Widodo Flags (Marcos) Silly War Games

 

By Ado Paglinawan

 

By Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan

When President Jokowi Widodo opened the recent ASEAN Summit in Indonesia, I had this uncanny feeling that he was directing his message to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“This afternoon I just want to reemphasize one point, that we are all sitting around this table with an enormous responsibility to create peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.

“We have a shared responsibility to not create new conflicts, not to create new tensions, not to create new wars and at the same time responsible to soften hard conditions, to create rooms for dialogue, and to bridge existential differences.

“It is hard to tell how many times the words peace and stability have been uttered by every one of us as the main key to achieve prosperity.

“ASEAN is steadfast in making this region as the epicentrum of growth, and therefore ASEAN will continue to work to play a role as contributor of peace and stability.

“I ask once again to the leaders of East Asia Summit to make this forum, for us to strengthen cooperation, to strengthen cooperation, not sharpening rivalries – wisdom to show leadership for the success of this meeting and bring about concrete benefits for the people.

“And this is where the international community will assess if we are the leaders with the wisdom to make the world a better place for all.”

Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo

Prepositioning?

Last April, Malacañang officially confirmed that four locations deemed “suitable and mutually beneficial” as additional sites where US troops would have access under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

The sites identified were: Camilo Osias Naval Base in Sta Ana, Cagayan; Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela and Balabac Island in Palawan. Their designation was made formal during the visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III to the country two months earlier.

President Marcos said the four new EDCA sites are ideally situated for defense of the country’s western coast.

Signed in 2014, EDCA allows US military personnel to train with local troops as well as build and operate facilities inside Philippine military bases and preposition supplies and equipment in the country.

Before that April announcement, the five existing EDCA locations were in – Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

In an attempt to deodorize the escalation of foreign military presence in the country that is prohibited by the Constitution, the Palace feebly added that the new sites boost the country’s disaster response, as the locations would also be used for humanitarian and relief operations during emergencies and natural disasters.

The AFP has been converted to serving as “umbrella boys” for the Americans as Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner Jr. entertaining US Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino and US Ambassador May Kay Carlson in sunny moment visiting an EDCA site.

Geopolitical analysts, however, have not been fooled by the real intentions of the Americans.

In his vlog, The New Atlas, Brian Berletic cited a Reuters report sourced from a local governor and two Filipino officialsthat the U.S. military is in talks to develop a civilian port in Batanes, a remote northernmost islands of the Philippines, a move that would boost American access to strategically located islands less than 200 km (125 miles) from Taiwan, a move that could stoke tensions at a time of growing friction with China and a drive by Washington to intensify its longstanding defense treaty engagement with the Philippines.

Berletic also cited an article in Defense One explaining Pentagon’s plans to expand the number of air bases across the Pacific over the next decade to fulfill the requirements of its “Agile Combat Employment” (ACE) doctrine dispersing US aircraft, ammunition, and personnel among a larger number of smaller bases, thus creating more targets for potential adversaries and increasing the overall survivability for USAF assets.

The third aspect, according to Defense One, is a massive drone swarm program to counter China under an initiative called “Replicator” to create cheap drones across the air, sea, and land in the “multiple thousands” within the next two years. These drones of the type Ukraine has deployed to great effect against Russia, can be produced close to the battlefield at much lower cost than typical Defense Department weapons.

Decoys

Farthest from Philippine military announced intentions of using these bases for defensive purposes, however, the Pentagon’s idea is to employ the Philippine facilities primarily as a decoy and a diversion, while the US stages a bigger attack on China elsewhere.

The country had been a American colony until 1946 but the US has consistently sought to reassert itself over Filipino sovereignty ever since, compelling Manila to make decisions that suit Washington at Manila’s expense.

What baffles most observers is what spell Washington cast on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that he has allowed his country to be exposed to a probable clear and present danger in the event of a violent confrontation between the US and China.

China is the Philippines’ largest trade partner, thus Manila siding with Washington has already cost the Philippines opportunities the US cannot offer in terms of economics and development.

