By Ricardo Saludo
PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte was understandably upset with Aquino-era Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who recounted a purported remark by a Chinese official that Beijing helped get Duterte elected in 2016.
That election landslide, which matched the roughly 40 percent winning percentages of Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino 3rd, was too massive to be the result of manipulation.
All those four election victories reflected the Filipino people’s sovereign will, and anyone saying or hinting otherwise commits an affront to the nation which may seem to border on treason.
But making or relaying baseless claims is not necessarily treason, especially if it has little impact on our nation and its vital affairs and interests, since nearly all Filipinos would either dismiss del Rosario’s claim or, thankfully, miss the nonsense altogether, as Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. rightly labeled it.
Still, it was opportune that President Duterte used the T word on del Rosario, a multimillionaire who was Philippine ambassador to the United States under Arroyo before taking over the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) after then Foreign Secretary Albert Romulo, carried over from the previous administration, left the Aquino Cabinet.
The appalling truth is del Rosario and his late boss Aquino did commit treason, which would have endangered many millions of city dwellers and islanders, plus our main rice harvest, if their traitorous act had not been shelved by President Duterte.
Enhanced Defense Cooperation for America
As explained in several past columns on national defense, what Aquino and del Rosario, along with then Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, did, which put the Philippines in grave danger, was the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA.
The 2014 executive agreement undertaken by Aquino and then US President Barack Obama would have allowed increased rotations of American forces all over our archipelago, with access to several bases of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The EDCA was ostensibly for the defense of the Philippines, supposedly prompted by the 2012 loss of Scarborough or Panatag Shoal to Chinese control. Yet that was not what came across when President Obama himself was asked twice by the Malacañang Press Corps during his visit in April 2014 for the agreement signing, what the US would do if maritime frictions between China and the Philippines turned violent.
All that this most eloquent of leaders could say was that disputes between nations should be settled peacefully. That utter lack of ironclad defense commitment contrasted starkly with his Tokyo promise just weeks before that US forces would defend Japanese control over the Senkaku or Diaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea, also claimed by China.
Backing that presidential pledge was the 2013 Webb Amendment enacted by the US Senate. Its principal author, then Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, said that the legislation “unequivocally states that the United States acknowledges the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands and that this position will not be changed through threats, coercion, or military action.”
All that assuring language from the executive and legislative branches of the US government, even if Japan never signed a deal like EDCA, which would pretty much allow US forces to use our vast archipelago and territorial waters as their prime military platform in Asia.
And that was exactly the deal that Aquino, del Rosario and Gazmin negotiated with the Americans. With what it allowed the US to do in our sovereign territory, waters and airspace, the EDCA might as well have been called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation for America.
Putting the nation in grave danger
So, what exactly in the agreement put Filipinos in grave danger? For that, we turn to two respected security think tanks in Washington. One is the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), whose Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) has publicized satellite photos of alleged Chinese intrusions in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The other is the RAND Corp., whose July 2016 report we shall first consider.
Funded by the US Army, the paper, titled “War With China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable,” pondered how that conflict might transpire. It warned that both adversaries “have an incentive to strike enemy forces before being struck by them.”
So, if American warships, warplanes and troops are stationed across the Philippines, probably with undisclosed nuclear weapons able to mushroom-cloud China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), like the US military, would be keen to hit enemy forces before they strike.
And what would be the prime PLA targets during and before hostilities? Answer: The Chinese regard aircraft carriers and regional air bases as primary targets. If EDCA were fully implemented, the latter would include air bases near the cities of Cebu, Puerto Princesa and Cagayan de Oro. Plus: those in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija, right in the middle of Central Luzon rice fields, all chosen by the US military for its use.
That’s the first wave of attack. Then enemy ordnance would turn to US naval and air assets deployed among our islands and waters. As Aquino’s defense secretary, Gazmin surely knows such bombing could inflict collateral damage on communities near targeted ships, planes and troops.
There’s more. Soon after incumbent President Joseph Biden took office, CSIS wrote to him, urging his government to press the Duterte administration to implement EDCA.
If that were done, the country could host “small, mobile teams [that] would support US air and naval operations and hold Chinese vessels at risk with ground-based missile units. It is a sound strategy to counter China’s naval and missile advantages in its near waters. But the Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia that might realistically host such assets. So, these plans require saving the VFA and implementing EDCA.”
Hence, if the EDCA negotiated by del Rosario and Gazmin and agreed by Aquino had not been stalled by Duterte, the Philippines would have US forces attracting Chinese attack.
Is that treason or what?
This week, Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin 3rd will visit and press for the Visiting Forces Agreement and EDCA.
Thankfully, President Duterte will oppose treason.
Ricardo Saludo was Cabinet Secretary to President Gloria Arroyo. He is now a columnist at The Manila Times and heads the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence (CenSEI). He holds a M.Sc. in Public Policy and Management from SOAS, University of London; and a Diploma in Strategy and Innovation from Saïd Business School, Oxford. He is with the adjunct faculty of Ateneo School of Government and Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism.