US and Philippines: How strategic is the partnership?

Servility to the US in economic and security matters will not save the Aquino regime from its growing disrepute

Founding Chairman, Communist Party of the Philippines
Chief Political Consultant, National Democratic Front of the Philippines

Hyped as a major advance in the strategic partnership of the US and the Philippines, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) highlights the meeting of US President Barack Obama and Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Manila this week.

EDCA circumvents the ban on foreign military bases and troops by the Philippine constitution and allows the US to increase the so-called rotational presence of its troops and build military bases under the guise of authorised temporary facilities in areas of the Philippine armed forces.

The Filipino people’s negative sentiments against EDCA are rising. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) and other organisations have issued statements denouncing it as a violation of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity. They have called for mass protests against Obama and the Aquino regime.

Filipinos are averse to US military bases as they are reminders of the brutal US conquest of the Philippines. More than 10 percent or 700,000 of the Philippine population were killed in the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902. The carnage continued until 1913, bringing the total of Filipinos killed to 1.5 million.

In more recent history, the Filipinos hatred for the US military bases intensified when they perceived these as the main reason for US support of former President Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorial rule from 1972 to 1986. Thus, the architects of the 1987 Philippine constitution decided to ban foreign military bases, troops and nuclear weapons from Philippine territory.

However, the 1947 US-RP Military Assistance Agreement and 1951 US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty have remained intact. The US military bases were dismantled in 1992 after the Philippine Senate passed the 1991 resolution ending leases for the US military bases. Since then, the US has manoeuvred to circumvent the ban and obtain the US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in 1998 to cover the annual joint US-RP military exercises.

The VFA allows the the rotational presence of US military forces and their operations anywhere in the Philippines for any length of time to train and inter-operate with the Philippine armed forces, use their facilities and retain jurisdiction over criminal cases, including capital offences, involving US troops.

EDCA is now widely considered far worse than the VFA as it allows not only unlimited increase in the rotational presence of US military forces but also the building of US military bases and stations in areas of the Philippine armed forces, thus reducing Filipino troops to mere perimeter guards at the Philippines’ expense.

The US requires the Philippines to upgrade certain AFP camps and reservations in Palawan and Rizal to US military bases. It is spending P1 billion ($22.4m) to improve naval facilities in Ulugan Bay and Oyster Bay in Palawan to accommodate and service the growing traffic of US warships, planes and combat troops.

Filipinos are further outraged by the Aquino government’s promise to the US to amend the Philippine constitution in order to allow foreign investors unlimited ownership of land and businesses. The regime also intends to impress Obama with the capture of alleged leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines as proof of the success of Oplan Bayanihan, a military plan aligned with the US Counterinsurgency Guide.

The Aquino government is painting the EDCA as a major help towards the continuing US-directed war against “terrorism” and to the US pivot to East Asia, which aims to deploy 60 percent of US naval forces and 50 percent of US ground and air forces in the region.

Both US and Philippine authorities tout EDCA as part of the US military’s rebalancing which aims to restrain China from threatening neighbouring countries. It also intends to keep the South China sea open to international navigation and commerce.

Protected from China’s bullying

Because the Philippines now feels protected from China’s bullying this has emboldened the Aquino government to oppose China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea. The exaggerated image of China as a threat to the security of other countries is used as justification to further entrench US military power in the Philippines and has given the US an opportunity to expand militarily in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, China itself has not helped to allay fears because of its claims to 90 percent of the South China sea, including the high seas. China has also threatened to grab the Philippine exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf to the extent of 90 percent and 100 percent, respectively, in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Aquino regime supports the US scheme to pressure China economically by participating actively in the US-instigated Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), a mega-free trade agreement which pointedly excludes China, and offering the US and its closest allies 100 percent ownership of land and businesses in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the US maintains a dual policy of cooperation and contention towards China. The US and China maintain close bilateral economic and trade relations under the policy of neoliberal globalisation. Their economic and political relations far outweigh those between the US and the Philippines. The Aquino regime deludes itself by imagining that the US values more its relations with the Philippines than those with China.

The US military pivot to East Asia is not meant to provoke a war with China, but it is calculated to encourage so-called political liberalisation within China, discourage ultranationalist outbursts of the Chinese political leaders and blockade North Korea. The TPPA seeks to pressure China to privatise state-owned enterprises completely and further liberalise the economy in favour of foreign investors.

Servility to the US in economic and security matters will not save the Aquino regime from its growing disrepute for exploitativeness, incompetence, corruption and repression. The Philippines continues to reel from the ever worsening and deepening crisis of global capitalism and the domestic ruling system.

Social discontent is widespread and about to explode in massive protests. Meanwhile, the people’s armed movement for national and social liberation is conspicuously advancing with the nationwide guerrilla offensives of the New People’s Army.

Jose Maria Sison is a professor of political science and author of several books on Philippine and global issues. He is Chairperson of the International League of People’s Struggle and Chief Political Consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in peace negotiations with the Manila government.