POSTSCRIPT / August 13, 2013 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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In talks with Phl, US will get what it wants

CAN HE DO IT?: As the Philippines prepares to sit down with the United States this week to start crafting a new agreement allowing Americans a substantially bigger military presence in this former US colony, all eyes are on President Noynoy Aquino.

The big question is: Does this 53-year-old accidental President have the maturity and political acumen to clinch the best deal for this nation of almost 100 million Filipinos?

We foresee the upcoming talks resulting in the US getting what it wants: upgraded military facilities in the Philippines (1) to make up for the impending expulsion of its forces from Japan and (2) to satisfy its strategic need for forward bases steeling its containment arc around China.

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DETAILS: In such a skewed exchange where one party is economically disadvantaged and morally weak, not to mention the fact that it is already conditioned to give in, the conclusion is predicable.

The Americans will get what they want. That is a foregone conclusion. The only details left are:

• How will the two panels word the contract so it (1) does not violate the constitutional ban on foreign military bases, (2) does not require the concurrence of the Senate, and (3) does not jar the sensibilities of the watching crowd?

• In return, what will the Aquino administration get in the short term (till 2016) and what benefits will accrue to the country over the longer term (till the agreement’s expiry or abrogation)?

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CHINA NEEDS ACCESS: In preparation for the haggling, we have been relentlessly fed propaganda that China is a major continuing threat to our sovereignty and security, and that Uncle Sam is there to protect us.

Maybe China is an enemy, actual or potential — for who can read its inscrutable mind? — BUT IT NEED NOT BE.

Unfortunately, China has not been helping any with its brazen overreaching, grabbing strategic and resource-rich marine areas that are clearly within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

It could be that what China wants and needs is not actually territorial area but – just like the US – simply ACCESS. It needs the resources of the vast sea below it to feed its burgeoning population and fuel its giant economic machine.

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NEIGHBORS, TRADERS: Small and weak as we are, we are in danger of being pushed as a pawn in the strategic chess game of the big players. Not in the big league, we are always liable to being used.

It will help for us to pause and ponder the point that China need not be an enemy of the Philippines.

Since the earth was created, we have been placed close to each other, locked in by geography as neighbors for better or for worse. Since our forebears learned to sail and brave the waves, we have been barter brothers in the ageless Asian tradition of give and take.

Filipinos and Chinese should not tire talking and talking, trading and trading with each other. What one has that the other needs may be shared for our common benefit. That is what neighbors are for.

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INFECTIOUS BIAS: Even the US, which wants Filipinos to regard the Chinese as no good neighbors, is trying hard on the surface to befriend China, a teeming market to whom it happens to owe trillions.

Although the US and China emerged from World War II as allies, Washington later marked Beijing as an enemy after the Communists took over the mainland in 1949 and linked up with Moscow during the Cold War.

In its campaign to organize and line up regional security alliances across Asia, such as the short-lived SEATO and ANZUS, the US secretly made it clear to its allies that the target of such containment was Communist China.

That bias has lingered despite China’s hauling down its Bamboo Curtain and opening up to the world market. To maintain its perceived superiority and to secure itself, the US has not stopped infecting friends and clients in the region with its own prejudice.

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RESUME TALKING: This borrowed bias against the Chinese has contributed to souring Manila’s relations with Beijing and fouling up of attempts to normalize dealings with it.

There is need for an earnest mutual effort to return to the status quo ante and resume talking, including back channeling if necessary (but without using Trillanes types).

On the matter of resolving through bona-fide dialogue the conflicting claims over some areas in their common sea, the two parties can restart conversations by:

• China disabusing its mind that Manila is just a clueless angler casting the Washington line.

• The Philippines not listening to the US in the meantime and granting that China wants amity and sharing of (or gaining common access to) resources for mutual benefit.

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MY STAND: Having gone out too far on the subject, I have to pause to clarify my stand: I am for giving wider but temporary access to American forces to Philippine bases, but under certain conditions such as:

• The term of their rotational presence should be only for specifically listed sites and for a maximum number of years not to exceed five years, at which point there must be automatic abrogation.

• American troops should not operate against Filipino armed groups, nor should they use Philippine bases as launching pads for acts against a foreign force, except in case of an actual attack as defined in the PH-US Mutual Defense Pact.

• Criminal jurisdiction must be redefined to give the Philippines automatic and exclusive jurisdiction over ANY CASE where a Philippine law is violated, or when one of the parties is a Filipino – regardless of whether or not the American involved is on duty.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 13, 2013)

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