No sooner had the Philippine military announced the reopening of the Subic Bay base than the leftist politicians started screaming and denouncing the United States for violating the country’s sovereignty. But for a country who doesn’t have the means to defend her sovereignty, the politicians’ concerns –and fears — seem to emanate from their myopic view that the U.S. is the enemy. But what they forget to realize is that the Philippines – their beloved Inang Bayan — would have lost her sovereignty long time ago if not for her alliance with Uncle Sam.
And what they failed to remember is that ever since the Philippine Senate rejected the renewal of the U.S. bases agreement in 1991 and closed all the American bases the following year, the country was left with nothing to defend her sovereignty. It didn’t take long for China to start nibbling at the Philippines’ territory.
In my article, “What price sovereignty” (January 20, 2014), I wrote: “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 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.”
And once again, the Philippines lost another piece of her territory, which begs the question: When will China stop grabbing Philippine territory? Not anytime soon. Right now, China started reclaiming reefs in the Spratly archipelago and there’s not much the Philippines can do to stop it.
To date, China has reclaimed seven reefs: Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Kennan (Chigua), Mabini (Johnson South), Burgos (Gaven) and Calderon (Cuarteron). In at least two of them, she is building runways and deep harbors that can be used to launch fighter jets, bombers, and missiles and provide berthing for her warships. And from these militarized artificial islands, she can then project power all the way to the Second Island Chain. No region in the Philippines would be spared from the threat of Chinese incursion. With an air force without warplanes and a navy without warships (well, she has two refurbished lightly-armed former U.S. cutters), how can the Philippines defend her territories?
“Code of silence”
But what is really strange is that these vocal nationalist and leftist politicians have seemingly adopted a certain “code of silence” when the question of Chinese aggression comes to fore. Many believe that these politicians wouldn’t criticize China because a lot of them receive huge campaign contributions from Chinese-Filipino taipans. As an old adage goes: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. I am not saying that these Chinese-Filipino taipans are disloyal to the Philippines. It’s because a lot of them have businesses in China. Simply put, no taipan in his right mind would put his business in jeopardy by contributing to politicians who are critical of China.
Reopening the strategically located Subic Bay base as a Philippine military base — not American — couldn’t be closer to strengthening the country’s defense capability. However, that will take a long time and it requires tens of billions of dollars, which the government doesn’t have.
What’s on the plate right now is an order for 12 South Korean-made fighter jets, two of which will be delivered in December. The two refurbished cutters that the country already has will be home-ported at Subic. Together with the fighter jets, they will form the bulwark of the country’s defense against foreign intrusion or invasion. But is it enough to stop China? Hell, no!
It has been anticipated that China would turn Scarborough Shoal – which is only about 125 miles from the main island of Luzon — into an artificial island constructed with a runway and deep harbor. What would the Philippines do about it? Are a squadron of fighter planes and two refurbished Korean War vintage cutters enough to stop the land reclamation? Not if China deploys her fleet of destroyers, submarines, and cruise missiles to protect the project from “Philippine invasion.” Remember, China has now claimed undisputed sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal.
In the end, China will militarize Scarborough Shoal just like she did with the seven reefs in the Spratlys. And that’s when a direct threat to Philippine sovereignty and security becomes imminent.
Just imagine China claiming a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal, and declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over 90% of the South China Sea bounded by an arbitrary imaginary line that China calls “nine-dash line,” which runs parallel to the 12-mile territorial boundary of the Philippines from the northern edge of Luzon down to the southern tip of Palawan. What that means is that Filipino fishermen can no longer fish beyond the 12-mile territorial zone. The Chinese Coast Guard would intercept anybody who attempts to go beyond that.
In my article, “Sovereignty or security?” (April 13, 2015), I wrote: “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.”
Indeed, the reopening of the Subic Bay base is the best thing that has happened since the departure of U.S. forces in 1992. And once again, with the rotational deployment of U.S. military assets and personnel to the Philippines, Filipinos and Americans will fight foreign intruders — shoulder to shoulder — just like they did in World War II.
The reopening of the Subic Bay base is just a start, but it certainly is one hell of a start. (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)