US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recent trip to South Korea and the Philippines and his meeting with Japan’s defense minister in January say much to validate the “war with China by 2025” prediction of US Gen. Mike Minihan, chief of the US Air Force’s Air Mobility Command.
A media release issued by the US Department of Defense (DoD) last Jan. 29 confirmed the purpose of Austin’s two-nation journey. Consistent with the US strategy of “pivot” or “rebalance” toward the Indo-Pacific (Asia-Pacific), Austin’s goal was to strengthen partnerships and alliances “to ensure that combined deterrent is stronger than ever before with the aim of sustaining and ensuring regional peace and security.”
The object or target of deterrence is China, which, per the US DoD paper, “remains the pacing challenge … and is fomenting policies designed to change the international rules-based order that has guaranteed peace since World War II.”
On this aim, Austin secured from Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his alter egos in the departments of defense and of foreign affairs the affirmation for the “accelerated implementation” of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca). This affirmation was necessary to formalize that the Edca, signed in 2014 with an initial 10-year term shall “thereafter be enforced automatically unless terminated by either party…”
US priority theater of operations
The US DoD paper revealed that Austin’s trip “is a recognition that the Indo-Pacific (Asia-Pacific) is USA’s priority theater of operations.” On the other hand, his second visit to the Philippines and the visits by US State Secretary Antony Blinken last August and US Vice President Kamala Harris last November confirm the Philippines’ importance to the United States.
The Philippines is a valuable US “asset,” having been its colony and remaining its neocolony, as long pointed out by many, including this writer. More than the mineral wealth and superprofits that US corporations have extracted from the Philippines, its location and archipelagic features are of strategic value for US global geopolitical and military designs.
Among the United States’ Asia-Pacific allies, the Philippines is geographically nearest to Taiwan and is strategically located in the middle of Asia-Pacific waters. From the northernmost island-chain province of Batanes, which is nearest to Taiwan, to the southernmost Sulu Archipelago including Tawi-Tawi province, which is closest to Malaysia, the Philippines cuts right between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.
At present, with the United States seemingly preparing for war with China principally over Taiwan and also over China’s “nine-dash line” claim to the South China Sea, the Philippines would be a strategic base of operations within the US priority theater of operations. This has been proven in the past, from the US Marines’ entry into China to suppress the “Boxer Rebellion” in 1899, through the US war in Korea in the early 1950s, and to the long US war of aggression in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s-1970s.
With all the wars that the United States has launched since the end of World War II, including its latest since the end of the Cold War in 1991 when it assumed the status as the world’s sole superpower, its sworn aim has been to keep its global hegemony unrivaled. Almost all the time, the Philippine government and military have been at the service of US interests.
It is in this long historical and present context that the United States has maintained its military presence here.
With the 1951 US-PH Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) remaining in effect, US military presence in the Philippines never ceased even after the rejection of a new bases agreement in 1991 and the “closure” of US bases in 1992. Aside from the annual joint Balikatan war exercise which began in 1985, the United States proposed to its major non-Nato ally a new access arrangement called the “Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement” in November 1992. The US-PH Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was ratified by the Philippine Senate, but not by the US Senate, in 1999.
During the Obama administration, the United States declared in 2011 its new policy and strategy called the Asia Pivot, or a shift of principal stress to the Asia-Pacific, focused on China as the main threat to US global leadership. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea began to heat up in 2010 upon China’s reissue of its “nine-dash line” sovereign claim over the South China Sea and its nonnegotiable “Taiwan is a province of China” policy, which has been recognized worldwide, even by the United States, since 1979.
Also in 2011, the United States announced its “freedom of navigation” policy in the South China Sea. The signing of the Edca in 2014 closely followed these developments.
In the latest US National Security Strategy released last October, China is identified as “the most serious long-term challenge to the international order.” It is in this context that the “accelerated Edca” was affirmed.
The accelerated Edca means increased US military presence in the Philippines for there are “four additional Edca sites” to the five originally designated “agreed locations” for US military basing. Another qualification of the accelerated Edca is that the four additional sites are located in “strategic areas.”
What make these areas “strategic”?
The additional Edca sites are still undisclosed, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) hinted last November their locations: the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Zambales and Palawan.
Cagayan is just 500 kilometers away from Taiwan. Isabela is in the immediate south of Cagayan. Zambales faces the South China Sea and is the site of the former US naval base in Subic. Palawan is within the South China Sea and is the site of Antonio Bautista Air Base.
Antonio Bautista Air Base is one of the five original “agreed locations” under Edca. The others are: Basa Air Base beside the former US Clark Air Base in Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, which is the biggest AFP camp; Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu in the Visayas; and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao.
Not among the designated US military basing sites is Camp Gen. Basilio Navarro, the headquarters of the AFP Western Command in Zamboanga City, which has been hosting members of the US Special Forces on rotation since 2015. It hosted 600 such soldiers in 2001-2014.
Before he met with President Marcos Jr. and Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez, Austin visited these US soldiers who are purportedly assisting their Filipino counterparts in counterterrorism in Mindanao.
The Philippine Constitution states that “foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed” in the country after the expiration of the US-PH military bases agreement in 1991. But it also says, “except under a treaty…” Thus, the Supreme Court ruled in January 2016 that the Edca is constitutional, and also that it is “the implementing agreement of the MDT” (65 years old then) and “of the VFA” (17 years old then).
The Edca is the latest confirmation and continuation of a historical irony.
The Philippines was granted “independence” by the United States, the only imperialist power then, in the afternoon of July 4, 1946. In the morning of that day, then President Manuel Roxas signed the Treaty of General Relations.
The treaty stipulates that the United States is relinquishing sovereignty “over territory and people of the Philippine Islands … except the use of such bases, necessary appurtenances to such bases, and the rights incident thereto, as the United States of America, by agreement with the Republic of the Philippines, may deem necessary to retain for the mutual protection of the United States of America and of the Republic of the Philippines” (in simple terms, except over US military bases and personnel, military reservations, and other lands reserved for such purpose in the future).
Under the Edca, “agreed locations” are governed by the United States. Filipinos are not allowed to enter any US base in Philippine camps. Only one Filipino military representative is allowed access, and only with permission secured in advance from the US commander.
Beyond the US bases’ “agreed locations,” US forces and civilian contractors are allowed access to lands and facilities—seaports, airports, roads, and other infrastructures that would be needed in their operations. They will not be under Philippine jurisdiction should they commit crime or be accused of crime in the country.
US military forces have been here starting from the end of the 19th century until today, 124 years later. They were here to conquer and subjugate Filipinos for the United States, not to secure and ensure peace in the Philippines but to secure US interests here and in Southeast Asia. They are here to drag the Philippines and Filipinos into US wars. For US enemies, the US military bases here are open targets, and our country and people shall be the collateral victims.
We must not allow this anymore.
Lutgardo Paras is a member of the Philippine Initiative on Critical and Global Issues. —Ed.