Is Uncle Sam punishing the Philippines?

By Perry Diaz

Reclamation work at Fiery Cross Reef.

Reclamation work at Fiery Cross Reef.

How often do you hear someone ask, “Will the U.S. defend the Philippines if China attacked her?” Very often. As a matter of fact, with China reclaiming several islands inside the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and building fortifications, runways, and harbors on them, many Filipinos have been wondering: “Why is it that Uncle Sam is not defending the Philippines as called for in the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)?” The most common answer to that question is: “These islands are disputed by several other countries and the U.S. doesn’t want to get involved in territorial disputes and therefore she stays neutral.” And besides, Uncle Sam says that these islands are outside the scope of the MDT.

South China Sea.

South China Sea.

As a student of geopolitics, I have reservations – and misgivings – about this line of reasoning. While it may be true that “Politics is addition,” as the late statesman Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez loved to say, it’s not quite true in geopolitics, which is defined as: “A study of the influence of such factors as geography, economics, and demography on the politics and especially the foreign policy of a state.” If that was the case, then I must then say that “geopolitics is multiplication” compounded by realpolitik calculations… or miscalculations. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone because geopolitics in today’s world is like a bowl of spaghetti (or pancit); that is: the more you try to straighten it out, the more it gets messed up.

Mutual Defense Treaty

US President Harry Truman and Philippine President Elpidio Quirino meet at the Oval Office on September 13, 1951.

US President Harry Truman and Philippine President Elpidio Quirino meet at the Oval Office on September 13, 1951.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. signed mutual defense treaties with several Asian allies to stop the spread of communism. The Philippines, which gained her independence from the U.S. on July 4, 1946, had an active and strong communist insurgency that was supported by Russia and China.

On August 30, 1951, the U.S. and the Philippines signed an MDT. The treaty consists of eight articles, of which Articles I through V dictate how the treaty works.

Article I says: “The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means (italics mine) in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations.”

Article II says: “In order more effectively to achieve the objective of this Treaty, the Parties separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

Article III says: “The Parties, through their Foreign Ministers or their deputies, will consult together from time to time regarding the implementation of this Treaty and whenever in the opinion of either of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of either of the Parties is threatened by external armed attack in the Pacific.”

Article IV says: “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

Article V says: “For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”

While Articles I, II and III are pretty much straightforward, Article IV requires that armed attacks shall be reported to the Security Council (SC) of the United Nations. The SC had five permanent members with veto powers; i.e., US, UK, USSR, France, and China. While communist USSR is no longer in existence and her seat was taken by the Russian Federation, China was represented by the Republic of China (ROC) government based in Taipei, Taiwan. Today, communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) government based in Beijing represents China on the SC. In the event that hostility – or war — broke out between China vs. US and the Philippines, China could use her veto power to block any attempt by the US to invoke the provision of Article IV.

Chinese reclamation projects

Pag-asa Island.

Pag-asa Island.

Recently, Philippine Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, Western Command Chief, reported that Chinese forces on Subi Reef (Zamora Reef) in the Spratly Islands had sent radio messages warning seven Filipino patrol planes — on separate flights between Thitu Island (Pag-asa Island) and Chinese-held Subi Reef — to stay away. The Filipino patrol planes were flying to and from the airfield in Pag-asa Island, which is a municipality of Palawan.

The Chinese addressed the seven Filipino planes as “foreign planes” that were entering a “Chinese military area.” They were told to leave to avoid a possible “misjudgment.”

Last month, satellite photos were taken showing a runway and a harbor taking shape in the Fiery Cross Reef. With the reclamation projects going at full speed in at least six islands, it is anticipated that the naval and air bases would be operational by 2016.

War with China

US-Philippine joint exercise "Balikatan."

US-Philippine joint exercise “Balikatan.”

With all this construction going in the Spratly Islands, the U.S. continues to maintain her neutrality. The question is: Would the US come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of a war with China?

That’s a tough question but it has been proven time and time again that logistics plays a vital role in a war – any war… small or big, conventional or non-conventional. The U.S. should – nay, must – be able to move personnel, armaments, supplies, and support services to the war zone in a short time. But the problem is: the US doesn’t have the logistics she needs to fight a war in the Philippines pre-positioned nearby. She couldn’t use the battle-ready US forces pre-positioned in Japan and South Korea because they’re there specifically to defend them from North Korean or Chinese attack.

It would take months to assemble an expeditionary force to defend the Philippines. And since the Philippine Constitution doesn’t allow foreign troops and military bases on Philippine soil, there is simply no way for the U.S. to defend the Philippines from Chinese invasion.

The 12 senators who voted against the retention of US bases in the Philippines.

