By Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan, Solidarity for Sovereignty
Defense Spokesperson Arsenio Andolong avoided the arguments at hand when he said “the DND takes exception to the statement of Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian that the Philippines is meddling in the internal affairs of China concerning Taiwan.”
Truth to tell, the Philippines is not only meddling but has allowed itself to be, in President Rodrigo Duterte words, a pawn in altering the neutrality of South East Asia, in favor of a non-resident foreign country that is the United States.
Bongbong Marcos is now the undisputed white man’s posterboy in Asia.
He has replaced Anwar Ibrahim, who in his past political contest with Mahathir Mohamad danced foxtrot with the gringos championing “liberal democracy” in his country.
Matured by political cannibalism and incarceration over trumped-up charges, the new prime minister of Malaysia, Anwar has matured to be more perceptive and calculating on the regional nuances.
“We have never argued against US presence in the ASEAN but military presence should be avoided because we want to preserve ASEAN as a ‘zone of peace, neutrality, freedom’, he said on a television interview when he recently visited the Philippines. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WH81U6swps
Anwar was quick to add: “So this means we will continue to engage with the Chinese as well as the US but without disconcerting forces either east or west.”
In contrast, Bongbong’s naiveté is so appalling that indeed he is a fruit that has fallen far from the tree – his father’s gravitas in politics, domestic as well as international was the subject of awe as well as respect, by even by his most vociferous opponents.
So when he tells China, “Don’t worry about new EDCA sites”, not only does he makes China worry worse but sends a tsunami of anxiety to the whole ASEAN, as Bongbong has often flip-flopped on his own pronouncements.
For instance, after he told Xi Jingpin face-to-face in Beijing, his consistent view that relations between our two countries should not be defined by maritime issues, the first thing he did after a new incident between coastguard vessels was to make a “celebrated case” summoning the Chinese ambassador in Manila to Malacanang.
The accusation of the Philippine Coast Guard that their Chinese counterpart used a military-grade laser turned into a laughable faux pas when it was verified that the equipment was a commercial distance-measuring equipment readily available at Lazada. A retired Army general explained to me that if it were a military-grade laser, it would not have just “temporarily blinded” our crew but would have totally burned their faces to say the least.
What made the incident more hilarious was Bongbong has tolerated PCG Commandant Artemio Manalo Abu’s appointment of a special spokesman for the West Philippine Seas, in the person of Commodore Jay Tarriela, a dropout from the Philippine Military Academy. So far, Tarriela has been acting as if he were the repository of Philippine foreign policy way above the heads of the President and his secretary of foreign affairs, exacerbating instead of placating maritime tensions.
In addition, a month after his state visit to China, Bongbong said, the Philippines “will not lose an ‘inch of territory’, a remark coming on the heels of continuing maritime tensions with Beijing, which proves that he regards the so-called “West Philippine Seas” as central to Philippine-China relations.
Hints at rethinking?
Romulo “Bobby” Tuazon, director for policy studies of the University of the Philippines Center for People Empowerment in Governance said that Bongbong can be impeachable in the event the Philippines was dragged into the Taiwan Strait conflict resulting from his adding more EDCA sites.
Tuazon told the Alphan Forum, “I don’t believe in the statement of Bongbong Marcos that the EDCA sites will not be used against China… Marcos is in violation of the One China policy, (and) he can be made accountable for violating the constitutional provision providing for an independent foreign policy…”
That can qualify definitely as a betrayal of public trust by putting the country and the people in harm’s way. The Constitution also explicitly shuns war as an instrument of national policy.
The Peoples Liberation Army “successfully completed” three days of military exercises around Taiwan, complete with air and sea blockade training involving an aircraft carrier and simulated strikes by warplanes carrying live ammunition under “actual combat conditions.”
The “Joint Sword” drills began just days after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California — had been characterized by China as “a serious warning against the Taiwan separatist forces’ collusion and provocation with external forces,” a thinly veiled reference to the U.S.
Huang did not mince words advising Manila to oppose “Taiwan independence” if it genuinely cares about the 150,000 Filipinos working there in view of China’s “taking all necessary measures” over the Taiwan Strait to “reunify the island with the Chinese mainland, if necessary, by force.
It appears that this did not settle well with Malacanang, hence Andolong’s rejoinder that “We reiterate that our primordial concern in Taiwan is the safety and well-being of the Filipinos living and working on the island.”
The defense spox was tactless of course when he seemingly excluded the safety and well-being of their Taiwanese hosts?
Andolong should have stopped there instead of aping lines by geopolitical karaokists that Manila continues to observe the One China Policy and maintains the non-interference in regional issues principle by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The talk simply did not jibe with the walk.
His posture severely wobbled when he attempted to refute the Chinese ambassador’s analogy that the situation in Taiwan is similar to that of Mindanao specifically when the Philippine government took back Marawi City from the Maute terror group. Lanao del Sur is a province of the Philippines in the same manner that Taiwan is a province of China.
