Sunday, September 9, 2012

The United States-Philippine Defense and Security Cooperation in Asia-Pacific

The rise of the Marxist Soviet Union after the Second World War put it in collision course with the United States the world’s another super power. Their competition for global leadership brought about the Cold War. The fall of China to the communist under Mao Zedong in 1949 made the United States to be more concerned of the spread of communism to other parts of the world. In connection with the global political and security concerns that were prevailing at that time, the United States and the Philippines signed a Mutual Defense Treaty on August 31, 1951 at Washington D.C. which called for the two nations to help each other if either of them is attacked by an external enemy within its territory. The term of the treaty is indefinite and ends one year after one of the parties notified the other of its desire to terminate the agreement.                                                 

During the Cold War, the US and the USSR fortunately did not engage each other physically which would have been catastrophic for the world. However, they did compete utilizing their client states and at times sent their own forces to participate in battles such as the war in Viet Nam and Afghanistan. The war in Korea ended in a stale mate. And the conflict in Cuba and the war in Viet Nam ended in communist victory. The support of the US of corrupt and repressive anti-communist dictators like Anastasio Somoza and Ferdinand Marcos made the US unpopular to the people where those leaders reigned. The dumping of hated dictators by the US when they were no longer useful to it had created an image of the US as untrustworthy ally.
Anti-US sentiment and distrust to the US were manifested in the Philippines in 1997 when the expiring US Bases Agreement of 1947 was to be renewed by the Philippine Senate. Despite US President’s George Herbert Walker Bush’s support of it and Philippine President’s Corazon Aquino’s intimate campaign to have it renewed, the Senators nevertheless rejected the agreement on September 13, 1991. The last American troops left the Philippines on November 24, 1992.

The incident on 9/11 in USA on the bombing of Twin Towers of New York precipitated to the US War on Terrorism. The threat posed by Abu Sayyaf which is linked with the Jemaah Islamiyah, an international terrorist organization, has rekindled military cooperation between the US and the Philippines in dealing with mutual security concern. Pestered by kidnappings and other terroristic activities perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf, the Philippines welcomed the presence of limited number of US troops whose operations and conduct are regulated by the Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines. The United States considers VFA as executive agreement that does not need the approval of the US Senate.                                                                                                                                                     

Despite the constitutional provision banning foreign forces in the Philippines, the government recognized its legitimacy. Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo invoked the 1951 RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty to justify presence of US troops. They are in the Philippines as advisers and trainers to the Armed Forces of the Philippines on counter-terrorism. They are also involved in civic action to help depressed communities in the south. So far, the partnership of US and Filipino troops has resulted to the killing of top Abbu-Sayaff leaders and the rescue of American kidnap victim Gracia Burnham on June 7, 2002.

Another matter that is of mutual security concern to the Philippines and the United States is the situation at South China Sea. At present the administration of President Benigno Aquino III is faced with the problem of conflicting claims of neighboring countries on shoals and islets in the South China Sea. A case in point is the Scarborough Shoal which is 198 kilometers off Subic Bay in the Philippine province of Zambales, and it is therefore within the Philippines’ 200 nautical kilometers exclusive economic zone (EEZ). However, it is also claimed by China. The situation becomes volatile for both countries, and the Philippines is in no position to uphold its claim militarily because of the economic strength and the influence of China in the global community.

The Philippines’ quest for the resolution of dispute on territorial boundary with China got a big boost when US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton aboard USS Fitzgerald signed the Manila Declaration on November 16, 2011, reaffirming US commitment to honor the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines. The declaration was signed in the presence of her Filipino counterpart Foreign affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario.

Furthermore, the US Senate passed Resolution 481 on June 5, 2012, calling for increased defense and security cooperation between the United States and the Philippines. President Aquino visited the White House to talk with US President Barack Obama in the second week of June 2012 on bilateral issues concerning economic, security and defense in the Asia-Pacific region.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced in Singapore that the US will position 60% of its naval ships in the Asia-Pacific region before the end 2020. That figure is an increase by 10% of the current  deployment of 50%. His pronouncement emphasized the importance of Asia Pacific in the US’s future economic and defense plans. The region is the home of the world’s second and third largest economies by GDP like China, and Japan plus the economic power houses such as South Korea, India, Singapore and Taiwan.

China’s economy is predicted to improve even more in the years to come and that it will even surpass that of the United States. China’s military power is also growing and it is modernizing its Peoples’ Liberation Army. Its military might and its aggressive stance in the South China Sea relative to its claims on the disputed areas are cause of concern to its neighbors.                                                                

The defense and security cooperation between the United States and the Philippines is highly beneficial not only to the national interest of both countries but also to the other countries in the region. The increased presence of the US Navy will maintain the balance of power in the South China Sea. It will make the waters in it accessible to international vessels for economic and other productive purposes. The Philippines with its strategic location is a valuable partner of the US in that endeavor. The Philippines also needs the US to protect its interest in the disputed Scarborough Shoal because its Armed Forces is poorly equipped. It needs a credible defense, and cooperative and friendly relations with other countries to sustain its economic growth. The Philippines at present is a new industrializing country which is the 45th largest economy in the world by GDP. It is projected by HSBC to become the 16th world largest economy by 2050.

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