Part 1: Weeding Out The Fiction from The Facts
I was floored by a Facebook meme blaming the Philippine senators who voted in 1991 to cancel our Military Bases Agreement with the United States, as the culprits that caused all our problems in the South China Seas.
The implication is if the MBA were still in force, the US will have dominance over the South China Seas and we will be better positioned against China.
The South China Seas and the Military Bases Agreements are unrelated issues.
The prominence of the Chinese in the disputed area may be accounted to two immediate causes and one superiorly underlying reason.
First when we withdrew our ships from the Scarborough standoff, the Americans did nothing, not even write a note verbale, and allowed the Chinese coast guard and militia ships to stay put. This is how simply we lost control of the territory.
Second when we were busy formally complaining in the Permanent Court of Arbitration about China, the Americans just watched and again did nothing. All told, this how the Chinese were able to reclaim and fortify eight islands in the South China Seas. While were involved in lawfare, China merely changed the rules on the ground.
So let’s cut the chase – legalisms will not get us anywhere.
The fact is China has always controlled the South China Seas that its ownership is attached to it. As early as 1046-771 BCE, the Yizhoushu, which was a chronicle of the Western Zhou dynasty, gives the first Chinese name for the South China Sea as Nanfang Hai (Chinese: 南方海; pinyin: Nánfāng Hǎi; lit. ‘Southern Sea’)
The International Hydrographic Organization refers to the sea as “South China Sea (Nan Hai)”.
Japan took control of the islands as part of their Sphere of Influence marking its entry into World War II.
The territory was supposed to be returned to China being part of the Allied Forces during the San Francisco Convention of 1951, but the US railroaded the proceedings to form its own Pacific Security Lake composed of Alaska in the north Pacific, the Mainland USA in the east, Hawaii and Guam in the southeast, Japan and South Korea in the south west and the Philippines in the south.
The resulting treaty ignored the restoration of SCS and the Daoiyu (Senkaku) to China and the whole Kuril Island group to Russia.
The so-called “West Philippine Seas” has no basis in international law because it is only a unilateral creation of BS Aquino by way of an executive order. It ignores the fact of a conflicting claim by any other country.
Worse, conflicts that have arisen in the area involving fishermen and resupply of Philippine troops in the Ayungin Shoals have been grossly exaggerated. Pro-Americans in the academe and media love to exacerbate the issue to fuel the funds they receive from generous US donors like the National Endowment for Democracy, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Omidyar Network.
Our very own Department of Foreign Affairs is to blame mainly for this. They have lodged around 400 diplomatic protests against China but I still have to hear a single note verbale against Vietnam. Last month January 2023, a total of 7,322 Vietnamese fishing vessels with 37,827 tracking points were recorded by the SCSPI Automatic Identification System in the whole South China Sea, compared with 6,113 in the previous month.
Our best foot forward is that President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr. claimed the Kalayaan Island Group by way of legislation via presidential decree on the basis of customary international law on “terra nullius” or abandoned territories. It is the Philippines that in fact created the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines as the decree also ruled for a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
Truly a nationalist seeking to stabilize Philippine sovereignty, it was also Marcos Sr. who reduced by 25 years the remaining 99-year life of our Military Bases Agreement (MBA) with the US through negotiations in 1966, thus shortening its effectivity from 2046 to 2021. When the 1987 Constitution demanded a new treaty to allow the American military to base in-country, the Philippine Senate failed to pass the enabling agreement in 1991, thus truncating the MBA further by ten years.
The Filipinos kicked the Americans out of the bases because they were generating social ills and legal irritants that were not commensurate to the petty economic assistance the US was giving the Philippines.
The Americans finally left a year after when Mt. Pinatubo unleashed its fury and buried Subic and Clark under a rain of lahar.
Subic and Clark and their environs are far more progressive today serving as Philippine freeports and special economic zones than when they were vassal land and sea to the Americans.
The Philippine military is also misleading the Filipino people when it claims that the Mutual Defense Treaty (1951) is essential when they make it appear we are only able to source military hardware, supplies and software from the United States through it.
It is important to point out here that following the Second World War, the US and the Philippines entered into three treaties.
On March 14, 1947, the Military Bases Agreement for 99 years, was signed by President Manuel A. Roxas and Paul V. McNutt, the United States high commissioner in the Philippines and concurred in by the Philippine Senate on March 26, 1947, and accepted and ratified by the US on January 21, 1948.
Subjected to amendments, its life was due to terminate in 2021 but under the 1987 Constitution, U.S. troops cannot legally remain without a new treaty. On September 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate voted down the proposed Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Security with the United States, which would have provided for a continued U.S. presence for another 10 years.
The US Embassy was still hoping for reconsideration of a new treaty therefrom but it was the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo that finally drove the Americans out of Subic and Clark. Finally on November 24, 1992, The United States today formally handed over to the Philippines its last military base in Southeast Asia, lowering the American flag over an airfield attached to Subic Bay Naval Station.
In addition to the Military Bases Agreement, however, the Philippines entered into a third agreement – the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of August 30, 1951, immediately after our sending expeditionary troops, or rather, police action troops to Korea, and even before that a second agreement – the Military Assistance Agreement (MAA) of March 21, 1947 or almost simultaneously with the Military Bases Agreement. This MAA was amended on June 26, 1953.
The Mutual Defense Treaty is now lopsided because we have no enemies, but it is now falsely and subtly being peddled we are obligated to come to side with the Americans even in an offensive warfare against China.
On the other hand, in case of an attack on any territory of the Philippines or any of its assets outside, the US will have to undergo its own constitutional processes, which means its Congress legislating, and which means delay that according to President Marcos Sr. means that “while they are debating on our fate in Washington DC while we are already dying over here”.
As already cited, the MAA is a separate treaty and its relevant mandates are as follows:
- Furnishing from United States sources equipment and technical supplies for training, operations and certain maintenance of Philippine armed forces of such strength and composition as mutually agreed upon;
- Facilitating the procurement by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines of a military reserve of United States equipment and supplies, in such amounts as may be subsequently agreed upon.
- Making available selected facilities of United States Army and Navy training establishments to provide training for key personnel of the Philippine armed forces, thus the military exercises.
The latest version of the MAA is the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement renewed in 2017 providing the legal mechanism to access locally sourced resources abroad, while also benefiting the broader bilaterals with the Philippines.
In technical terms, the MAA serves as the foundation for the bilateral security relationship enabling critical U.S. military support, presence, and interoperability with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.