Any separatist ambition must be nipped at its bud by any country.
Andolong also sounded drunk when he lip-synched semantics that EDCA “is in line with ongoing efforts to modernize the country’s alliance and enable collective defense and peace, promote the national interest, and protect its national sovereignty.”
Halleluyahs continued as he insisted on the horse packey that EDCA “is also being done to ensure the livelihood and welfare of Filipino fisherfolk and communities and enhance the capability to respond to emergencies and disasters, as well as provide humanitarian assistance.”
Harry Roque commended the President for immediately clarifying that he would not allow our military bases to be used for offensive action, with this rejoinder:
“But the big question is whether the US soldiers deployed in our bases would heed the order of our President or their American military superiors in case an armed conflict breaks out in Taiwan?”
These are the musical chairs I am talking about. What will Bongbong do when the music stops?
The disadvantage of Marcos Jr and his boys is that they formulate actions and policies devoid of core interests that is protected by strategic thinking. This is why the public perception is that they are only following “dictats” of the Americans.
Bongbong does not have a seasoned thinking machine backing him up. His own cabinet members have become acquiescent because his wife Liza Araneta regards disagreements fiercely, they fear her ire can cause their termination.
Much is therefore left to whom Ka Mentong Laurel calls “jukebox scholars” in the payroll of US thinktanks and their proxies in the Philippines whom I call “geopolitical karaokists”.
Reason within reach?
This is sad because wisdom is readily available.
For instance, the explanations of international law expert Dr. Melissa Loja, a fellow of the Integrated Development Studies Institute, are plausible even while she is not all thumbs up for EDCA.
Loja, speaking on a forum by the Asian Century Strategic Studies forum at the UP Asian Center, reduced complexities into less convoluted terms.
She said, “It should not be considered (a provocation) because it’s a mere designation of sites. EDCA has been in place since 2014 and there has been designation of seven sites without any reaction from China.
“What could be considered as an escalatory move would be the prepositioning of weapon and military contractors as well as US troops in those sites, So, regardless of where the sites are, prepositioning of weapons and troops would be the escalatory moves.”
Loja explains that “Under the Caroline test (in) customary international law, which was adopted in the military tribunals in the Nuremberg trials and now part of the law of warfare, a territory of a neutral state, (such as the EDCA sites in Northern Luzon – which is the location of stockpiles of weapon systems of a belligerent state such as the US) – can be a legitimate military target of another belligerent state, such as China, North Korea, Russia, or Iran.”
Bongbong’s assurance “Pero hindi naman tayo papayag na gamitin ang mga bases natin para sa kahit anong offensive na aksyon” (He will not allow the country’s bases to be used to attack China) – thus, is reduced to mere cosmetics.
The President of the Philippines cannot enforce what could happen on the ground.
Loja gives the legal basis under EDCA Article 4 Paragraph 1, “the US has the unmitigated right to stockpile not just supplies for humanitarian aid but also military weapons.
“The Philippines has no control over the type of weapons that will be stockpiled under EDCA sites because (the same) Article 4 only provides notification and approval as to the quantity and schedule of delivery.”
She distinguishes our EDCA from defense cooperation agreements of the US with other countries – “Unlike Poland, Bulgaria, and Australia where there are express provisions calling for the prior notification and consent as to the type of weapons that will be stockpiled on their DCA sites, there are no such provisions in the Philippines.”
This aggravates further into the Visiting Forces Agreement where the US can either confirm-or-deny the profile of war materiële that they bring in any of their sea or air assets docking into our territory. That goes as far as bringing in nuclear weapons, the presence of which are Constitutionally prohibited.
Ms. Loja, testifying before the Senate hearing on Foreign Relations chaired by the President’s sister, Imee Marcos, pried open the pandora’s box – “Under Article 4 Paragraph 2, the US has unimpeded rights over the EDCA sites where there are stockpiles of weapons, and they have use and ownership of these weapons.
“That use and ownership can justify a belligerent state making an attack on an EDCA site in the Philippines where there are US weapon stockpiles.”
So once and for all, can the Americans preposition “offensive” weapons in any EDCA site?
She answered, “the US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Under that treaty, the US foreswore to develop and stockpile what is known as Ground Launched Ballistics and Cruises Missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 km.”
The distance between Taiwan, our farthest tip of the Philippines at Bongao in Tawi-Tawi or Sarangani province, is only 2,000 kms.
Therefore, under the present regime, the US is no longer prevented from developing and stockpiling those weapons in EDCA sites in Northern Luzon.
“Or in my own province of Cagayan De Oro (in Mindanao)”, concluded Loja, against China, or any country the Americans consider their enemy.
Meanwhile, Malacanang and Camp Aguinaldo deny meddling in China’s international affairs, but everything they have been doing with the United States, homes to that direction.