POSTSCRIPT /April 29, 2014 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Aquino has to bargain with a ‘Barat’ Obama

U.S. PROTECTION: The swing of US President Barack Obama to rally such allies as South Korea, Japan and the Philippines lying below the China mainland should be hint enough to Beijing that Washington will not tolerate its territorial expansionism in the Asia-Pacific area.

That much Obama, speaking as leader of a pivoting Pacific power, has made clear in his statements in Seoul and Tokyo and, now, Manila.

Last Thursday, Obama said in Japan that the US would defend that country in a confrontation over disputed Senkaku islands that historically Tokyo has been administering.

In Manila yesterday, the US concluded an agreement giving it enhanced access to Philippine bases where it can pre-position men and materiel for faster response if military might came into play in enforcing any territorial claim.

Throughout his trip, however, Obama was careful not to sound like threatening or warning China. He was always appealing to reason, law and peaceful dialogue in resolving disputes.

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CLIENT OR PARTNER?: In Manila, is the US President visiting a client-state or a co-equal partner? (I will reserve my answer for later.)

The question is being asked, because the answer must have colored the tone and the substance of the close-quarter conversation between him and President Noynoy Aquino and is likely to show in the follow-up discussions of their subordinates.

The answer will also give hints of the intent and direction of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed yesterday hours before Obama’s arrival from Kuala Lumpur, the third stop in his four-country swing through Asia.

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NO COPY!: It is intriguing that no copy of the new agreement has been given to the media. This is a yawning communication gap that will feed speculation on what EDCA, its content and intent, really are.

One wonders why President Aquino looked grim when they emerged to face the media together after their private talk. He looked like the visitor asked him in so many words why he failed to finish the contract for the rotational basing of US forces.

Will there be any attempt, before Obama leaves today, to edit and fill in the unpublished agreement so the US president can go home with the EDCA in his briefcase?)

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TREATY OR WHAT?: Already, with the lack of official information on it, the document is being torn to pieces in the streets, forums and soon before the Supreme Court. It is ridiculous that people are criticizing or praising an agreement they have not even read.

Without the text, for instance, we cannot answer the question as to whether the EDCA is a treaty, an executive agreement or whatever contract. The distinction is important.

The nature of the EDCA is a key point, because the Constitution requires that foreign forces, bases and such facilities be legally located in the country only if covered by a treaty concurred in by both Senates of the Philippines and the other country.

But how can anyone, even a senator Miriam Santiago, tell if the contract is a treaty without reading the text as signed? Btw, she was insisting that it be submitted to the Senate for concurrence on her assumption that it is in substance a treaty.

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TOUGH STANCE: It cannot be that the administration is deliberately keeping the people in the dark on what was signed between US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

(Please do not ask why it was not Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario who signed it. Or why DILG Secretary Mar Roxas joined the three officials sent to meet Obama at the airport, the others being Vice President Jojo Binay, Secretary Del Rosario and Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr.).

Pardon our speculating, but it seems that many contentious substantive points could not be resolved by the negotiating panels fast enough to catch the arrival yesterday of the US President.

We interpret that to mean that the Philippine panel led by our defense officials put up a tough bargaining stance, that even at the risk of not sealing the contract, they insisted on their marching orders from Malacañang.

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EMOTIONALISM: After President Aquino disclosed to the whole world, via the joint press conference, that the country does not have (gasp!) even just a single jet fighter plane in its arsenal, we are ready to believe that he and his panel stuck to their bargaining guns.

It is time that Filipinos dropped cheap emotionalism, and faced reality, in dealing with American horse traders.

We are tired hearing the soppy line that we should be grateful to the Americans, that we should open up base areas for their use and not ask for rental or commensurate material payment. After all, it is added, the US is here to defend us.

Pro-Americans forget the fact that the US needs the Philippines as much as, if not more than, we need the US. This love-hate story that has been told and retold shows how a superpower has taken advantage of a former colony and now client-state.

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‘BARAT’ OBAMA: The US needs forward bases in the Philippines as we need its star-spangled protective umbrella. Even now the US is looking for alternative bases to relocate its Marines being driven out of Okinawa who cannot be accommodated in Guam, Australia and Hawaii.

We do not gloat over this urgent need of the US military. We are just saying that in this world of give-and-take, we are entitled to what is due us.

We are sure Malacañang has given the White House its shopping list. Looking at ourselves standing beside the military of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and others in the neighborhood, we look pitiful.

Cannot our supposed friend the US, in the words of Winston Churchill, “give us the tools”? We are not begging. We will pay for them with valuable resources that we have that the US does not have. See:

Huwag lang tayong binabarat – as in “Barat Obama”.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 29, 2014)

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