As a consequence, the foreign policy narrative has been overtaken by skirmishes between the Chinese and Philippine coasts guards in the resupply of the humanitarian needs of the Philippine marines manning the derelict ship BRP Sierra Madre, largely seen to promote the image of China as a “bully” in the South China Seas eliciting pseudo-nationalistic sentiments among the Filipino people.

This modus vivendi could have evolved customary law for the past 24 years, denying only construction materials, had it not been for Marcos’ kneejerk recission of any Philippine agreement to withdraw the rotting military ship from its present location.

Being a military commissioned vessel, the ship is the only trace of Philippine sovereignty in Ayungin Shoal which is a low-tide elevation that by itself does not qualify to be a territorial land, island or rock and neither is capable of generating either a 12 nautical mile territory or 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone according to UNCLOS.

As it is, however, it continues to be romanticized by American propagandists and war zealots, as a possible “combined forward operating base” of the Philippine military and the US Marine Corps in a paper by Blake Herzinger, a research fellow in the Foreign Policy and Defense Program at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.                                      

Appearing in “War on the Rocks”, Herzinger suggests the United States and the Philippines should act before being forced to react to deteriorating conditions aboard the ship, as China may feel emboldened to interfere with the ship to stake its own claim to the territory, which raises the prospect of U.S.-Chinese conflict over the outpost.

The US talking head from Sydney says:

“The Philippines should remove the Sierra Madre and replace it with a permanent structure manned by combined rotational forces from both the Philippines and the U.S. Marine Corps. Such a forward operating base would be a powerful signal of commitment to the alliance for both nations as well as providing significant improvements in situational awareness for both the United States and the Philippines. By raising the potential costs of interference, a combined outpost might deter future efforts from Beijing aimed at interdicting resupply of Philippine bases in the South China Sea.”

Silly, if I may say.

Asean jinx

Of course, Herzinger’s incompetence was revealed by his premise that “Failure to do so would not only create conditions for loss of Philippine sovereignty, a reenactment of China’s seizure of the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal in 2012, but could also potentially create a crisis within the bilateral U.S.-Philippine alliance.”

China did not seize Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines. Former President Benigno Aquino III, at the instance of then Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario left the territory to the Chinese coast guard, after ordering a unilateral withdrawal of the Philippine military ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar from the standoff.

The Americans just watched that slip by just as it watched China built its artificial islands and fortifications. The Chinese has since been in control not just of Scarborough but the entire South China Seas archipelago.

 Despite the gullibility of Philippine officials, however, ASEAN continues to uphold its twin convictions of how the region should behave in the light of a multi-polarization happening today following the decline of the United States and the rise of China in the world stage.

This is expressed in ASEAN’s commitment to neutrality and being nuclear-free in two separate treaties.

The Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) is a declaration signed by the Foreign Ministers of the ASEAN member states (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) in 1971 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

In the declaration, the parties publicly stated their intent to keep South East Asia “free from any form or manner of interference by outside Powers” and “broaden the areas of cooperation.”

On 15 December 1995, ASEAN Member States signed the Treaty of Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ Treaty) as a commitment to preserve the Southeast Asian region as a region free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

The Treaty is also known as the Bangkok Treaty.

These two hallmarks for peace and security of the region is precisely what President Widodo was reminding its members when he welcomed them to Indonesia.

Widodo knows what he is talking about – in barely nine years in power, he shepherded his country to be #10 manufacturing country in the world and 7# in gross domestic product-purchasing power parity (GDP-PPP).

By 2050, the world economy could more than double in size, far outstripping population growth, due to continued technology-driven productivity improvements.

Emerging markets (E7) could grow around twice as fast as advanced economies (G7) on average

As a result, six of the seven largest economies in the world are projected to be emerging economies in 2050 led by China (1st), India (2nd) and Indonesia (4th)

The US could be down to third place in the global GDP rankings while the EU27’s share of world GDP could fall below 10%.

There is no telling where fickle Philippines will end up.

Leave a Reply

Trending

%d bloggers like this: