Can the Philippines defend her sovereignty?

Can the Philippines defend her sovereignty?

Ever since twelve nationalistic – and left-leaning — members of the Philippine Senate voted to evict the U.S. bases in 1991, our national pride had immeasurably gone up the scale never seen before since the new national flag was raised and independence was declared from Spain on the balcony of Gen. Emilio Aquinaldo’s mansion in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898.

But “independence” was short-lived. Little did Aguinaldo know that Spain had ceded the Philippines to the U.S. for $20 million at the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. And when the Americans came to claim the Philippine Islands, Aguinaldo resisted the occupation. On February 4, 1899, war broke out. But Aguinaldo’s fledgling army was no match to the well-armed and experienced American forces. In November 1899, Aguinaldo went into hiding in Palanan, Isabela where he waged guerilla warfare against the Americans. Thus began the “Philippine Insurrection,” as the Americans called it. More than half a century later, Filipino historians changed it to the “Philippine-American War,” which is what it was.

On March 23, 1901, a contingent of American soldiers with the help of Macabebe Scouts gained access to Aguinaldo’s camp by pretending to surrender. Aguinaldo was captured and brought to Manila where he took the oath of allegiance to the American government. On April 19, 1901, he issued a proclamation recommending abandonment of resistance against the Americans. Thus ended the Philippine-American War and the American colonial era began. In 1934, the Philippines was granted commonwealth status and given limited autonomy of self-government. On July 4, 1946, Uncle Sam granted independence to the Philippines.

Philippine independence

But a lot of historians believe that the Philippines wasn’t ready to exercise her freedom after suffering from the ravages of World War II and the brutality the Filipinos endured at the hands of the Japanese oppressors. Many believed that the Philippines’ status as a “commonwealth” of the U.S. should have been retained. And many more believed that Philippine statehood would serve the best interests of Americans and the Filipinos alike. They said that Filipinos would prosper peacefully and equally with the Americans. And ultimately, they were convinced that a union between the U.S. and the Philippines would make the U.S. the strongest Pacific power and the Filipinos the most affluent among Asians. The union would have formed an amalgam of western and eastern cultures in an expanse of land and sea where “the sun will never set.” And lest we forget, Philippine statehood would also protect Americans of Filipino descent and their newly created state under the nuclear umbrella of Uncle Sam. That’s peace, prosperity, and security all rolled into one. The question is: Why did this geopolitical alchemy not happen? Could it be because of the late Philippine commonwealth president Manuel L. Quezon wishes? His prophetic wish, “I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans,” took hold long after his death on August 1, 1944 in Saranac Lake, New York. He must have believed that given enough time, the Filipinos would eventually become adept at self-government. That’s how much confidence he had on the ability of Filipinos to chart their own future. But he was wrong.

Foreign aggression

Seventy years after gaining her independence, the Philippines is still being ran like hell, and the Filipinos are still struggling in learning how to govern. Sad to say, the elected politicians today are more interested in enriching themselves than serving the people. Corruption has become the norm, and honesty the exception.

And what is indeed very disheartening is that the Philippines doesn’t have the capability to defend her territory from foreign aggression. And the U.S. has not been willing to get involved, claiming neutrality, in the territorial disputes between the Philippines and China. It was only recently that the U.S. challenged China’s 12-mile territorial boundary around those Chinese man-made islands by sending a guided-missile destroyer to within 12 miles of the reclaimed reefs in what was called a “Freedom of Navigation Operation” (FONOP). However, it is not anticipated that the “innocent passage” conducted by the USS Lassen would result in China dismantling her man-made islands. On the contrary, China threatened to build more artificial islands around reefs within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

And this brings to fore the question: What does it take for China to intrude into the Philippines’ peripheral territories like the Batanes group of islands, Kalayaan Group of islands, and Tawi-Tawi archipelago? With a navy with no warships and an air force with no warplanes, there is no way the Philippines could defend her territories from Chinese invasion whose military forces are second only to the U.S.

And should the Philippines invoke the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), it is doubtful if the U.S. would automatically and immediately send an expeditionary force to defend the Philippines. The question is: Would the U.S. honor the MDT? When the Philippines rejected the renewal of the U.S. Bases Agreement, many constitutionalists were of the opinion that the eviction would result in the de facto rescission of the MDT. Besides, how can the U.S. defend Philippine territory when she has no basing rights in the Philippines, which is fundamental to any defense treaty?

EDCA challenged

On April 28, 2014, the U.S. and the Philippines executed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which would allow the “U.S. forces access to and use of designated areas and facilities owned and controlled by the Armed Forces of the Philippines at the invitation of the Philippine Government. It contains clear provision that the U.S. will not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines and a prohibition of entry to the Philippines of nuclear weapons. The EDCA has an initial term of ten years, and thereafter will continue in force until terminated by either party after having given a one-year notice of intention to terminate.”

However, the EDCA would provide what the MDT would have provided. But no sooner had the EDCA been executed than nationalist and leftist groups filed petitions with the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of EDCA.

After lingering in the High Court for over a year, it was reported in the news that the court will soon rule to uphold the constitutionality of EDCA before President Barack Obama arrives in Manila for the APEC summit on November 18, 2015. That’s the good news.

But the bad news is the Philippine Senate last November 10 passed Resolution 1414 or a “Resolution expressing the strong sense of the Senate that any treaty ratified by the President of the Philippines should be concurred in by the Senate, otherwise the treaty becomes invalid and ineffective.” The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago and co-sponsored by 12 other senators. She said that the EDCA is a prohibited treaty of “foreign military bases, troops or facilities,” which the Philippine Constitution allows only with the concurrence of the Senate under Article 18, Section 25.

Déjà vu

If Senate Resolution 1414 prevails with the failure of the Supreme Court to declare EDCA as constitutionally legal, then it’s déjà vu all over again. With EDCA gone and the MDT unenforceable, the only treaty that binds the U.S. and the Philippines would be the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which is under siege by nationalist and leftist lawmakers. Interestingly, the Supreme Court had ruled that it is constitutional… not once, but twice. But it is expected in due time that the VFA will go away, too; thus, ending the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the Philippines that lasted more than a century. With the Philippines feeling the heat of the Chinese dragon breathing down her neck, can she defend her sovereignty?