The 12 senators who voted against the retention of US bases in the Philippines.

And this brings to mind that ignominious day of September 16, 1991 when 12 senators voted not to retain the U.S. bases in the Philippines. The following year, the Subic Naval Base closed its doors for good. Two years later, China grabbed Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in the middle of the night. Today, the reef serves as an outpost for the Chinese Coast Guard. In 2012, China took possession of the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and roped it off to prevent Filipino fishing boats from entering the lagoon. With the entire Chinese reclamation projects gong on, it won’t be long before China imposes an EEZ around the Spratlys and an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over it, which would prevent Filipino planes and ships from entering “Chinese” territory.

US flag is lowered while the Philippine flag is raised during turnover ceremony at Subic Naval Base.

US flag is lowered while the Philippine flag is raised during turnover ceremony at Subic Naval Base.

And while all these things are going on, the U.S. continues to maintain her neutrality, which begs the question: Is Uncle Sam punishing the Philippines for kicking the US bases out in 1992?


11 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Paul Briones says:

    The 12 Senators did not take into considerations the consequences of driving away the American Forces in the Phil. They thought they can easily persuade US in the event of emergencies. Is their existence in the Phil. do not outweigh the benefits.
    To me, the Chinese presence at the Spratly Is. is a serious threat to safety.

  2. albert abellanosa says:

    Well said Perry. We can now look back and tell those 12 senators who voted against the retention of the US basis in the Philippines…WHAT HAVE YOU DONE ?

    • Bobby Bagos says:

      It’s a little late for regrets, it wasn’t just those 12 Senators who’s to blame for that terrible decision, the Filipino people could’ve voiced their opinion very loudly but they didn’t, so now they expect Uncle Sam to once again save their sorry asses from the Chinese who’s somehow inching themselves closer to our shores. We can try challenging the Chinese to a contest of patentero or we can just find a good spot to spread our legs a comfortable distance apart, bend over and kiss our brown asses goodbye, because the Chinese couldn’t care less about the world’s opinion.

  3. Juan M. Montero, II says:

    To invoke sovereignty without security is foolhardy. Time for Philippines to cut bait or fish.

  4. Joe says:

    the philippines punished its self. the US doesnt really have as much interest as it did in the 1960-80’s during the cold war -that much is true. But the real problem is the filipino’s own decisions…. rights always come with responsibilities… people need to understand that and stop blaming others for their own actions!

  5. If I were the Philippine Govt,I will befriend Taiwan to use all our Bases since they have the capability for Defense.

  6. Macario Corsame says:

    The key provisions are Articles IV and V. U.S. can and will act only if and when China attacks the PH armed forces, i.e., navy or airforce. So far, no armed attack has taken place, just water-hosing of Fil fishermen and warnings against Ph navy nomad planes. An armed attack on PH military will be deemed an attack on U.S. Military, either in metropolitan or island territories and will draw a response based on constitutional processes that are still to be completely clarified. But response to an armed attack should mean an immediate military response that is distinct and separate from bringing the crisis to the U.N. Security Council where China has a veto. The U.S. won’t get involved in siding with any party in territorial disputes but has already clarified that PH occupied islets in the South China Sea are PH island territories and thus covered under the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty. China knows this that is why it has used Coast Guard and civilian vessels to “police” its claimed islets and has not forcibly expelled RP soldiers manning their dilapidated ship in Ayungin Shoal. The Treaty it appears is what has deterred Chinese armed actions and preserved peace in the area. U.S. presence is important to PH security. Oddly, Filipinos are the only ex colonials who measure their degree of independence relative to their former colonizer. The Indonesians do not so regard the Dutch, the Indians and Omanis not the British, the Brazilians not the Portuguese, the Vietnamese not the French, etc.

    • perry says:

      Hi Macario,

      The question is: If China invaded Pag-asa, would the US defend it? If so, where would the US expeditionary force come from? Not from Japan or South Korea.


      • Bobby Bagos says:

        Perry, I think Uncle Sam have very little interest in getting involved with us in regards to the Chinese invasion of these tiny islands, otherwise he would’ve done something about it from the beginning. Our great Uncle have bigger fish to fry right now, those tiny islands are the least of his worries, after all it’s not his to worry about in the first place. When Uncle Sam was still in our midst carrying his big stick, was there any reported incident where the Chinese dared to intrude in our territorial waters? I don’t remember any.

  7. Pons Tucay says:

    “Might is Right” — have you heard of this?

  8. Antonio A Abad says:

    This is a US problem and the US is aware. It cannot cede this territory to China since it will eventually take control of all the countries around it. The US cannot afford to be surprised into WW3 – it will have to act now and will.

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