discuss the West Philippine Sea (WPS) dispute.
It turned out to be a nonstarter. To begin with, nothing was ever heard from former president Fidel V. Ramos. And we know the reaction of former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd.
What we would like to suggest instead is the convening of a meeting of the National Security Council, or a body to be created for the purpose by the President, to fully discuss Philippine-US relations in every aspect. It is long overdue.
And it couldn’t be timelier. The prevailing atmosphere in China-US relations demands it.
For instance, according to his spokesman, Digong is still thinking if the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US would help us if the WPS dispute worsens. Its twice postponed abrogation is now due to take effect on August 10 this year.
Our view is that the VFA, along with the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) ought to be abrogated before the WPS dispute worsens for reasons we have stated many times over in this space.
Suffice it to cite at this time what Digong himself and his defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana have said, that is “a military clash between the two will most certainly draw Chinese attack on the Philippines where US troops and military bases are located.”
Top US government officials keep announcing to the world that an armed attack on the Philippines by China “will trigger the activation of the MDT.” As the saying goes, “go tell that to the Marines.” Too, if the US officials think China believes that, they have another thing coming.
However, if the US offers to sit down with us to discuss the pertinent provision in the MDT that requires both parties to go through their “constitutional processes” to activate the treaty and replace it with an “automatic retaliation” clause, could be a different story.
To begin with, China is not looking towards a military confrontation with the US. It is the latter that keeps doing and saying things that are provocative in nature to the Chinese.
For instance, the US naval sail-bys in Taiwan, and the legislation now being considered in the US Congress called “Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement Act,” or Eagle Act.
And to think Washington is doing these when it is right now preoccupied with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its disputes with Iran and with Russia over Ukraine, and its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In fact, the US Seventh Fleet led by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan, will reportedly be deployed to the Middle East to oversee the evacuation of US troops in Afghanistan, thus leaving the “simmering” West Philippine Sea situation “uncovered.”
An analyst says the sudden decision of the British government to send navy ships to the South China Sea could have been at Washington’s behest to fill the temporary gap left by the deployment of the USS Reagan to the Middle East.
A recent mainstream Manila newspaper’s editorial said, the British fleet is led by its biggest warship, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by two destroyers, two frigates, a submarine and two support ships.
Speculations are rife the British were “prevailed” upon by Washington to temporarily fill the gap to be left by the US Seventh Fleet in the South China Sea – not as claimed by British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
This editorial further said Wallace glowingly described the carrier strike group’s mission as “to write Britain’s name in the next chapter of history – a truly global Britain that steps forward to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, working hand-in-hand with our friends to defend our shared values and uphold the rules-based international order.”
“Cutting through the jingoistic jargon, the flotilla’s deployment simply is Britain’s way of reintroducing itself as a global naval force that is ready to engage in a conflict anywhere in the world,” the editorial added.
Yeah, right. Someone ought to tell Wallace the sun has long set over the erstwhile British empire, just as its monarchy is beginning to crumble!
At least, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was more prudent and realistic when he said the deployment will help to project British soft power such as a belief in democracy and the rule of law.
Wouldn’t it be fair to assume Digong’s seeming indecisiveness on the matter could lead to his finally making up his mind to keep the VFA, or leave its abrogation hanging to the end of his term in June next year?
If that should be the case, we think it is only fair to remind him of what he has been saying about the presence of foreign troops and military bases on our soil.
– Who can forget Digong’s immortal words uttered before a group of businessmen in Tokyo, Japan, in October 2016, more than four years ago:
“I want to be friends with China. I do not need the arms. I do not want missiles established in my country. I do not need to have the airports to host the bombers… I have declared I will pursue an independent foreign policy. I want, maybe in the next two years, my country free of the presence of foreign military troops. I want them out.”
– Digong has always maintained the Armed Forces of the Philippines can fight insurgents and Muslim extremists without American help:
“Do we need America to survive as a nation? Do we need the might and power of the military of the United States to fight our rebellion here and the terrorists down south and control drugs?… If we can’t do it, we have no business being a republic.”
– Digong categorically said he wants the US to “live in peace” and “leave us alone”; not to impose on us again its “imperialistic might”; and give us the “dignity of being a true republic.”
Have we not learned our lesson after decades of US colonial and neocolonial domination? Weren’t we simultaneously attacked by the Japanese Imperial Forces just as they were bombing Pearl Harbor?
The bottom line is the presence of foreign troops and military bases on our soil will only serve as a magnet for attack by an enemy of the US with whom it is in armed conflict.
“Kaya ‘yang maglagay lagay ka ng (military) base at this time, this will ensure, if war breaks out because there would be an atomic arsenal brought in, this will ensure the extinction of the Filipino race,” Digong further said.
Lately, we have been hearing from the US its oft-repeated assurance it has our backs covered. Against whom? The Chinese?
The US did not cover our backs when China seized and reclaimed reefs and shoals that belong to us and converted them into military garrisons. The US knew what the Chinese were up to – to put a stop to the total domination of the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea by the US whose Seventh Fleet has forever been plying the area.
When we protested against the Chinese move and sought the help of the US, we were simply told that it was “neutral” when it comes to territorial disputes.
Donald Trump tried to band-aid the impasse.
The newly found generosity of the US to donate arms and other military hardware to us, although belatedly, is very much welcome and appreciated. They will certainly help us in combating terrorism and the local insurgents.
However, the government surely must realize no amount of such donations from the US will ever be sufficient to make us battle-ready to face a Chinese military onslaught.
China and the US are protagonists in the economic, political and military fields and will remain so in the foreseeable future. Heavens forbid! but such a relationship could probably, result in an armed confrontation between the two in the future.
Fortunately, we do not foresee such an eventuality taking place… unless our leaders continue to keep a blind eye to the clear and present danger of our empty dalliance with the Americans
We remain friends to the US, just as we are now friends to China. But we cannot remain friends to both if we favor one over the other. We are like paddling a canoe on two rivers.
We, therefore, fervently pray Digong will ultimately find his way into avoiding such a grim scenario by keeping his promise to get rid of foreign troops and military bases on our soil.
It will be his greatest legacy to the Filipino people!