By Perry Diaz
No sooner had the Philippines gained her independence from the United States on July 4, 1946 than the Philippine Statehood Movement started. Although it never reached the numbers to force a referendum, the movement was kept alive by statehood advocates who firmly believe that the future of the archipelago can best be guaranteed by maintaining political, economic, defense, and financial ties with Mother America.
At a time when Pax Americana is waning, America has to do something to improve her standing in the region, not just increasing her military presence but also reestablishing herself as a Pacific power. And by “Pacific power” I mean, permanent political, economic, and military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, not the “interloper” that China sees – or pictures – her to be.
In my article, “What price sovereignty?” (January 20, 2014), I wrote: “The question of Philippine sovereignty has been debated over and over again since 1991 when the Philippine Senate voted to reject the retention of American bases. The nationalists were convinced that the Philippines didn’t need the protection of the U.S. against foreign invasion. They asserted that continued presence of American bases was an affront to Philippine sovereignty. However, they didn’t demand for the rescission of the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which obligated the U.S. to defend Philippine territory in the event of foreign invasion. It’s like them saying, ‘We don’t want you around but we expect you to defend us if we were invaded.’ Indeed, it’s a love-hate relationship that is nurtured to this day.
“But two years after the U.S. bases were closed in 1992, China seized the Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in the middle of the night. And the Philippine Armed Forces couldn’t do anything to take it back.
“As an afterthought to the Senate’s folly of booting out the Americans from Philippine soil, which left the Philippines at the mercy of a foreign country who’d use force to nibble at our territory, the U.S. and the Philippines signed a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, the VFA states that US forces in the Philippines have to follow Philippine law and have to adhere to behavior that is consistent with Philippine law. The Senate ratified it on May 27, 1999, which makes one wonder how the senators who voted to remove the U.S. bases in 1991 voted this time around? But once again the nationalists went up in arms claiming that VFA violates the Philippine constitution.
“But the nationalists had backed off when China took possession of Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in August 2012. China then roped off the narrow and only opening to the shoal’s lagoon; thus, preventing Filipino fishermen from getting in.”
Building artificial islands
Since last year, China had been dredging sand and rock from the sea floor and depositing them on a coral reef until the dredged material breaks the surface; thus, start forming an artificial island.
One of these islands is Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef), which is one of six Chinese military installations built within the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the disputed Spratly islands. It has been occupied by 200 Chinese troops since 1988 when UNESCO agreed that China build weather stations in the South China Sea as part of a global oceanic survey.
A photo taken in 2005 showed that China had built a fortification around it, which included five naval guns, four gun emplacements, helipad/basketball court, nursery, weather radar, pier, observation post, and quarters for military personnel. In all appearances, this was a military installation, not a weather station.
“Unsinkable aircraft carriers”
Today, reclamation work around the Fiery Cross Reef has expanded from the small outpost measuring 1,032 square meters to a total land area of more than 90,000 square meters of which one side of the reclaimed area is three kilometers long, which is long enough for a runway — an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” A harbor is also being built, which experts believe could handle warships, tankers, and submarines. Compared to the other Chinese reclamation projects, Fiery Cross Reef might be China’s main naval and air base in the Spratlys.
From a military standpoint, China would be able to reach any point past the First Island Chain and within striking distance of the Second Island Chain (from the Kuril Islands to Guam, Marianas Islands, New Guinea, Borneo, Malaysia, and Vietnam). Australia, which is beyond the Second Island Chain, would be reachable by missiles launched from these artificial islands.
The close proximity of these Chinese “unsinkable aircraft carriers” to the Philippines would render the Philippines indefensible. With no military capability to fight a war, the Philippines is helplessly at the mercy of China, which begs the question: Would the U.S. come to her aid?
With the U.S. embroiled in several wars in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, to engage China in territorial disputes with her neighbors over the Spratly Islands could be disastrous to America – economically and militarily. It would therefore be prudent for the U.S. to stay away from a crisis halfway around the world, which some geopolitical experts believe is not worth fighting for.
In such an event, the U.S. would be more predisposed to use diplomacy in settling disputes between China and the Philippines. However, once China had taken possession of the contested islands, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to diplomatically convince China to return the islands. With nothing to trade them with, China wouldn’t give up an inch of territory for nothing.
The Philippines would therefore be left on her own to take the Spratly islands back. And that would mean going to war against China. But what kind of weapons would the Philippines use against China? Or does she even have the ability to transport troops to the contested islands?
And this is where the Philippines has to make a hard choice: sovereignty or security? Since the country doesn’t have the means to defend her sovereignty and territorial integrity, she has to build her military assets from the ground up. But that takes a long time and it requires tens of billions of dollars, which the government doesn’t have.
The next best thing is to allow the U.S to bring her Seventh Fleet back to Subic Bay and to remilitarize Clark Air Base. “What! Allow the Americans to come back?” you’d hear the nationalists and their leftist allies shout. “No way are we going to give up our sovereignty to the Americans!” they’d say.
But has anybody ever, ever asked them the question: “How are you going to defend your territory from Chinese aggression?” Silence. Then, they say: “We’ll defend our country to the last drop of our blood!” Sure they’d do that. But would they succeed in expelling the invaders if each and every one of them bled to death?
And this is where security should be the number one priority of every country to protect her territory. Look at Singapore. Her land area is no bigger than Clark Base, but she has enough warplanes and warships to fill up Clark Base and Subic Base. Look at Bangladesh, a third or fourth world country, if there were such a thing. Recently, Bangladesh signed a contract with China to buy two corvettes and two submarines; and she only has 360 miles of coast line compared to the Philippines’ 22,548 miles! Isn’t there something wrong with the picture?
On April 28, 2014, the U.S. and the Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The purpose of EDCA is to strengthen the U.S.-Philippines security relationship by allowing the U.S. to station troops and operations on Philippine territory. But the agreement clearly states that the U.S. is not allowed to establish a permanent base and also stipulates that the U.S. is not allowed to store or position any nuclear weapons on Philippine territory. That’s like tying Uncle Sam’s hands behind his back and yet expect him to defend his little brown brothers who have no means of defending their beloved Motherland.
At the end of the day, something has to give. The Philippines has to choose between sovereignty and security. She cannot have it both ways.