Friday, March 2, 2012

Philippines:Twenty years after they left their military bases here, the American forces may be back in bigger numbers.

Philippine defence and military officials have confirmed a Washington Post report that Manila and Washington are negotiating a deal that would increase cooperation between the two militaries, owing to the tension in the South China Sea over the disputed Spratlys as well as other considerations.

Although Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the terms of any accord would still be governed by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows periodic visits of US troops for joint training and exercises with the Philippine military, the development is significant because any expansion of the VFA would effectively rebuild American military presence in the region.

Perhaps because of what the Post calls "political sensitivities", both sides appear reluctant to highlight whatever accord would be made as tantamount to the full return of American military presence in a country that until two decades back had hosted the largest US overseas military base in Asia.

The welcoming of increased US military activity on its shores may be an indication that the Philippines has got over the old emotionalism that used to characterise its relations with its former colonial boss, an emotionalism that portrayed the abrogation of the bases treaty 20 years ago as something necessary as the cutting of the umbilical ties connecting infant to parent; a treaty seen in both psychological and post-colonial terms as servitude and an inordinate, even self-destructive, attachment.

And the US should likewise have got over its wounded feelings of having been shown the door 20 years ago, the better for it to forge a new relationship with its former colony.

Armed with the lessons of the old bases treaty and even of the VFA, the two countries should be able to forge a mutually more rewarding accord that would take into consideration "political sensitivities" and social costs that come with heightened American military presence in this part of the world, while effectively responding to the security concerns the two countries share. In short, Manila and Washington should come up with a more mature accord in which security threats and benefits are shared fairly and equitably.

Very important for the Philippines is to get the military assistance - and war materiel - that would help it better outfit its forces, in particular the Philippine Navy. In this connection, the statement of the US congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, made in a recent visit to our country, that it would be "unreasonable not to give" the Philippine request for a third weather high endurance cutter (WHEC), is most welcome.

The Philippines last year acquired its first WHEC from the US, a decommissioned 378-foot Hamilton-class cutter. The Philippines has since renamed it the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and classified it as a surface combatant warship. A second WHEC is in the process of approval.

McCain, a Vietnam veteran, emphasised the need for both countries to work for enhanced maritime security. Invoking the "long and friendly relationship" between the two allies, he told his hosts that the best way to avoid confrontation with China in the South China Sea is to maintain freedom of navigation in the disputed waters. Last June, in fact, the US Senate passed Resolution 217, which called for a peaceful and multilateral resolution of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In addition, McCain has been pushing for US military support for the Philippines as a treaty ally.

The escalating tension in recent months between the Philippines and China over the Spratlys has compelled a reassessment of the security situation in the region. Beijing's irrational outbursts over the Spratlys have resulted in Manila's loss of face and challenged Philippine sovereignty over parts of the disputed islands that are in fact within the Philippines' economic zone.

Perhaps because they're of Maoist orientation, Philippine leftists, who have been noisily protesting against the VFA in the name of nationalism, have been treasonously silent about China's thuggery in the South China Sea. It is high time they, as well as the public, came to grips with the situation: China is flexing its muscle as a rising imperial power and its pretensions and excesses should be checked.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Asia News Network

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